FRIDAY the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, but that certainly wasn’t the case for the faithful who flocked to see Stiff Little Fingers’ annual Newcastle gig.
One of the second wave of punk bands to emerge in the wake of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, they have been “putting the fast in Belfast since 1977”, as one of their merch slogans aptly puts it.
They broke up for a few years in the 1980s as synths took over from guitars, but since reforming in 1987 they have never looked back , and still retain a big, loyal fanbase who turn out year after year to see them.
Forget the notion they’re just a ‘heritage act’ though: today’s SLF are as loved by those who follow them as they were back in the day – but their audience is getting younger, as original fans bring their kids along. That was certainly the case here, as many old punks who won’t see 50 again were joined in the seething moshpit by young ‘uns half their age.
You know what you’re getting at a Fingers gig; raw, impassioned punk rock played like they really mean it, and a good chunk of the setlist is like catching up with an old friend – always welcome.
What’s lifted SLF above being just another bunch of old punks treading the boards is the fact they released a new album last year, No Going Back. Their first in 11 years, it was their best since their heyday, and now it’s been out a few months, fans embrace its songs as warmly as the old ones.
What’s lifted SLF above being just another bunch of old punks treading the boards is the fact they released a new album last year.
Four tracks were played here, which freshened up the setlist no end; Full Steam Backwards (about the banking crisis), the excellent, uplifting My Dark Places (about frontman Jake Burns’ fight with depression), Guilty As Sin (which addresses child abuse by the Catholic church in Ireland) and When We Were Young (a tribute to Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott).
All were rapturously received, and invigorated the band as well as the audience. Burns and rhythm guitarist Ian McCallum have both lived in Newcastle, so it’s a sort of homecoming for them, and drummer Steve Grantley and bassist Ali McMordie picked up the vibe too, and it was clear they were having a blast, rather than merely going through the motions.
It’s the classics that people keep coming back though, and the likes of Nobody’s Hero, At The Edge, Wasted Life, Tin Soldiers and Suspect Device all had the whole place bouncing, as did Harp, the anti-racism anthem making a welcome return after a few tours’ rest.
For me, things reached a new level with the old one-two of Straw Dogs and Fly The Flag as they entered the home straight, and by the time they finished a three-song encore with Alternative Ulster, you knew you’d spent 90 minutes in the presence of a band who still know how to put on one hell of a show.
At the end, the smile on the face of the 12-year-old girl who spent her first SLF gig wedged next to me on the barrier at the front was as broad as that on her dad, who, like me, was seeing them for the umpteenth time.
Passing the flame? No, just sharing it with those he loves.