There was a capacity crowd at the Barrowlands last night for Stiff Little Fingers’ twentieth anniversary St Patrick’s Day show. And what a mix of people it was: there were punks, including several sporting impressive mohawks, forty-somethings who were probably punks back in the day and many younger fans who would not even have been born when SLF released their first album.

The billed support band Combat Rock had to pull out of the show. Apparently their lead singer was stuck on an oil rig! And so The Fiction were given a short notice opportunity to play to a large crowd.

The Glasgow four piece grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Their bluesy rock music was solid and the use of sax and keyboards gave them an added complexity. They went down well in a hall that was rapidly filling up.

Stiff Little Fingers came onto the stage to a heroes’ welcome. The opening Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae set the tone immediately: the set was going to be fast and loud and the crowd were going to love every minute.

Mixing tracks from throughout the band’s long career, Jake Burns and co kept the tempo high. A new album is in the making and Full Steam Backwards, a track about the banking crisis, maintains the political tradition of their song writing. And Barbed Wire Love, which Burns called SLF’s only love song turned into a singalong in the middle, a sea of hands swaying from side to side.

The music these days may be more rock than punk, although there is still an angry edge when some of the classics are played. And Jake Burns may be older and a little heavier but his voice is still strong and true.

Harp told of anti-Irish racism in Boston while Wasted Life demonstrated all the angst of the time it was written. Two songs of different lands and different times, yet with the common theme of rebelling against intolerance.

The set closed with Suspect Device from the debut album Inflammable Material. Can it really be 32 years since this classic was released? The incredible pace was slowed only long enough for the obligatory band introductions, before the music rose to a blistering finale leaving the crowd both exhilarated and yelling for more.

There simply had to be an encore and the band soon returned to the stage to play a raucous cover of I Fought The Law, the late 50s song made famous by Burns’ musical heroes, Joe Strummer and The Clash.

This was followed by another trip back to the first album for Alternative Ulster. The protest song saw almost every person in the audience chant along to the lyrics, fists pumping and a feeling of controlled aggression taking over before the band left the stage.

Still the crowd wasn’t satisfied and the band returned for a second time to close the night with another old favourite, Johnny Was. A rapturous reception marked the end of the night as SLF took one last bow before exiting for the final time.

Burns referred to the Barrowlands as the band’s favourite venue in the world, and for once I don’t think the proclamation was simply a frontman currying local favour. SLF keep coming back year after year, and as long as they continue to deliver to the same high standards the Glasgow audience will be ready and waiting.


Released: Fri 18th Mar 2011