So here we are again! An even dozen times in a row that Belfast’s original socially conscious punk rockers, Stiff Little Fingers, have been at the Bristol O2 Academy in March, and 11 times in those 12 years that I’ve been there with them! Every time a good time, as I’ve mentioned before, so once again Rich and I donned our punk rock trousers and girded our loins for the annual “Mad March to Bristol”!
Rich’s turn to drive this time, as payback for our recent Ash Bierkeller jaunt, with the usual Lauda-esque run down on a crisp, clear night being punctuated by catch-up chat around old friends. Parked up in a relatively quiet Trenchard Street and wandered in about 8, during the early knockings of support Ricky Warwick And The Fighting Hearts. Warwick, formerly of 90’s hard rockers The Almighty, also saw time as frontman of the Thin Lizzy line-up that played Swindon’s MECA in June 11 (my gig 819), doing a pretty good job that night, as I recall. Now shorn of the hair metal band hair and with a a slicked-back Mohican, he strong-armed his way through a rabble-rousing metallic rock set with occasionally militaristic drumbeats, which was a little ham-fisted and didn’t do much for me. I thought I heard shades of New Model Army (although on latter consideration, also bits of Gothy hard rockers The Cult), Rich thought The Clash; and as ever The Big Man was right, as Warwick trotted off a pretty passable cover of “Tommy Gun” which got the best reception of their set by some distance. An Almighty cover to finish also went down well with the old rockers down the front, but again didn’t do much for me…
We took a wander around the venue looking for “Big Pat”, a steward who’d looked after Rich’s daughter Jess really well during their Bowling For Soup gig a couple of weeks ago, then headed to our usual stage left spot quite easily – maybe a case of diminishing returns, or just Sunday night ennui, but despite a late rush in, there was plenty of space on the floor tonight… Then the Best Entrance Music Ever (official), the rabble rousing terrace chant of “Go For It”, kicked in for the entrance of Stiff Little Fingers, dead on 9. A venomous opening “Wasted Life” was followed in short order by “Just Fade Away” and a rambunctious “Roots Radicals Rockers And Reggae”, the band nary pausing for breath in the process. A blistering start!
“We missed out on the [Brit] Awards again, but I never believed in awards, I believe in the power of guitar and drum!” announced rasping vocalist Jake Burns before the singalong manifesto number of the same name, tongue firmly in cheek. In fact, Burns was overall in an upbeat mood tonight, the usual political sloganeering absent tonight (a shame really, I’d have like to hear Burns’ views on the likes of Donald Trump’s recent rantings) in favour of more personal declamations. “Barbed Wire Love” was preceded by a preamble from Jake and rake-thin bassist Ali McMordie about Ali’s “doo-wop” debut; a splendid skanking “Doesn’t Make It Alright” was dedicated to The Specials’ John Bradbury, lost to us at the end of last year, and the most politically-motivated tirade came before a passionate acoustic “Guilty As Sin”, with a heartfelt oratory about abuse of trust, particularly of children.
The rock was solid and well-practised as usual; “At The Edge” fast and frantic, “Fly The Flag” an ironic terrace chant anthem, and “Tin Soldiers” sprawling and epic. Set finale “Suspect Device” was powerful and bilious, and saw the best moshpit reception of the set, but this was topped by an unexpected encore. “Don’t read anything into [us playing] this; I got tired of being sent Youtube clips of tribute bands playing this (a dig at XSLF, perhaps?) and I thought, fuck it, I wrote it, I should do it properly!”, Jake announced before a superb “Gotta Getaway”, the hook of tonight’s rarely-played best number ringing out around the venue. “Alternative Ulster” again ended the night, at which point the boys took a deserved bow after another fine performance from this vintage punk band, proving age doesn’t diminish passion.
Oh and we tracked down Big Pat afterwards for a good chat with him and his boss before heading off. A nice punctuation point on another fine Mad March evening. See you next year!