Legendary Northern Ireland punk band Stiff Little Fingers raised the bat in 2017 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the group. Starting out on indie giants Rough Trade, the group has written some of the most in your face and also hitting home tunes in relations to the issues happening in their homeland. 2013s Not Going Back proves they are still at the top of their game and prove they still ave something to say. Frontman Jake Burns spoke to me from his home in Chicago.
Munster: Hows 2017 treated you?
Jake: Busy, very busy. This was our 40th anniversary year so we did a lot of touring, so its been a complete shock to the system, we/ve been building up to it for the last year. We didn/t get to everywhere we wanted to get to, so we/re taking more time to expand the tour that will lead into 2018. Basically its been a year of airports and suitcases basically (laughs)
Munster: how did you want to celebrate the 40th anniversary, I take it you didn/t want it to be a nostalgia fest?
Jake: I think you used the right word, celebrate. We did want to make it a celebration, people are coming along to celebrate the long Gevity of the band, but we didn/t want to make it a nostalgia fest, thats something we wanted to avoid but its hard to, you know we didn/t want to do a whole “hey this is my favourite song”. So when we put the set together theres bout seven songs that are standard tracks, like if we don/t play them they will lynch us. Once you put those in, we tried to put some more obscure LP tracks and some of the more popular album tracks, and like I said try to make it as a representation of the bands 40 year span but not make it a nostalgia fest. But we/re hoping by the time we get to Australia we will ave one, maybe two new songs. Its kind of not a deal of what do you put in, what do you leave out. I think we/ll grit our teeth and maybe ask if we can play an extra 15 minutes so we can cram it all in.
Munster: The Damned and also Glen Matlock toured here for their 40th year anniversary celebrations, what do you put down the longevity of all these bands down to?
Jake: well im not sure we do really, the acts you mentioned, and there are others, bands like the Buzzcocks and also the Stranglers who ave been round even longer, and I think the fact all those bands ave last this long is for a number of reasons, but one of the keys is the fact they wrote great songs, and I think that is one of the real keys to longevity. If you write three minute songs that are instantly forgettable you/re not going to last long, I think all those bands ave written songs the minute you hear, like New Rose and Ever Fallen in Love, you know who it is, and even today you probably still turn up the radio every time they came on. I wouldn/t say we stand out any of those acts, if anything we/re flattered to be in that company.
Munster: back in the late 70s and early 80s you guys had a lot of trouble when you started and found gigs hard to come by, is it hard to look back on those days with rose tinted glasses?
Jake: I do ave fond memories, but you/re right. We were one of the first punk bands in Northern Ireland, and like all those bands, you are going to come up against a resistance. We had no commercial value and theres a covers band down the road and there doing the Eagles and Steal Dan, and when I rang the venues to ask for a gig, we say we play original material they would hang up the phone. And then when we found a venue that had original music when they asked what kind of music and we said punk they hung up again (laughs). I can look back and laugh but it was frustrating at the time. We knew what music we wanted to play and we knew we were/t alone. There was like three punk rock bands that appeared overnight in Belfast. It was funny at first it was just me and my mates then you find out there are like minded souls at the time. I can look back with fondness now but it was hellish frustrating at the time.
Munster: was it real DIY where you would book a hall and thats how you got gigs and youd ave a line up with the other few punk bands at the time?
Jake: yeah we did that. Not so much with other bands but we would keep an eye when they would play. We would see a band at a new venues then we/d ave a beer with them and we/d asked them how they got the room. There was a time a mate said what you do is you call this hall and tell them its a 21st birthday you want to put on. So then you sell tickets in the carpark. It worked great we did it several time and it was cheaper than booking a club and we gave us the bar staff which was great.
Munster: you mentioned we might here a new song when you come to Australia, can you write on the road?
Jake: nah I cant write on the road, I got friends that can do it and I don/t know how they go about it and how they do it. I need to be at home and concentrate, but thanks to the wonders of cell phones you got a little voice recorder in your pocket, so you can sing the idea in the phone so you got something to work with when you go home. Also bands don/t operate during social hours we don/t get to the hotel till bout 3 in the arvo, make a call home, ave a cup of tea and a sandwich, then you don/t get back to the hotel until 1am at the earliest. And I don/t think people would appreciate me banging on a guitar at 2 in the morning. So im trying to be neighbourly but I am jealous of people that can do it.
Munster: what Pisses you off in the world today that makes you want to write a song?
