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Date Posted: 08:56:57 04/16/05 Sat GMT
Subject: Stiff Little Fingers (Cincinnati Post)
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Stiff Little Fingers
Still having fun being angry
after all these years
RODNEY WILSON | CIN WEEKLY CONTRIBUTOR
The Stiff Little Fingers have raged against everything from Northern Ireland to the music business. (Photo by John Nikolai)
• 1980 - Nobody's Heroes
• 1980 - Hanx
• 1981 - Go For It
• 1982 - Now Then
• 1991 - Flags and Emblems
• 1994 - Get a Life
• 1997 - Tinderbox
• 1999 - Hope Street
• 2004 - Guitar and Drums
The true test of a band's value is not evidenced by record sales or No. 1 hits. Rolling Stone covers mean nothing, as do appearances on late-night talk shows. Awards, music videos and celebrity endorsements? Nada.
A truly valuable band is judged so by just one indicator - a mention in the film High Fidelity.
So it is that seminal Irish band Stiff Little Fingers was solidified in the pantheon of important musical figures, with a movie scene wherein a painfully timid record store clerk uses the band's "Suspect Device" to woo a love interest.
JUST FOR FUN
Formed in Belfast in 1977 and named after a Vibrators song, the Stiff Little Fingers originally had the simple goals of having fun and making music.
"Basically, we were just four school friends who had been playing in school bands - nothing organized, just stuff that we'd put together ourselves - and we were playing cover versions of bands at the time. Just for fun, you know, like why anybody a band," says Jake Burns, lead singer and sole remaining member of the original lineup. "When that whole punk-rock thing came along, we decided that that was what we wanted to play. We then started writing our own material, and, before we knew it, we had a manager, we had a record out, and suddenly it became a job, which I never expected."
The band's first LP, 1979's Inflammable Material, was an instant hit on the UK charts and solidified the band's reputation as angry young men, with songs such as "Suspect Device" raging against issues ranging from the troubled state of Northern Ireland to the band's sour experiences with the music business. A string of classic releases followed, as did a 1983 breakup and late-'80s reunion. Personnel changes ensued over the years, but Burns always managed to pull in friends to keep the band going. Through it all, Burns remains amazed that he's able to play rock 'n' roll for a living.
"Certainly if you had said to me 27 years ago, 'You'll be doing this when you're 46,' I would have laughed in your face. But here we are, and, astonishingly, it's still fun to do.
"Obviously, we could go out and stand on the stage and just go through the motions and still convince people that we were really quite good, but that's never been what the band's been about," says Burns. "The band's always been about going out there and having as much fun as, hopefully, the audience does, so if the audience takes off, we tend to take off with them."
A WELL-AGED ANGER
Burns hasn't lost the anger that originally defined the band's attitude, though it's now tempered with experience and age. "When you're angry at 19, you're angry at the entire world, and your anger comes out in a kind of scatter-gun kind of way," Burns says. "I still write songs when something offends my sense of justice, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a huge theme."
The Fingers' new album, Guitar and Drums - released last month and distributed by indie punk label Kung Fu Records - bears plenty of ranting, albeit of a more focused, mature variety. As an example of continued political and social indignation, Burns points to "Still Burning," written in response to hearing about Robert Brown, a Glaswegian man who served 25 years on a murder charge for which police have all but admitted to framing him.
Burns has found new reasons to be angry, too. "The title track is about something that really makes me angry, which is the whole American Idol and Pop Idol thing, the way the music business has become so much more business-orientated and seems to have forgotten about the music side of things," he says. "You can convince me that these kids can sing great showtunes and that they should get jobs in Broadway musicals, but there's no way on this planet that you're going to convince me that they've got anything to do with rock 'n' roll."
When asked about the current state of punk, a genre the Fingers had a hand in defining, Burns becomes melancholic. "To me, what punk was always about was the chance to be an individual, the chance to express yourself and the chance to give voice to things that you thought were wrong in the world around you. Now, simply because it's been around for so long, it's become just another branch of entertainment," says Burns.
"I think that so many of these bands that consider themselves in some way 'dangerous' or 'alternative' are about as alternative as salad. They just follow the same blueprint: They all look the same, they all sound the same, they all sing about the same things.
"It's like, go and find your own voice and be an individual, make your band something more than just a record-selling machine, which a lot of them are very, very successful at," he continues. "There's a big difference between being popular and being successful, as far as I'm concerned. I think that some of the most successful records I've heard in my life have sold minuscule amounts compared to ones that have been hugely popular."
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