The Men They Couldn’t Hang provided a perfect opening for Stiff Little Fingers. Their firebrand folk-punk set harked back to the glory days of The Pogues and the radical high water mark of New Model Army and Billy Bragg. Well-crafted political songs about the miner’s strike and the Battle of Cable Street were delivered with enthusiasm.
Though the detail of the moving narratives working through ‘The Colours’ and ‘The Green Fields of France’ may have been lost in the hurly burly of the gig, the soaring melodies and vocal hooks were not. The high point though, was Ed Tudor Pole joining the band for a raucous, wild-eyed and gung-ho sing-a-long of ‘Swords Of A Thousand Men’. The voices of 2,000 punters raised in triumphant bellowing. A joy.
SLF gigs are always hallmarked by honest music, grainy humour and copper-bottomed credibility. Over recent years some of their shows might have lacked a little energy, the odd tired set list and some underwhelming sound mixes.
But not tonight. This was a lean, confident full force Fingers, ripping through a strong back catalogue, alongside the beefiest new material heard in years. Jake Burns bestrode the stage in a proprietorial manner and had plenty to say.
There were glimpses of the simmering incandescence too. “I was driving home one night, listening to a radio interview with Prime Minister Blair and President George Bush. I looked out the window and we were next to a pub called The Liars Club. By the time I’d got home, the song had pretty much written itself!”
‘The Liars Club’ was one of three new tracks that stood up really well. Another, ‘My Dark Places’ was a personal take on a bout of depression. SLF are never ones to stand still, but the strength of their set is immeasurably improved by the dumping of tepid material from 2003’s ‘Guitar and Drum’ album.
The new tracks were interspersed between a solid canon of pithy Ulster punk that most of us were there to experience. ‘Wasted Life’, ‘Nobody’s Hero’, ‘Hope Street’ and ‘Barbed Wire Love’ tore up the night. Jake’s vocals were immense, the guitars had bite and snarl and the sound was enveloping and clear.
A cover of The Specials’ ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’ was both heartfelt and intense and a track that SLF have almost made their own. A blistering ‘Suspect Device’ closed the concert proper. Echoes of a stuttered ‘su-su-su-su-suspect’ were still hanging round the Forum as the band re-emerged for an encore with a surprise: Segs Jennings from Ruts DC joined for a romp through a highly enjoyable version of ‘Staring At The
Rude Boys’. ‘Tin Soldiers’ followed and then the curtain came down with a tingling ‘Alternative Ulster’.
It’s good to see that SLF still pack a protest punch, railing against injustice and easily standing the test of time. Life in the old dogs yet.
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 25 August 2020.
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Featured Albums w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 PERFECT PLAN Time For A Miracle (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 OVERLAND Scandalous (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 ANNIE DRESSNER Coffee At The Corner Bar (indie)
Power Plays w/c 14 September (Mon-Fri)
GALLOWS CIRCUS Medicine Man (indie)
ROY ZIV Currents (indie)
NOVATINES Honey (indie)
KILFEATHER Never Stop (indie)
VANILLA FUDGE Immigrant Song (Golden Robot Records)
BROKEN MACHINE Sweet Mary Jane (indie)
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