Flame still Burns for Belfast rockers

 Stiff Little Fingers return to Australia the month.

Stiff Little Fingers return to Australia the month.

DON’T fear the mosh pit if you’re going to one of Stiff Little Fingers’ 40th anniversary gigs around Australia later this month.

The Belfast punks’ music hasn’t mellowed much over the years – but their fans obviously have. “Our audiences tend to be very supportive, not just of us, but of each other,” said frontman Jake Burns on the phone from his home in Chicago. “We get mosh pits at most shows and when you see people fall over, generally they stop straight away and help them up and check if they’re okay. Then they go right back to it again.” The set list will, of course, include SLF anthems like Alternative Ulster, Suspect Device, Barbed Wire Love and Wasted Life - songs written at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

“The ones we refer to as ‘we’ve got to play or they’ll lynch us’ ”, said Burns. “I’ll try to keep my onstage rambling to a minimum so we can cram as many songs in as possible.” So much has changed since SLF played its first gig at Paddy Lamb’s bar in East Belfast back in 1977.

In those days, tight security measures shut down the city centre after 7pm, and there was very little live entertainment as bands were too afraid to play there. The young punks were bored and disillusioned. “We thought the only way to have music played live was to do it ourselves.” Burns reflected. No one ever dreamed they’d still be doing it 40 years later – least of all their parents.

Burns remembers how unhappy his dad was when he ditched his clerical job to go off touring with SLF in his late teens. “As far as he was concerned I was giving up a steady job to go gallivanting with my pals, which was pretty true.” “In one of those strange quirks of fate that (the firm) later went bust and shut down…yet I’m still doing this.“ Now living in Chicago, he marvels at the changes to his hometown since the peace process. Belfast city centre re teems with bars and restaurants.

“It was very much like a ghost town for the longest time…. Now people go there for hen nights and bachelor nights and stuff,” he said. “It is very much a party destination.”

Speaking of parties, Burns will celebrate his 60th birthday during the Australian tour. At an age when some people are thinking of retirement, he loves his job more than ever.

And creative inspiration hasn’t dried up either. Living in America under President Donald Trump has made sure of that. “I lived through the whole Thatcher years in Britain and I thought that was the epitome of greed as a personal creed,” he says. “I didn’t think that people could get more greedy or self-absorbed or less caring about their fellow man. Yet here we are in the era of Trump and if anything it is a million times worse… “If I was a quieter sort of person it would break my heart.

Being the person I am it makes me bloody angry.”

Stiff Little Fingers will kick off their Australian tour at the Rosemount Hotel in Perth on Feb 19. They will also perform in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. For details, visit www. metropolistouring.com