Tag Archives: Barrowlands

Leading from the front

Back in March I posted about how long it takes to recover from being at the front at a punk gig. I’m thinking now that maybe it was a one off, and here’s why.

Last weekend, the same band – Stiff Little Fingers – played a homecoming gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland as part of their 40th Anniversary celebrations.  The venue was outdoors, in Custom House Square, and the capacity was around 5000. When tickets went on sale, over 3000 were snapped up in the first 48 hours – I got two, one for me and one for my friend S – and all 5000 were sold out long before the event.  Dee came for the weekend but had decided that she didn’t want to join us at the gig.

The support acts were not too shabby: Belfast’s very own The Outcasts, Ruts DC (best known for Babylon’s Burning) and The Stranglers, who had their 40th Anniversary a couple of years back.  I hadn’t seen the first two before, so I was looking forward to hearing them: I wasn’t disappointed.

S and I met up around lunchtime and took in some of the sights (pubs) in Belfast. It seemed like everyone in the city was wearing a tshirt or something related to one of the four bands, and the atmosphere was brilliant. We moved to the pub nearest the venue a couple of hours before the gates were due to open and joined the throng of cheerful fans.

For the last couple of years Jake Burns, SLF’s lead singer and only ever present in the band, has worn a black shirt with white polka dots when gigging.  Someone on the SLF forum on Facebook thought it might be fun if fans turned up wearing something similar. Eventually it was decided that we’d all meet up near the gig venue an hour before gates opened for a polka dot photo.  There were 50 – 60 people in polka dot shirts (S and myself included) who congregated at The Big Fish (officially called The Salmon of Knowledge) on the banks of the river Lagan, and everyone was in a happy and excitable mood.

Once photos had been taken, people either went back to the pub or, as S and I did, started queuing to get in to the venue.  Once we got in, we headed straight for the merchandise stall and each bought a tshirt which had been specially produced for the gig: as it turns out, they were sold out very early on, such was the demand (more are being printed now, for a limited time only).

We then turned the corner and saw that there were hardly any people in ahead of us, so managed to secure a spot against the barrier at the very front, right in the middle of the stage.  This was a prime position and we were very surprised to have captured it.

As the various bands came and went, the venue filled up and the press from behind grew stronger and stronger – but we didn’t lose our spot. Cue SLF, and the place went wild: there was a general frenzy of singing, pogoing, chanting – everyone totally blessed out on the music and the fact that we were there, in Belfast, where it all began for our favourite band. What could be better?  What could ever top that?

From a music perspective, possibly nothing. But, the whole experience was enhanced by a couple of things.  First off, at the end of the gig, I managed to get a hold of Jake’s set list, which is now framed and on my wall. Second, it turns out that the Ruts were staying at our hotel, and I managed to grab a few words with their bassist and got a couple of photos with him.  Third, I found the exact spot – not far from the hotel as it happens – where the photo for SLF’s latest album, No Going Back, was taken: I of course had to get a photo of me taken there.  And fourth, we found Hope Street, which is the title of a song and album by SLF.

Me in the front row, 5000 fans behind me. I’m the one with big spots on my shirt!

At the end of the gig, the crowd dispersed, still on a high and in very good humour.  Since then, my Facebook feed has been full of praise for the city of Belfast, for the welcome the fans received, and plaudits for how good the gig was.  Just imagine that: a punk gig with 5000 people and no trouble, no fighting, no bad temperedness. Everyone was just glad to be there.

I described in my article in March how I’d been battered and bruised by being in the second row at the gig at the Barras, so how do you think I fared being in the front row at a gig that had more than double the attendance?  I was absolutely fine. Other than temporary deafness which went after a day or so – and which would have happened even if I was further back – I had no ill effects. My legs were fine, elbows weren’t damaged and there were no bumps or bruises to speak of.

So, this begs the question – when I next go to an SLF gig, will be at the front again? You bet!

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How long does it take to recover?

In my TBT post last week I said I was going to see SLF in Glasgow.  Normally that would be the end of it, but I felt that I had to write today, just over a week later, to describe the night.  I’ve been to countless gigs, and have lost count also of the number of times I’ve seen SLF, though it’ll be in the teens or early twenties I think.  This gig was different though. Read on to find out why. 


I’m going to gloss over the travelling I’d done to get there, and will even skip the pre-gig auction run by fans which raised over £3000 for charity.  

