Tag Archives: SLF

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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Week 35 – TBT 2017 – Staring at the rude boys

Last weekend Dee and I were in Belfast for Stiff Little Fingers‘ (SLF) homecoming gig on their 40th Anniversary tour.  They had a great supporting cast of The Stranglers, The Outcasts and this week’s TBT selection, Ruts DC.

The original Ruts were also around during the punk days, and probably best known for Babylon’s Burning.  Their lead singer died of an overdose, and their guitarist died about 10 years ago. Now a 3 piece band, with the original bassist (Segs Jennings) and drummer (Dave Ruffy), their set had some of their old classics and some newer numbers which sounded great.  The DC in their name is from the musical notation Da Coda, or “go back to the beginning”.

I had the pleasure of seeing Jennings and Ruffy last year when they did an acoustic tour as part of Dead Men Walking, along with Jake Burns from SLF and Kirk Brandon from Theatre of Hate. That was a very intimate gig: Saturday’s was the opposite!

The gig was sold out, with over 5000 tickets for an outdoor event.  The weather gods looked kindly on us, and the gig gods were even kinder. I spent the whole gig in the front row, right in the middle: I was in seventh heaven.  And to cap it all off, Ruts DC were staying in my hotel and I had the pleasure of meeting Segs the next morning.

On the Dead Men Walking tour, they talked about this song,  It was based on a real night out that they were at, along with Jake from SLF and others, where a serious fight broke out and all the various factions got involved.  The song itself is very textured, and tells the story really well.  I hope you enjoy it!

The Ruts – Staring at the Rude Boys

Week 33 – TBT 2017 – London Calling


Sticking with the punk theme from last week, I thought I’d share this classic track from The Clash.  Not just because the bassline is excellent, but because the photo that goes with it has become iconic in its own right.  

Paul Simenon is in the process of smashing his bass – presumably at the end of the gig – and I think the image has such powerful energy and makes a statement all on its own.  

I played this track with a covers band a few years back, and had it as my ringtone for ages (I now have an AC/DC tune, but that’s for another week!).  For all that the bassline is a classic, and is so much fun to play, I can also state from experience that if the guitarists don’t play with some attitude the song becomes a bit bland. The song is crying out to be played with passion, with a swagger, and if you don’t play it that way it loses a lot of its power.  

I should probably state for posterity that, for all I like(d) punk, I was never a massive fan of The Clash.  They just didn’t seem to “do it” for me in the same way that other bands – notably SLF, the Sex Pistols, The Damned or Siouxsie and the Banshees – did.  It’s almost heresy to admit that, according to some fans, but we all like what we like, right?  

Anyhow, here it is: enjoy! 

London Calling – The Clash

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!  

Week 12 – TBT 2017 – Pump It Up

Ok, I have to confess that I love the baseline on this. I’ve tried playing it a number of times and just one bit causes me to struggle. I’m not aware of having heard it before SLF played it as an encore, but I must have done. It’s perhaps not as well known as some of Elvis Costello’s other work, but I think it’s a great tune. Doesn’t the video look pretty dated though? 

Pump It Up – Elvis Costello and the Attractions

Week 11 – TBT 2017 – Johnny Was

Tomorrow night, St Patrick’s Day, I’ll be in Glasgow watching Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) play their 26th consecutive year at the same venue on the same night. I was there last year for their 25th, and am making the journey again this year as it’s part of their 40th Anniversary tour. It stands to reason that this week’s choice should be the first of their songs I ever heard, from the first album of theirs I ever heard: the band was 3 years old by then, and have been my favourite ever since. 

Johnny Was is actually a Bob Marley track, and this version comes from the live album Hanx! To my mind, this is probably still the best live album, by any band, ever. At the time I listened to it, I wanted to be a drummer. This track was the first on Side 2 of the cassette (remember them?), which I’d borrowed from a classmate as I was going to see this band at only my second ever gig. Turn the volume up, dim the lights, and see if you can figure out why a wannabe drummer would love this, and why a fully fledged bass player would still rank this as one of his favourite tracks ever. 

Johnny Was – Stiff Little Fingers

The tracks of my years

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I thought I’d try to compile a playlist of songs that represent me, or that speak to me on some level, so here goes.  They’re in no particular order.

  1. Gone Cold by Clutch. Probably the first “new” band I’ve heard in a long time, though I’ve since found out that they’ve been going since the early 90s. I listen to podcasts a lot when I’m driving, and one work related podcast features this song as the intro and outro music. It has a lovely, laid back feel to it, with vocals which drawl gently through the opening lines, but which reveal more of an edge when singing the lines around the song title.  I think I am also pretty laid back most of the time, but can be steely as and when necessary.
  2. Doesn’t Make it All Right by The Specials. When you’re growing up in a pretty much exclusively white rural town in the Scottish lowlands, a song which is very much anti-racist sends a strong message,  This song combines one of my favoured music genres (ska) with a conviction that I felt strongly at the time and still do. Oh, and my favourite band, SLF, do an awesome version of it.
  3. Boogie Chillun by John Lee Hooker. Cut down, raw blues with a wonderful hook, this song is just brilliant. the lyrics, about a child’s desire to break free and get lost in their music at times exactly how I feel.  I go through peaks and troughs, and at their height I just want to be enveloped in listening to and playing great music.
  4. Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival. OK, I’m not entirely sure what a bayou is, and I’ve no idea what shoogling is (it’s one of the words in the lyrics), but this song has a similar sort of feel to me as number 1 above does.  It’s quite chilled, but at the same time full of a sort of restless energy which breaks out from time to time.
  5. Panic Song by Green Day. This song is not long, and it’s not complex: but the intro is nothing more than a build up of energy which eventually explodes into action. In a lot of respects, my anger is like that: it takes a long long time to build, then (and only very rarely) does it get released.
  6. Soul Man by Sam and Dave This mostly made the cut because a) the Blues Brothers did it, b) it’s a fab time and c) they say “play it Steve” (to Steve Cropper) and I am a Steve!
  7. Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet. Again, Steve gets a mention, this time in the intro, but I chose this because it was one of the first songs I remember by a band I used to really like. I think this and Teenage Rampage probably laid the path for me to follow in terms of melodic music with a strong drum line.
  8. White Noise by Stiff Little Fingers. As with The Specials number above, this is very much an anti-racist number, though oddly enough when it first came out radio stations refused to play it because it has a derogatory w-word in every chorus. If they’d checked the lyrics they’d have seen that it was protesting about discrimination for whatever reason, whether race, colour, creed or nationality. What a great message!
  9. In The Hall Of The Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg. I’m half Norwegian, half Scottish, and this is written by a Norwegian composer whose parents were Scots and has our hero encountering giants in their home.
  10. Donald Where’s Yir Troosers by Andy Stewart. This is a none too serious look at what it’s like to be a Scot from the sticks, and particularly when they venture down into the big city of London.  I’m a Scot who made the move from a rural part of the country away to England and to a big down. Oh, and if you want an Elvis impression, there’s one on here too – uh huh!

This was harder than I had expected, but I think I got there in the end. I hope you like the list!