Monday, 2 April 2012

845 STIFF LITTLE FINGERS, Spear Of Destiny, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 29 March 2012

“Traditions must be maintained.” Thus spoke Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman during my last gig, ironically also an old punk band at this venue. So, taking this ethos to heart, here’s SLF again! This, the 7th “Mad March” in 8 years to Bristol Academy with Rich, also clocked up an even dozen for these original punk long stayers, each time a good time. So bring it on!

A bad back, contrasting with a crazy busy day at work, meant I wasn’t in great physical shape for the gig, but conversely mentally well up for it. I picked up the Big Man and we hit the already busy venue after a good run, just as support Spear Of Destiny finished their first number. Spear, another veteran post-punk act, whom I’d seen multiple times in the 80’s but most recently on a poor “Singles Tour” here a few years back, were on much better form than that ill-fated recent encounter, mainman Kirk Brandon seemingly getting his mojo working and blasting out some early strident, dramatic, numbers with his distinctive octave-straddling voice. They’d already gotten my attention with a drum-dominated “Rainmaker” before they rolled out an unexpected, slightly messy but welcome cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission” (“for our mate Peter Hook”), then upped the ante further with a splendid “World Service”, a stark piano opener leading into a powerful rendition of their best number, with a sing-along-a-Kirk mid section! The mosh-igniting punk terrace chant of “Liberator” closed a surprising, fine and, yes, fun set from Spear, delivered with a smile by the blond flick-haired Kirk. Nice one!

Got more drinks in and took the usual stage-left spot for a seemingly longer than usual wait. Finally,the “Go For It” intro music, the best and most rabble-rousing and mood-setting in all of rock music, kicked in – I swear, the day SLF change this intro music is the day I stop going to see them! SLF then took the stage to a rapturous roar from the crowd of old punks, then hit the thunderous opening riff to “Wasted Life”, and we were away. Big time!

On recent viewings, it’s often taken SLF a while to get into their stride. Not so tonight; they were “on it” with a vengeance from the outset, a charged Jake Burns spitting out “Wasted Life”’s opening line, “I could be a soldier…” with righteous fury. “Just Fade Away” and a frantic “At The Edge” followed in quick succession, the mosh rewarding the Fingers’ passion by going bat-shit crazy from the off. This tour marked SLF’s 35th anniversary, and true to form, Burns was voluble regarding their history, marking that at their inception, bands being compelled to rise up against about their social and political conditions were the norm. “35 years later, it’d be nice if [new bands] did the same…” Other targets tonight included Simon Cowell (“it’s not so much that he spits up talent and throws it away like so much tissue paper, it’s more like, just because you’re on TV, doesn’t mean you have to be such a twat!”) and BNP leader Nick Griffin (“did you see his TV interview? He claimed his favourite bands are The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers; let me say right now we want nothing whatsoever to do with this offensive racist… read the words [in our songs] you moron!”), his denunciations met with cheers from the like-minded crowd. Mid 50’s and increasingly rotund he may be, but Burns still knows how to ignite a crowd, an impassioned intro to an excellent “Strummerville” being a fine example. “Straw Dogs”(introduced with a monologue about SLF giving Chrysalis Records their “vilest, nastiest punk song” and being astonished when it got to No.47 in the charts!), an incendiary "Suspect Device" and a superb “Tin Soldiers” rounded off an excellent, charged and committed set.

The epic encore “Johnny Was” preceded another unexpected cover; this time “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, the old Tom Robinson Band number, accompanied by original TRB guitarist Danny Kustow. Then, the usual evening closer “Alternative Ulster” was followed by an unexpected “Gotta Getaway”, something different for the 35th Anniversary tour. Overall, great stuff, once again. As good as I’ve seen them, despite advancing years (theirs or mine, make your own mind up!). And of course we’ll be back in 2013 for Mad March part 8, to maintain the tradition!

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