Stiff Little Fingers

Belfast's most famous punks celebrate the new Ulster Hall in style

‘Will everybody please stand up for the national anthem,’ frontman Jake Burns demands before closing this triumphant homecoming gig with a suitably rousing ‘Alternative Ulster’, much to the delight of the motley collection of old and young punks packed into the recently reopened Ulster Hall.

During its 150 years this venerable Belfast venue has played host to everyone from Led Zeppelin to Ian Paisley but for a certain generation of Northern Irish music lovers it remains synonymous with Stiff Little Fingers. Throughout their late 70s and early 80s heyday the band regularly played (and sold out) the grand old hall, and it seems fitting that they are the first rock headliners following its £8.5 million refurbishment.

Though only two members of the original quartet remain, a rather portly Burns and bassist Ali McMordie, the band hark back to the glory days of Inflammable Material with a lively set. While some songs’ themes are clearly out-dated (searching shopping bags for bombs in Belfast ended almost 15 years go), classic material like ‘Suspect Device’ and ‘Tin Soldiers’ crack and fizz with socially conscious anger and energy.

Stiff Little Fingers’ heady mix of three chord punk and politics is heavily influenced by their more famous contemporaries, The Clash. Unfortunately this debt is taken too far at times and there are strong echoes of the stodgy, polemic Combat Rock in the material from the 80s which dominates the middle of the set.

Thankfully, by the end Burns is back on-message. ‘Pull together now,' he shouts as the final bars of ‘Alternative Ulster’ fade out. As the tragic events of recent weeks have shown, Stiff Little Fingers, 30 years on, still have something to say to Northern Ireland, and beyond. 

 

Peter Geoghegan