Punk Pioneer Henry Cluney Breaks Out

Former Stiff Little Fingers guitarist and vocalist Henry Cluney looks forward to his debut solo show in Belfast on July 20

Are you looking forward to coming home for the show at Voodoo on July 20?

Very much so. I’ve never been to Voodoo, and home is always home.

What sort of setlist will you be playing?

Mostly Stiff Little Fingers, plus a few new ones and maybe a cover or three.

Tell us about your new CD, Ashes.

It’s really a demo with two reworked SLF songs and the rest new. A few different-sounding songs, too.

Your live band includes your former Glam Slam cohort Gordie Walker on drums. Will you be throwing any glam rock nuggets in there?

Ummm… OK, yes.

You made your return to touring in the UK in 2009 with the Damned. How was that, and what prompted you to step on stage in front of a punk audience again?

You know, I missed it, but I didn’t realise how much. I’m very insecure, so the reaction knocked me sideways.

You’re back playing punk gigs in the pubs and clubs. is it like the ‘old days’?

Very real, yes. I don’t care how many people or the size of the gigs – I love it.

Since leaving SLF, you’ve been living in Rochester, Minnesota. What prompted the move there, and are you back in Belfast for good?

I’m still in the States – 15 years now. No dopey accent yet, though.

You’ve played guitar in various bands while in the US. Anyone we’d have heard of?

I played with a band called Head East who had a few hits, but mostly just fun stuff.

You DJ’d and taught guitar in Belfast in the early 1990s, while still a member of SLF. A lot of rock stars might lock themselves away, but you have always seemed very approachable. Do you enjoy meeting fans and upcoming musicians?

Of course. I honestly am no one special, and that used to bug me about 'certain others'.

Have you kept in touch with the Northern Ireland rock and punk scene? Any favourite acts?

Not so much new stuff, but the old gang still sound great. Love the Ruefrex.

SLF’s 1991 'comeback' album Flags and Emblems divided fans. How responsible were you for the more 'heavy metal' sound, and how do you regard the album today?

Very. I love metal, as well as punk. I think it’s the energy. I understand the fans, though, too.

The early SLF albums have attained legendary status, particularly your debut, Inflammable Material. How do you feel about the first four albums three decades on?

They are the only real SLF albums. We lost it when Jim [Reilly, drummer] left [in 1981].

Were you disappointed not to be invited to take part in SLF’s 30th-anniversary tour in 2007, when they played Inflammable Material in full?

Not really. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t 30 years – or even close.

I always enjoyed your singing and songwriting efforts with SLF. Was frontman Jake Burns receptive to your input?

Oh yeah, we never had a problem. I just have no confidence in my own stuff. I still don’t.

Tell us about the split. It seemed quite acrimonious, but have relations warmed between yourself and Jake, and have you kept in touch with any of the other current or former members?

Yeah, it was a stab in the back, but I’ve met Jake since and there’s no use carrying it on. It’s not Stiff Little Fingers is all I’ll say now [laughs].

Jake sacked you fromyour pre-SLF hard rock band, Highway Star. Was there always a fraught relationship between the two of you?

I can be a bit of a ganch, but the ironic thing is he kicked me out of Highway Star because I wanted to play punk.

Have you seen the new SLF live, or heard the albums they’ve made since you left?

I’ve heard the albums… Ummm… No.

There’s now more interest in the Northern Ireland punk scene of the 1970s than ever. As someone who was actually there, what was it like?

I loved it. We had fun and did some important stuff. I wish things were the same now.

Good Vibrations supremo Terri Hooley seems to have been elected the figurehead of the scene. You must have a Terri Hooley story – spit it out!

I love Terri, but really too many. Terri genuinely loved the music, that can never be denied.

Northern Ireland is very different nowadays, as is punk. Do you feel SLF’s lyrics are still relevant, or is it just a nostalgia thing for old fans?

It’s nostalgia, but still worth hearing. We only did five 'Norn Iron' songs, so it’s easy to say.

So many bands have cited SLF as an inspiration. Can you hear the band’s influence in the likes of Green Day and Blink-182?

Yes, though I don’t like those bands, which says a lot.

Who has been the most unlikely person to come out as an SLF fan?

Hmmm… Our mums.

Do you see a day when you might play with SLF again?

I don’t see them asking me, to be honest – but who knows?

Henry Cluney plays Voodoo in Belfast on July 20, with support from the Defects.