stiff little fingers interview
(12th July 1997)

Stiff Little Fingers then, what do they mean to you? "Alternative Ulster" and a clutch of other punk anthems long-since relegated to the dusty recesses of your once-radical uncle's 7" collection and now replaced by the polished turds churned out by the likes of Phil, Eric, Elton and their ilk maybe? Or perhaps a band with a history to live up to, with a still-intact sense of social values, with passion and with a point to prove, namely that the new LP "Tinderbox" is not merely sub-standard punk churned out by beer-gutted grandads with one eye on the bank balance and the other on the touring punk retro farces?

Jake Burns is the only original member still in SLF, the others having dropped out at various points since the band reformed on an occasional basis in 1987 "just for beers and fun" and then on a more permanent basis in 1989 where they made a conscious decision not to just trog through the back catalogue every night: "when we reformed, we did actually say that we weren't doing it for the nostalgia trip. If we were going to do it, we wanted it to be right, to be recorded and to be as valid as it's possible for us to be". Since then, Bruce Foxton, ex-Jam, has joined on bass and Steve Grantley (of Horse!) on drums and it's this line-up that recorded the new album in a little over a month earlier this year. There's a couple of real pop songs on the LP, "we've always written fuckin' pop songs!", and a startlingly good cover of the Grandmaster Flash classic, "The message", "a lot of people will be surprised at SLF attempting a rap tune but I think we've added enough of ourselves to make it blend with the main body of what we do. Certainly the themes of disenfranchisement, disillusion and a desire to better yourself are central to everything we've tried to do since day one." It was certainly enough to get me over to the gig and asking for an interview, which took place after a tortuously elongated soundcheck had put everyone in a bad mood..

[For those unfamiliar with the Lazy Journalist machine, Bruce and Jake pick words from one side of the board and a little robot character chooses random questions for them from the other side. The first board is Smash Hits questions, the second Clint Eastwood, you get bonus points for working the questions out, the band get points for working out the connection to Clint.]

Bruce: It's a Vibrators song - or is it a lyric?
Jake: It's a song called "Stiff Little Fingers" came about 'cos we'd actually got our first gig booked and we didn't have a name--well, we had a name, we were going to be called The Fast..
Bruce: As in "bell"?
Me & Jake: eh?
Bruce: Belfast.
Jake: Nah, we just played really, like everybody else. A couple of weeks before the gig we found out there was another band with that name so we told the promoter that we'd get back to him with a new one. But then he phoned up and said that he had to have a new name for the ad in the paper, so I just picked up an album cover and [mimes scanning the track listing] said "we're called Stiff Little Fingers", thinking that we'd change it later. But then we got reviewed and it was a good review, so we were stuck with it.
Bruce: That's something I've learned today!
Jake: It's a good name, it shortens well and it looks good on the back of leather jackets.

Cable Car
Jake: Ha Ha! There's one for ya!
Bruce: I think they should legalise cannabis--I don't think there's any proof that it leads to harder drugs.
Jake: I agree with that...I don't think you need anyone to tell you that if you take heroin you're gonna die, and I don't think that marijuana does you any more harm than alcohol.
Bruce: Tell that to Bugs or Bonkers or whatever it was called.
Jake: Ha Ha! Drugs Bunny.
Me: Am I missing something?
Jake: Headline news. There was this girl who fed her pet rabbit on marijuana leaves and the rabbit got so stoned that it didn't run away when the pet dog mauled came to an untimely end...So let that be a lesson to ya!

Jake: Not at the moment.
Me: Not after that soundcheck?
Jake: No, soundchecks are always like that...
Bruce: You sensed it was a bit, err...tense, did you?
Jake: In general I don't feel lucky--every week I watch the lottery and think "well that's a quid saved, 'cos I'd never have picked those numbers"...and that's from "Dirty Harry".
Me: There's always the hackneyed musician's quote for that one though, "I'm lucky 'cos I'm doing what I love and I don't have to get a 9-to-5 to pay the bills."
Jake: Yeah, everybody says that..
Bruce: I was going to say that!
Jake: But I suppose from that point of view, yeah...we could be working down a mine, if there were any mines left, of course.

