A slight variation this year on my annual “Mad March To Bristol” with The Big Man, the regular pilgrimage to see original punk rock legends Stiff Little Fingers; instead of the pair of us stomping Lauda-esque down the M4 together, this year I spent the day oop North visiting Evan and taking him to see the excellent “Captain America; The Winter Soldier” film! Thus I stomped down the M5 on my own after dropping Evan off, leaving Rich and Ady, joining us this year for some drinkies and noise, to catch the train!
Hit the venue at 8.30 after a swift run down the M5, a little concerned that Saturday gigs at the O2 sometimes run early. I needn’t have worried, however; after parking up suspiciously easily, I actually walked in just after support The Godfathers had kicked off their set! Met up with the boys and endured the support from the confines of the bar; despite being lauded by a few people whose musical opinions I respect, I never liked this lot first time around, finding them dour, po-faced and snarlingly aggressive sludgy post-punk rock, and time has done nothing to alter my view, I’m afraid. A surly “I Want Everything” was the only number which rose above the morass for me, and I lamented the absence of The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who complemented SLF so perfectly as support last year.
Took a wander down onto the floor, stage left as usual, before the band were due on, noticing the balcony was shut tonight. Pitched up therefore in a less populous but still enthusiastic crowd, behind a group of young (comparatively speaking, in this crowd of old punk rockers) and surprisingly well-dressed girls who, equally surprisingly, subsequently knew all the words to the SLF numbers! Anyway, I’m leaping ahead… SLF took the stage after a rabble-rousing intro from the finest introduction music in rock, their “Go For It” theme, and, as if sensing the buoyant mood tonight, fairly ripped into a savage opening triple salvo of “Straw Dogs”, “Wasted Life” and “Just Fade Away”. Go for it, indeed!
“Saturday night in Bristol!” vocalist Jake Burns announced to cheers, before a lengthy introduction for new number “My Dark Places”, which documented his recent battle with depression. This set the tone for the set’s mid-section; a smattering of new numbers culled from current Kickstarter-funded album “No Going Back” were interspersed with the familiar, first-time round, political yet accessible, sing-/ sway-along and hooky punk rock. Another newie, “When We Were Young”, concerning an 80’s drunken conversation between Burns and Phil Lynott, was followed by the resonant terrace roar of “Listen To Your Heart”, and a later “Barbed Wire Love” was introduced by Burns as, “now for “The Voice” auditions!”, referring to rakish bassist Ali McMordie’s “doo-wop” mid-song backing vocals. Burn’s subsequent comment of, “Pavarotti’s spinning in his grave!” underlined his mood tonight; the political sloganeering was toned down slightly, and the old boy actually seemed to be having fun up there tonight!
A sincere “Strummerville”, introduced by Burns with a tale of how The Clash changed his life, pre-empted a set conclusion as savage and dramatic as the opening salvo; “Fly the Flag”, an excellent “Tin Soldiers”, and a roaring, venomous “Suspect Device”, preceded by Burns introducing, “the gentlemen in the orchestra.” They weren’t finished, however, as after the libidinous groove of first encore “Johnny Was”, the boys returned a second time, Burns fulsomely praising the Bristol crowd, always a favourite of the band, “ever since we supported The Tom Robinson Band at the Colston Hall in 1978!” “At The Edge” was then segued in nicely by Burns moving the closing riff up the fret to the opening note of the inevitable “Alternative Ulster”, to close another vintage evening of good company and great rock.
So, the 9th time in 10 years and my 14th overall for Stiff Little Fingers, a band who are still burning fiercely and for me are as relevant as ever. We’ll be back for more, no doubt next March!