Stiff Little Fingers
Bearded Theory Festival
Catton Hall, Derbyshire
29 May 2016
Stiff Little Fingers brought a touch of Irish punk mayhem to Bearded Theory’s wonderful woodland stage and turned in one of the best sets of the entire weekend.
I’m not one who is normally given to melodrama but a performance by Stiff Little Fingers is always an emotional experience for me. It is no exaggeration to say that Stiff Little Fingers changed the course of my life. I grew up in the back streets of Belfast during the strife torn 1970’s, many of my childhood friends ended up in jail or in one of the many paramilitary organisations that tore the province apart.
I first heard Stiff Little Fingers in the Good Vibrations record store in Great Victoria Street, Belfast shortly after Inflammable Material was released. I will never forget the buzz that hearing “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster” for the first time gave me. That album gave me the courage to leave my friends and family in Belfast and move to England when I was still four months shy of my 17th Birthday. Seeing Stiff little Fingers play all these years later I still get that same buzz every single time.
Forty years later and those songs bookend most of Stiff Little Fingers sets and my heart still races when I hear those opening riffs. A Fingers gig is for me an almost spiritual experience. I still regard Inflammable Material as one of the best three albums ever made.
As always seems to be the case at Stiff Little Fingers gigs these days technical problems meant that they started late. I really can’t understand how it can take so long to set up two guitars, a bass and drums but it took an eternity. Darkness was falling as the Fingers took the stage. The Woodland stage is really special after dark as the lights and bunting turn it into an almost ethereal wonderland. The delay probably worked to Stiff Little Fingers benefit, the gates were locked and people queued outside in the hope of getting access on a “one out, one in” basis. The atmosphere was crackling as the band launched in to Suspect Device, the crowd were immediately thrown into a frenzy of jumping around as Ali leapt around the stage, his bass guitar ringing out a frenzied beat.
Over the next 70 minutes the pace barely dropped, even when Jake talked about his struggles with depression, urging anyone affected by this debilitating condition to get help. As you would expect with a veteran band they treated us to a set full of crowd favourites and “Strummerville,” a tribute to Joe Strummer, added a moments poignancy as we were reminded of what we have lost.
Many questioned why SLF were not on the MainStage but in my view Bearded Theory got this one absolutely right. Without doubt the atmosphere and the location combined to make this a memorable Stiff Little Fingers gig, one that will live long in the memory for me. The performance was exceptional, so much so that by the end I was totally drained, so much so that I couldn’t even face the prospect of watching Beans On Toast, and he is one of my favourite artists.
This was a very special performance at a very special festival.