Bruce: I could've done that in '78 when the Jam played the Reading Festival: the Pirates were the Good, Sham 69 were the Ugly and we were the Bad--on the Melody Maker cover the following Wednesday.
Jake: Ha ha ha! I can't top that

Bruce: I get frogs in me garden.
Jake: Soundcheck that runs easily...
Bruce: Short drives in the bus...
Jake: Newcastle beating Man Utd 5-0..
Me: The simple things in life then?
Jake: Ha ha! Actually, beating Man U. 5-0 was my perfect day...we went down the pub to celebrate afterwards and I found a tenner. And, of course, that's "Dirty Harry" again.

Jake: Not the lottery!
Me: Are there any ambitions you'd like to fulfil?
Jake: Buy Newcastle Utd--but I think you'd need more than a few dollars.
Me: Any people you'd like to work with, that you might have to buy in?
Jake: Bob Clearmountain, there's a few big-name US producers, like Jerry Harrison who did the Live album, "Throwing copper", the sound on that record is amazing...and that was the follow-up to "A fistful of dollars".
Bruce: You really are Clinted-up.
Me: What other current bands do you rate? I hear things like The Seers and Crazyhead in "You never hear the one that hits you" and Offspring in your version of "The message" and one or two other places.
Bruce: I'm glad you like "The message", we're getting mixed reactions to that.
Jake: A couple of people have said The Offspring...and I know Crazyhead, I've got the "Desert orchid" album and they supported us, maybe 5 or 10 years ago. Hmm, when we did "You never hear the one that hits you" it wasn't supposed to come out like it did, we were listening to the backing track in the studio and giving it "AN-GUS! AN-GUS!" I mean, AC/DC for God's sake! I don't mind being compared to Crazyhead though...What do I rate? Sugar are a great band, Live I've already mentioned. I tend to like people that are,'s that thing, young bands are quoting us as an influence and so obviously the people that are my influences are like Elvis Costello for the songwriting and Tom Waits, although that doesn't come through in anything I do.
Bruce: I quite like Radiohead and some of the stuff REM have been doing.
Me: That's all guitar bands though, do you go for any dance music? Drum'n'bass or techno or anything?
Jake: Steve's into that, he's much more dance-aware than us...
Bruce: Comes in handy sometimes though...
Jake: Yeah, we did have one interview where the bloke started on about Trip Hop and Hip Hop, it sounded like events at school sports day to us!
Me: Alright, staying with the old stuff then, do you think that the Pistols reforming and these touring parties of old punks playing their old songs devalue your efforts?
Jake: I think that's a valid point...but it's nice when somebody who doesn't know that much about the band's history likes it, that makes it all worthwhile y'know?
Bruce: Neither of us would deny our roots and disown punk...
Me: I don't think you should.
Bruce: Exactly, but we do want to move on, we want to be current...
Jake: Just last night we were roped into playing what they'd term a Punk Festival and, I mean, it makes your heart sink--not because people are there celebrating, like we just said, that's great--but it makes your heart sink when you realise that all the other bands are just standing up there and going "...and here's another one we wrote 20 years ago". You might as well be in a cabaret band.

So there you have it, they might look like your dad and yes, they might have lost some of that anger, but they've still made a good album, even by contemporary standards, and their sense of humour is still intact. They can still do the business live too, even if Northampton's Derngate is a somewhat odd choice of venue: the sight of 100 or so punks (young and old) trying to get a moshpit going across two rows of seats and old lady usherettes with little torches looking intimidated by the mohicans, not to mention the incongruous pink decor, no drinks/no smoking rules and the announcement that we should take our seats as the show would start in 3 minutes all combined to give an air of the surreal to the occasion. The important bit was done right though, the music is what counts and even I, cynic that I am, was impressed. They don't expect you to love them, or even like them necessarily, but don't just dismiss SLF along with all the other punk chancers, and look for a pop single out in September on Spit Fire records.

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