Jake: We/re do you start. I/ve been living in America for the last 13 years or so, obviously its been a year with the new government, it seems like a new disaster has happened every day. I saw a friend when Trump got in and he said wow you/re not going to be short of material. But its not a question of tyring to find something to write bout, its like you/re at the words biggest all you can eat buffet and its like where do you start (laughs) hes already featured in a few songs but I aint writing a three LP concept album or anything like that.
Munster: I read an interview with John Lyndon and he says that he is against gun control and I was disappointed to read that, but then I thought that he lives in American so maybe hes just exposed to that culture, whats our take on that?
Jake: Growing up in Northern Ireland we had guns in our culture but they were illegal. The trouble in Irelands started when I was 11 so I ave always been opposed to guns, and aving been exposed to guns and seen the violence that can come from guns I will always be against them. And im not talking about riffles and hunting, thats not the case, no one uses a hand gun for hunting, the hunting lobby is a different argument, lets be completely honest, the only [purpose of a handgun is to kill another human being. Unlike Mr Lyndon im still firmly opposed to the bloody things. Im faced with this argument almost daily, and on TV time after time, and it doesn’t seem to matter how many mass shooting take place and also school children getting killed, I forget who said it but after Sandy Hook, someone said “basically the Republicans are ok with the killing of school children and theres little more we can come up with that will change their minds”. And thats sad but that doesn/t mean we should not give up with the argument.
Munster: tell us the process that went into making the 2013 LP Not Going Back
Jake: we had this off on relationship with EMI, where we hadn/t made a record for a few years and then we would show up and say hi remember us we were signed to the label for a time can we make another record. And they would be like oh you guys. Yeah heres some money. Everyone we knew at EMI had left, so our management said EMI ave passed so we can shop it round to the other majors, and keep going til someone says yes, or you can crowdfund it. I don/t think theres many majors left. We went with crowdfunding. It has its pros and cons like most things, we were completely independent so we can make it the way we wanted, and also it helps break the barer between band and audience. You can keep going through record label to label until someone said yes, but instead we went straight to our audience and pretty much said do you want to buy this record in advance without hearing it. And if they said no we were screwed, you know we couldn/t go to the Buzzcocks crowd (laughs). But our audience came through and we had the funds within 24 hours and lucky when it came out people liked it. It was a different way to do things, but nerve racking but very happy with how it went, we made a live album and DVD and we went down the same road. You make mistakes in the funding process but its something we/re still learning. We/ve been a band for forty years but we haven/t been a record label for forty years so there are missteps along the way but in general it was a worthwhile and useful way to do things
Munster: Thats an interesting progression, going from Rough Trade and the birth of indie music in the UK to a major in EMI and then to Crowdfunding
Jake: to be honest it kind of felt like going back to your roots it wasn/t quite back to the early days where we had to tick together. But there was a huge amount of freedom. There was no one from the label checking on us or no one saying well this isn/t going to make it as a single. There was none of that, so we were able to ave complete freedom which was a relief. For example one of the more popular songs off the LP is called My Dark Places, which I wrote about my battle with depression, and I could imagine a label executive saying this isn/t going to fly (laughs). When you get to a certain age you end up dealing with issues like this and our audience can relate to that but it felt like coming full circle doing it for ourselves and the audience, but with 40 years experience behind us.
Munster: you/ve done tours with the Offspring, Pennywise and Bad Religion, that must be a ace feeling aving the next generation being fans of yours.
Jake: we did a tour with the Offspring and Pennywise and Bad Religion, and we/ve done shows with Dropkick Murphy’s. Yeah its flattering, but it also makes you feel your age. All these guys saying “I brought you LP when I was in school” (laughs). Yeah thanks for that. Its nice its flattering, and there all nice people and there all great bands. And thats the biggest complement, Bad Religion I consider friends their also an amazing band so to spend time on the bus together. So thats always nice I don/t think theres anymore validation when someone buys your record but if there pick up an instrument because of that’s. its the best.
Munster: and finally favourite LP by the Fall?
Jake: The Fall? I don/t ave any of their records. Im not a fan
(editors note: ive had many people say they don/t know the Fall but this is the first not a fan answer. Re reading Mark E Smiths book over the holidays Mark mentioned they toured with Stiff Little Fingers but no further details are mentioned. Hmmm I should ave asked what Mark was like on that tour)
Stiff Little Fingers play the Croxton Saturday 24 February.