Round up the Big Man, bolt on the old punk rock t-shirt, get ready for the usual “Lauda”-esque sprint down the M4… yup, it’s time for the annual “Mad March To Bristol” to see Stiff Little Fingers!
This time it was for a more auspicious occasion – not only the 12th time in 13 years that we’d made this March pilgrimage (and my 17th time overall of catching them – thereby putting them once again into a clear 2nd place in my “Most Times Seen” list, behind the mighty Seafood), but also this tour celebrated the venerable original politico-punk agitators’ 40th Anniversary! Yup, SLF are 40 years young, and still, for me, thanks to recent worrying UK and global political shifts to the right, as relevant as ever. Trump, Brexit, terrorism… one would wonder what Fingers mainman Jake Burns, not often short of an opinion or two, might have to say about all that malarkey…
I was in the driving seat this year, so I picked up Ady, joining us this time around, then the Big Man, and we hared it down the M4, our only delay being to get into Trenchard car park due to an event at The Colston Hall as well! Parked on the roof then (!), but made it in time to join a very busy early doors crowd for the support. Said support, Kirk Brandon’s Theatre Of Hate, were on at 7.45 as we arrived, the strains of “Original Sin” accompanying our entrance. To be honest, I’d always preferred Brandon’s subsequent, more 80’s rockist-orientated Spear Of Destiny, to his angrier, punkier and heavy drum/ wailing saxophone dominated ToH material, so some of this set was a bit heavy going for me. However, the pacy, urgent “Propaganda”, a growling “Legion” and the inevitable galloping “Westworld” ended the set strongly, and Brandon’s soaring, almost operatically sinister voice was as usual an impressive feature throughout.
I’d made my way to the loo at the end of ToH’s set, but found it difficult to get back – this one was utterly heaving tonight! I’d noted that recent SLF March Bristol gigs had seen falling attendances, but it seemed every old punker in the South West had crawled out of the woodwork for the 40th Anniversary tour! Made it back in time, nevertheless, for the “Go For It” entrance music (the best, most all-inclusive buoyant, mood-setting intro music in rock, bar NONE!), and Jake and the boys took the stage with the usual, “Bristol! Y’alright?” shout-out, then, unexpectedly, into the rarely-played oldie “Breakout” and an equally infrequent but deliciously snarling “Straw Dogs”! Yipe, we might be in for some surprises tonight!
Such was the case, as Jake remarked, “Fuck me, 40 years… you get less time for murder!”, then announced that to mark the 40th, there’d be a few surprises amongst the usual faves. So we had the sinuous reggae-based “Safe As Houses” (one of Jake’s faves’ apparently) and the waltz-like intro to “Roaring Boys” which then took flight into a rambunctious punk-fest, amongst the usual likes of the empowering “Nobody’s Hero” and the excellent “Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae”, a breathless mid-set highlight.
And what did Jake have to say about the current political turmoil? Oddly, nothing… he continued to eschew the social and political commentary as per recent tours, saving the more severe invective for the likes of church hypocrisy and breaches of child trust (“Guilty As Sin”) and ignorant IRA support (“Each Dollar A Bullet”). All well and good, but I’d have liked to hear the Chicago-domiciled Burns’ take on the current idiot incumbent of The White House… Never mind, the music did the talking, and very eloquently; a final salvo of a savage “Wasted Life”, an epic “Tin Soldiers” and the raw, ragged “Suspect Device” ended the set superbly. Then after a libidinous, militaristic drumbeat-led first encore “Johnny Was”, Jake thanked us all for 40 years of support and for, “giving us a career,” before rounding off the night with another rare and highlight of the night “Gotta Getaway” and the inevitable if slightly messy “Alternative Ulster”. A great evening’s vintage punk rock again, and this time an SLF performance worthy of this major anniversary.
A footnote to tonight was that, midway through the gig, a guy in front of me was hauled out by the paramedics worryingly clutching his chest; however, before I grabbed a list and we hit the road for a clear run home, I bumped into his mate who confirmed he was OK, recovering at home. That’s a relief!