Me and my friend Paul have been to see Stiff Little Fingers countless times mostly in the Ulster Hall.
In the summer of 2017, Belsonic were hosting their last concerts at Custom House Square and Stiff Little Fingers were one of the headline acts. As part of their 40th anniversary tour that year, they brought along some support from Belfast’s very own punks, The Outcasts, Ruts DC and The Stranglers.
DJ on the night was the legendary Terri Hooley who entertained the crowd inbetween sets with some classics.
We were down too late for The Outcasts but made it in time for Ruts DC. The only song I recognised was Babylon’s Burning. They played a great set and were very enjoyable. The band would make a return visit to Belfast to celebrate their own 40th but sadly we didn’t make it for that one.
Next up was the Stranglers. Playing a very greatest hits set for a festival crowd, The Strangers were great but having seen them play indoors they sounded a lot better inside than outside.
Now it was time for the homecoming heroes, Stiff Little Fingers to come on stage. Celebrating your 40th is a big deal. I was too young at the time to appreciate them but remember being in school and seeing SLF carved out on desks so I knew who they were.
Still took me a good while to get to see them live and what a band they are. The older material from their debut Inflammable Material still stands the test of time 40 years later. There is even a tint of reggae influence amongst their punk material covering Bob Marley’s Johnny Was and even their own fantastic Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae from their 1981 album, Go For It which gets the crowd dancing.
Bringing the evening to a close we are requested to stand for the national anthem, Alternative Ulster and the place goes berserk! A fine ending to a fantastic gig.
The next year, 2018 Stiff Little Fingers are announced again to return to Custom House Square. Belsonic is long gone moved onto pastures new hosting gigs at Ormeau Park and this festival gets rebranded as CHSq. For SLF’s second outing, it’s tag line is “Putting The Fast in Belfast 2”.
Now this is where decisions are made on whether we want to do this again. 2017 was great but do we want a repeat performance? The stakes were quite high as the Open House Festival has managed to get Public Image Limited for the same evening in Bangor.
We were both tempted to go for PIL but at the time of both gigs being announced, CHSq got in first and announced the support – The Outcasts, Buzzcocks and The Damned. Well that sorted that decision out. Looks like we were up for round 2. The support bill finally got announced for PIL and it turned out to be XSLF and The Undertones but by then we had already bought our tickets for SLF.
Just like the previous year we missed the opening act, Belfast’s other very own punks The Defects. I think we did see them support SLF in the Ulster Hall once. It was great to see Buzzcocks again. I last saw them on their own 40th anniversary tour in the Limelight. My friend Paul previously saw them at Clarendon Dock.
Sadly this would be the last time we would get to see them as Pete Shelley sadly passed away four months later. Rest in peace Pete and thank you for the music.
The Damned were on superb form that evening. I had just picked up their new album Evil Spirts which was fantastic. Long overdue getting to see the band I enjoyed every minute of it. It was great to see them support SLF because at one stage they both played Belfast a few years previously and clashed on the same night!
Captain Sensible even took a pop at John Lyndon’s PIL who are playing Bangor at the same time saying that we had good taste and that this gig had outsold PIL. Ouch!
Ok, so it is time for round 2 of SLF more of the same from 2017? Not quite. The set list is a bit different to the previous year. We get a Specials cover Doesn’t Make It Alright as well as the usual classics plus a few other songs not played from the 2017 gig. Again we stand for the national anthem as Alternative Ulster brings the evening to a close yet again.
Surely the band aren’t coming back for round 3 in 2019? Well if it is good enough for Snow Patrol to play Ward Park three times it is good enough for SLF to make this an annual summer bash now titled Putting The Fast in Belfast 3.
Again it is the support bill which is the biggest draw for these gigs. You know what you are going to expect from an SLF gig. You are going to get all the favourites and maybe the setlist is changed up a wee bit. Part 3 isn’t quite a sell out. Are people weary of doing this three years in a row? Who knows? But the support bill is what is drawing both Paul and myself to keep coming every year.
Support came from The Toy Dolls, Therapy? and New Model Army. Paul heads down early to catch The Toy Dolls and I made it down on time for Therapy?
We are massive Therapy? fans, probably losing count of the amount of times we have both seen them. I think this was the second time we have seen them in support capacity.
Therapy? have the massive task of cranking out a 45 minute set to a festival crowd and they do not disappoint. Opening up with Potato Junkie, the crowd respond to Andy Cairns yelling “James Joyce is f***ing my sister!”. After that material tends to favour around their classic Troublegum album with choice cuts from Nurse, Teethgrinder gets us all bouncing. There are a few numbers from their latest release Cleave which shows the maturity of the band at ease with themselves to play the classics and newer songs to a bigger audience.
Before they leave the stage we are reminded about the Buzzcocks who graced the same stage a year earlier and with Pete Shelley’s passing in December, Andy and the band pay tribute to him by covering Ever Fall In Love With Someone to the approval of all.
Next up is New Model Army. A band I am familiar with but would struggle to know any of their songs. I do remember them during the 80s but wasn’t quite into them. I think they converted me last night. That was an incredible performance and the atmosphere when they were onstage was electric. Justin Sullivan has an incredible voice and I think I will need to check out some of their albums after witnessing this.
Finally it is time for the main event. With the opening intro Go For It getting the crowd going, the band enter the stage with Law and Order. For the next 17 songs we get a good variety of older material with some of their most recent material, My Dark Places were Jake opens up about his battle with depression and encourages all of us not to bottle up these feelings and talk about it.
Gotta Gettaway finishes with the band leaving the stage as they come back on for two song encore of Tin Soldiers and the national anthem, Alternative Ulster, we all go home happy.
So three years in a row and not quite bored yet. We discussed what if they come back again next year for round 4 and who would they bring with them. We both agreed that it is the support acts that make these gigs. Maybe the band deserve a wee rest next year. Whatever the outcome we will definitely be coming back for more.