Stiff Little Fingers – Best Served Loud, Live at Barrowland


Finger lickin’ good

Paul Castles takes a step down Memory Lane and gets his Fingers burnt once again listening to Best Served Loud, released by EarMUSIC on 23 June, 2017

One of the unforeseen outcomes of the recent General Election was the way in which it restored Northern Irish politics to the very heart of the Westminster agenda. With the DUP holding more aces than a casino card shark, the whole political alphabet of Northern Irish politics was resurrected as the corridors of power once more echoed to talk of the IRA, UDA, UVF, DUP – with the RUC thrown into the melting pot for good measure.

While the respective claims and counterclaims of the aforementioned can be debated ad infinitum by the so-called political elite, for your average punk rocker growing up in Belfast in the early 80s the only letters that really mattered were S-L-F. Stiff Little Fingers weren’t merely the heroes of Northern Ireland’s bondage, bumflap and safety pin brigade, the Jake Burns led quartet were one of the UK’s most vibrant and vital punk rock outfits.

Best Served Loud is a live recording from a show at Barrowland Ballroom this March, which marked 25 years of St Patrick’s night celebrations for Stiff Little Fingers at the iconic Glasgow venue. The musical content focuses pretty much on Fingers’ first three killer albums, the first of which, Inflammable Material, provided a scorching soundtrack to the raw energy and outright viciousness that was so widely prevalent on the backstreets of Belfast throughout what is simply referred to as The Troubles.

Against a backdrop of the British Army pounding the streets, divisive sectarian marches, almost daily car bombs, hunger strikes, and Molotov cocktail-fuelled riots, Stiff Little Fingers were one of only a handful of Irishmen able to unite both sides of the political divide – sports stars Mary Peters, George Best and Hurricane Higgins – probably the most notable others.

SLF today features singer Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie from the original late 70s line-up and the Barrowland boys throw themselves lustily into a night of Punk Rock nostalgia as soon as ‘Wasted Life’ kicks in. While the daily diatribe of name calling and bludgeoning brutality provided SLF with a seamless source of material, the Belfast quartet also conjured up songs of inspired genius and creativity. ‘Barbed Wire Love’ is one of punk’s greatest ever love songs, right up there with the Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ and ‘Love Song’ by The Damned.

Burns is not necessarily the most animated of punk singers although his sincerity and compassion is beyond reproach. He’s no Dave Vanian or Charlie Harper, but when the songs are this thick with emotion and spewing forth wonderfully uplifting choruses, the music really does stand on its own two feet. Sure, Burnsy has packed on a few pounds since he was a young street kid back in Belfast but then who hasn’t! None of this matters to the balding pot-bellied throng who jostle each other in a kind of friendly way during old Fingers’ favourites such as ‘Roots Radicals,’ ‘Nobody’s Hero’ and ‘Fly The Flag’.

Burns never turned his back on political debate, and at Barrowland he pauses to explain how the anti-Government song ‘Silver Lining’ is every bit as relevant and cutting today as when he first penned the track more than 35 years ago. Unfortunately Burns’ later life has been plagued by bouts of depression, a subject he’s bravely opened his heart about on some of his newer songs such as ‘My Dark Places’. And Burns also reveals how he penned the poignant paean to child abuse ‘Guilty as Sin’ after witnessing harrowing TV interviews by adults reflecting on the abuse they suffered as children.

Inevitably though the fans – and there are still plenty of them packed into Barrowland – clamour and lust after the old fist-pumping favourites such as ‘Tin Soldiers’ and the red raw savagery of ‘Suspect Device,’ a song that defined a generation not just of Irish kids but angry UK punks in general. The evening climaxes with a rousing Fingers’ finale of ‘Gotta Getaway’, saving the timeless titanic classic ‘Alternative Ulster’ to last, during which the Fingers’ flames burn with all the ferocity of old.

When future academics and historians reflect on what punk rock was all about and the music that provided the backdrop to a whole disenfranchised generation of spotty youths it is to be hoped they do their homework. For sure The Clash, Pistols and Banshees will loom large, but so to should Stiff Little Fingers.

And while this CD/DVD package doesn’t quite carry the sheer unbridled explosiveness of the band’s live shows back in the day, Live at Barrowland nevertheless captures plenty of the noise and nuances that made SLF the letters that were carried in the DNA by legions of their fans.

  • Track listSLF

1.     Go For It/Wasted Life
2.     Just Fade Away
3.     Roots, Radicals, Rockers And Reggae
4.     Guitar & Drum
5.     Nobody’s Hero
6.     Back To Front
7.     Barbed Wire Love
8.     Listen
9.     Doesn’t Make It Alright
10.  Silver Lining
11.  Guilty As Sin
12.  At The Edge
13.  Strummerville
14.  My Dark Places
15.  Fly The Flag
16.  When We Were Young
17.  Tin Soldiers
18.  Suspect Device
19.  Gotta Getaway
20.  Alternative Ulster

  • No Going Back – Vinyl tracklist

Side A 
1. Liar’s Club
2. My Dark Places
3. Full Steam Backwards
4. I Just Care About Me
5. Don’t Mind Me
6. Guilty As Sin

Side AA 
1. One Man Island
2. Throwing It All Away
3. Good Luck With That
4. Trail Of Tears
5. Since Yesterday Was Here
6. When We Were Young

The “No Going Back” CD reissue comes in a 2CD Digipak edition with 12 exclusive demo songs, an acoustic version of “My Dark Places” and a live version of “When We Were Young“.