With all the fuss going on around 40 years of punk, with exhibitions and special ltd edition box sets, books and all number of things to mark the occasion. There are only a select few bands that can say they have made a real impact on people’s lives from that time, the band that’s on tonight are one of those whose songs pushed the boundaries back then and still come up with the goods today. I could give you a little information on this band but to be honest if you don’t know who Stiff Little Fingers are, then you have found this page by mistake and may just be looking up some dodgy site instead. Their back catalogue specifically early material is unquestionably up there with punk royalty, and although they can be forgiven for some poor releases over the 40 years, the last album was another top notch affair. The Barrowlands is again a sell out adding to other venues on the tour, this is by no means unusual as the crowds come back for more year in year out around the world.
Tonight we have as a starter Theatre of Hate, the Kirk Brandon lead band who created a unique sound of their own in the 80s, they bring their gear to the front of the stage including a Sax and show an already animated crowd that they still have it. Kirk Brandon may have lost the chiselled profile of his early years, and his guitar now sits arrest a more cushioned layer under his shirt today but he has not lost that voice or his passion to deliver it with astounding accuracy on some of those longer notes. He belted out those notes and held them on “Do You Believe in the West World” and “Original Sin” like he did when his quiff was thick and blonde. Unlike most bands SLF usually bring a bit of quality to the Barrowlands to support them, this was no exception as the crowd were well aware of the set on show and sang along with their moving feet.
The inevitable break between bands is a chance to take up position from those unfortunate enough to leave their post and take up toilet duties, this is a war or bore moment as too near the front is a war too near the back and you’re a bore so dancing distance is measured and claimed. The anticipation before the SLF intro is always fascinating, surrounded by what looks like four generations of people all shapes and sizes with a single focus wearing a variety of merchandise from down stairs or previous years. Then as if everyone in the hall had found their winning lottery tickets, screams, shouts and fists are in the air as the intro commences above the many backing vocals. If you weren’t knowledgeable about tonight’s entertainment, you would think four older guys had took a wrong turning at the Barras Market outside and wandered onstage. Until that is they strap on the tools of their trade and magic happens, starting with “Breakout” an early track from the first album and a fitting pace setter. The front of the stage is as usual a sea of bodies clambering over each other, as if there were lions being let in the door at the back of the hall. The sound is loud and angry crisp and clear, Jake, Ali, Ian and Steve have been together now for over 10 years and it really shows. There must be a pride in what they deliver on stage to the audience as the quality has never dropped in all the times I have seen them, there is no going through the motions its full on for the whole sweaty adrenaline fuelled set.
The gig is littered with classics, “At the Edge”, Tin Soldier”, “Gotta Get Away” , “Nobody’s Hero”, “Suspect Device” and the endearing love song “Barbed Wire Love” these early tracks are a constant at an SLF gig and the reason for this is very clear. The quality of the songs and Jake’s lyrical content is what makes this bands special, they set about playing to a high standard that is appreciated by the paying public giving them what they want and plenty more besides. The set always has a few additions that are not often played, “Safe as Houses” went down very well, as well as tracks from the last album “ My Dark Places” and “Guilty as Sin” tonight being chosen. A touch of 10 mins reggae tune at a punk gig may be bewildering to some, but “Johnny Was” always goes down a storm. Steve Grantley’s drum beat intro never waivers and builds the song from the ground to the start of Jake’s vocals like a thunderous march to war. As we over indulge ourselves with a longer set than usual, with 2 encores we unfortunately muster up enough energy for the last dance “Alternative Ulster” this is one of those very few songs that a crowd erupt with applause on the first touch of that 6 string guitar, starting the chords that have played in bedrooms for 40 years now. The perfectly delivered tune incites reserves of energy that people were unaware they had, tired limbs holding them up or helping the weak and fragile who have fallen to the sprung wood floor. Then it’s over for another year, after 40 years there can’t be many more but this crowd will be back for as long as there are tickets available.
As we give our appreciation and head through the eye of a needle that’s called the exit door, sweating and languishing in the highlights of the night we are already awaiting the return in a year’s time. The secret of the longevity and popularity of the band is in the detail, in my opinion Stiff Little Fingers perfect the live shows they put on and care about the quality they put out to the crowd in front of them each night. If you consider this to be an over exaggeration of a fairly good gig from an ageing punk band, get yourself along to see them live as they won’t be here forever but will stamp a mark on your memory like real bands should.