Belfast's original punk rock sons Stiff Little Fingers returned home on Saturday night (26th August 2017), for an outdoor spectacular at the city's Custom House Square. Bringing along new wave sewer dwellers The Stranglers, as well as locals The Outcasts and London noise-makers The Ruts/Ruts DC, gig goers were treated to an abrasive shindig.
Situated in the city's picturesque Titanic Quarter, Custom House Square filled with scores of punk rockers from past and present well ahead of the main event. With The Outcasts and The Ruts/Ruts DC providing the early evening soundtrack, the air was thick with nostalgia and stories of the past forty years, with the latter act in particular setting the mood with their politically-charged mantra of; "Music must destroy".
Emerging to the familiar tones of 'Waltzinblack', seasoned veterans The Stranglers lifted the atmosphere in the square to a new level. With the disreputable 'Nice 'n' Sleazy' hitting the spot with the Belfast audience, front man Baz Warne greeted the crowd, saying: "Good evening Belfast. It's an absolute fucking pleasure being here. Going on to recognise the occasion, with a sideways glance, the singer continued: "It's especially great that it's the 40th anniversary. Look at all the bald heads; that gives us a good feeling! We're helping out our great friends; Stiff Little Fingers. Old bastards."
With attendees hanging on to every line, note, chord and beat, the four-piece powered through classics like 'Golden Brown', and 'Peaches', with JJ Burnel's penetrating bass lines and Dave Greenfield's hypnotic keys taking centre stage.
However it was their hometown nobody's heroes that most had come to see. With anticipation rife, despite the sense of occasion, SLF singer Jake Burns kicked things off in a manner as unfussy as their no-nonsense music; "Good evening Belfast! How are you? Y'alright?", he said before bursting into an explosive 'Wasted Life'.
With a prevailing setting of punchy, fast, and defiant, Burns spoke of his feelings of coming back with a sense of typical of Northern Irish humour, "It's fucking great to be home", he said; "We've been doing this for forty years - you get less time for murder!" before launching into fan-favourite 'Straw Dogs'.
On a more sobering note, and touching on the recent high profile suicides of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, as well as his own battle with depression, during 'My Dark Places', the singer implored; "I wrote this as a sort of self help. I hope it helps others too. If you suffer, ignore the stigma; for fucks sake talk to someone."
Sticking with topical issues, bassist Ali McMordie took to the mic, dedicating an inciting 'Barbed Wire' to Northern Ireland's LGBT community.
Elsewhere, personal stories were shared, notably a reference to a night of partying with Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, who's pep talk back in 1978 inspired Burns to write 'When We Were Young'.
Reaching the end of their set, the band blasted through anthems 'Nobody's Hero' and 'Tin Soldiers', before a climactic 'Alternative Ulster' crowned what had been a night about so much more than music. "It's been an absolute fucking pleasure playing for you tonight", said Burns, signing off, with the crowd assured that punk is alive and well in Belfast.
Stiff Little Fingers' 40th Anniversary tour continues, with dates across the USA beginning at Solana Beach, California on 6th September. For the full list of dates visit the official SLF website.
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