Stiff Little Fingers: There are still plenty of things to be angry about
THE BELFAST PUNK ICONS REVEAL HOW THEIR FANS WILL GO TO ANY LENGTHS TO MAKE SURE THEY HEAR THEIR HEROES. BY CLAIRE SAVAGE
Mention the name Stiff Little Fingers and for gentlemen of a certain age at least, it will doubtless evoke memories of a time when Belfast's punk movement was a beacon for a generation of young people sickened by and tired of the Troubles.
It's an era which was beautifully rendered on the big screen just recently in hit movie Good Vibrations, about the life of punk impresario Terri Hooley, but from which few bands have still survived to be playing today.
Contrary to the music genre which would cement their reputation, however, Stiff Little Fingers started life as a schoolboy group called Highway Star, covering rock classics.
According to bass guitarist Ali McMordie, though, it wouldn't be long before the energy and anger of groups like The Clash and The Ramones "just blew us away".
"Nothing else came close," he says. "Most of our friends continued to plug Sabbath, Zeppelin and so on, but their days were over!"
Attracting a mass following with their blend of personal and politically-themed material, including singles like Suspect Device and Alternative Ulster, Stiff Little Fingers also became the first group to conquer the UK top 20 album charts on an independent label with their debut, Inflammable Material.
His early music inspirations included Elvis Costello, The Stooges, Lou Reed and The Who, but new acts like Arctic Monkeys, Biffy Clyro and Elbow are more likely to feature on McMordie's personal playlist now.
"I like bands that have stuck together and built up a great grassroots following," he says.
Despite numerous line-up changes (frontman Jake Burns is the only other member remaining from their punk era) the band is still as much in demand as ever, and has returned to the music scene with a new repertoire of songs and a live gig in Belfast next week.
"There are still plenty of issues to be angry about," says McMordie. "If we had become complacent there would have been no new album. We wanted to get these songs out there – we didn't want to be considered a nostalgia act with only an old catalogue to promote."
Describing the new release is difficult, he says, but the flavour of the music will be familiar to faithful fans. Produced via the Pledge Music route – whereby it is funded by fans – the album features, according to McMordie, "injustice, deceit, discrimination and oppression – and that's just the first track".
In contrast to a lot of the current raft of chart music, which largely shies away from contentious political issues, Stiff Little Fingers' upfront style has always appealed to the masses.
As for the band's Belfast following, they can expect a "real homecoming" gig at the Ulster Hall. Of the current music scene in the city, McMordie adds that it is "very vibrant", with "many great bands from Belfast that inspire".
Indeed, the band has attracted a whole new audience with their comeback.
"It's gone second generation," says McMordie. "It's really encouraging to see."
And in true punk style, this dedicated fanbase proved its mettle in Australia recently, when another act decided to rehearse during the band's live set.
"We were on adjacent stages and they soundchecked noisily while we were playing," says McMordie. "Missiles started to fly from some of our more irate fans over to their stage.
"I think they got the message ..."