I met my friend S at the auction, and when we were ready we headed along the road towards the legendary Barrowlands Ballrooms, affectionately known as “The Barras”. Stopping en route for haggis and chips washed down with Irn Bru (I’m in Glasgow, remember, and nothing could be more Scottish than deep fried haggis with a sugary drink), we met up with S’s friend M, then carried on the remaining 5 minutes or so to The Barras.  It had been raining, the streets were wet, and all around were quite merry Glaswegians celebrating St Patrick’s Day.  (The only reason I can think of why St Patrick’s is supported more enthusiastically than the other patron saints is his recent association with Guinness and drinking in general.)

We joined the queue to get in, which seemed to move quite quickly, and before we knew it we were upstairs, coats checked in and souvenirs bought from the merchandise stall.  So, upstairs again and into the ballroom itself.  With its low ceiling and sprung floor, and quite a few fans in already it seemed like the place was buzzing.  So far so normal really, but the first change for me was having a beer while waiting for the support act to come on. 

Theatre of Hate were the support this year, SLF’s 40 Anniversary year, and I think probably the second or third time I’d seen them.  I’m not a massive fan, but it’s always good to see and hear musicians at their craft.  We stood maybe 15 yards from the stage, just right of centre, and had a good view of the proceedings. 

After Theatre of Hate had done their thing, it was time for the stage to get cleared of their stuff and SLF’s to be made ready.  It was the first time I’d seen them since their legendary roadie / guitar tech Andy Scott had gone off to get a “real” job, and felt a little odd.  As the time for SLF to come on drew nearer, we gravitated more to the front.  My friend S managed to get a place right on the barrier, M and I were just behind. 

The lights dimmed, the band’s instrumental Go For It blared out, and the 2000+ people in the event behind me suddenly seemed to want to be in front of me as the band took the stage.  For the next 90 minutes or so, there was a mix of total concentration on the music and performance in front of me, while jostling for position and pushing back against the hordes – including those in the mosh pit which was effectively immediately behind me.  

There had been a spate of thefts of phones etc last year, so I took the precaution of having my wallet and phone in one front pocket, and I held on to them with one hand for the duration of the gig. My other hand was on the shoulder of the person in front – whoever that was.  At the start of the gig M and I were about 4 rows from the front, by the end he had moved to one side and I’d got right behind S and so was only 2 rows from the front.  It’s the first time I’ve been so close at such a big gig. 

I’m a big bloke – over 6ft – and I did feel a bit for those who were behind me and couldn’t see. Particularly one lady who appeared to be well under 5ft – her head didn’t reach my shoulder blades – who towards the end of the gig had to be pulled out of the crowd by security guards as she struggled to breathe in the crush.  I also had a fair few people ask if they could get past to take photos, and I’m afraid I developed a sort of “if you wanted photos that much, you should have got here early to be at the front” attitude. That’s not particularly charitable I know, but if I’d let one past, before I knew it I’d be standing at the back.  Unusually for me, I had the beginnings of cramp in both calves at different times during the gig.

After two blistering encores, the gig finished and, after collecting our coats we emerged into the chilly, damp, Glasgow night. Tshirts and jeans wringing wet due to sweat, we felt the cold air and drops of rain keenly as we headed back into town, the others for their trains and me to the hotel.  

I had the usual side effects on the Saturday and Sunday, which gradually left me completely by Monday, namely ringing in my ears and partial deafness.  I was quite surprised that I didn’t have any bruises or knocks.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the effect of pushing back against that mass of people for so long.  On the Saturday my calves were particularly tight, which meant that whenever I stood up I had to pause, straighten my legs, and hobble slowly along. Dee was walking way quicker than me – and that doesn’t normally happen! (She hadn’t come to the gig, but was waiting at the hotel for me.)

Sunday was the real day of reckoning!  My calves had tightened to the extent that I pretty much could not straighten my legs other than very slowly.  I was reduced to walking on tiptoes – I’d probably have been more comfortable wearing high heels.  I was dreading the flight back home, but was actually able to get up and out of my seat and down the stairs reasonably well.  

As the week has gone by, I’ve learned that a) running with tight calves doesn’t help you get better and b) taking stairs two at a time with tight calves is also a really bad thing! Here I am, 8 days after the gig, and it’s the first day my legs have felt normal.  I have never felt so injured for so long after a gig. 

The question remains though – would I do it again?  Absolutely! Being in the heart of that melee made the gig even better than it probably was for those at the back!