Stiff Little Fingers will always be synonymous with the Punk movement, from emerging out of the troubles in Northern Ireland with a debut album that stands alongside the Clash or the Pistols first 12″. The hard-hitting no holds barred social commentary wrapped in a musical grenade hit home with many young Punks who were not only taken by the power and melody of the songs, they were also educated on the life of a Belfast youth from the graphic lyrics penned by frontman Jake Burns. His talent of wrapping up stories and emotional journeys in 3 tuneful mins has enabled Stiff Little Fingers to command a following around the world that is loyal and unwavering in their admiration. Jake talks to Ten-Midnight.com about his own musical inspirations growing up, before taking the mic himself for 41 years.
I grew up surrounded by the music of Hank Williams. My Dad was a huge fan and this was the ultimate “tear-jerker” on a Saturday night after he’d had a few beers. Although I didn’t like it at the time, I grew to appreciate not just the music of Hank, but his importance in musical history terms. A true pioneer and, although the word is often over-used, genius.
The first “real” single I bought and it still gives me Goosebumps today. I know that it’s just a pop song with no real depth etc. to it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a great melody and there’s a real exuberance about the performance that makes me bellow along to this day.
Play: Taste – Morning Sun
I heard this for the first time as part of a BBC Northern Ireland broadcast of Taste’s farewell concert from the Ulster Hall. I was literally stopped in my tracks by that guitar sound, totally mesmerized. I turned round, sat back down and watched Rory Gallagher for the first time in my life. At that precise moment, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my days.
I had always been a Motown fan growing up. To my ears, they made the greatest most seamless pop records of the time. Although, generally upbeat in nature and content, this one came on all brooding and almost “creepy”. That opening snare crack, electric piano and then “rattlesnake” tambourine all put you on notice that not all is right with Marvin’s world. What a performance!
I could have picked a dozen Brian Wilson songs, but this one has everything. The magnificent harmonies, astonishing melodies and just a hint of the “madness” that Brian was going through at the time. While in Japan some years back, I found a bootleg copy of the then unreleased “Smile” tapes. These were the original studio recordings as opposed to the re-recorded version Brian put out some years later. On the bootleg there is an eight minute version of this song, which although missing some vital components, is still an incredible piece of work and hints at what “Smile” could have been. Another “genius”.
Play: Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Where to start? If Rory’s guitar tone gave me the impetus to want to be a guitarist, Sabbath made me want to play louder and faster. An adrenaline rush that wasn’t equalled until I heard The Clash many years later. This is probably not their greatest recorded moment, and I was already aware of their first album (I was very precocious musically and had a bunch of older pals!), but for sheer “blowing the doors off”, this was hard to beat.
Again, I could have picked a hundred Marley songs, but this tune and the whole “Natty Dread” album really opened my ears to a whole genre that I was only peripherally aware of. From the bone-chilling “Ahhhh!” at the top of the track, through the relentless harmonica and shuffling drum patterns, this is irresistible.
I know I’m repeating myself here, but I could have picked any one of a dozen Elvis songs as well. But, this one makes it simply because of the performance. The sneering, snarling vocal and lyric, the tightness of the playing, the production that keeps those drums “just” this side of distortion and yet makes them leap out of the stereo at you. Fantastic.
Play: Culture – Two Sevens Clash
I’m leaving out so many great reggae artists to try and cover at least part of the spectrum of music that I love, but I couldn’t ignore this album. If this had been recorded by someone like Blondie (who did fair pop covers of reggae originals in their time), every song on this record would have been a hit single. So, given that I could throw a dart at the cover and say: “Play that one!, I’m going with the title track.
How could you not? I know Ramones and The Damned etc. were there before the Pistols. And I know; that I personally prefer The Clash simply for their realism, but let’s be honest, in the U.K. at least, these guys were the guv’nors.”God Save the Queen” may have had more “outrage” attached to it, but the excitement generated when this record was released was palpable. I honestly don’t remember anything like it before or since. This felt like much more than a “pop” record, this felt dangerous and subversive…you know, like rock’n’roll was ALWAYS supposed to?
Forgot to put Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” in. It’s my favourite bloody record of all time!! D’oh!”,
A song you would give to someone to inspire them:
Play: The Clash – White Man in Hammersmith Palais
The perfect “punk rock/reggae” amalgm. A monster of a song, and a lyric that seems initially simple, but has so much weight and depth, they could teach it in schools. Starting out by simply describing a night on the town, it goes on to predict the current right-wing world we are all subjected to in lines like: “If Adolf Hitler flew in today/They’d send a limousine anyway” Strummer at his absolute greatest. For my money, this record has never been equalled and always provides something to me each time I hear it.
Favourite song you have been musically involved in:
Play: Stiff Little Fingers – Guilty As Sin
Having lived most of my writing career by the maxim that: “you should write about what you know about”, this song was a stretch. I was appalled by the revelations coming from, not just the Catholic Church, but many organizations who had custody of and children in their care and were abusing that power in the most heinous ways imaginable. It was something that affected me deeply and I wanted to write about it. But, having been lucky enough not to have ever been subjected to those dreadful crimes, I had to work very hard to compose a lyric that made its point without giving offence to those who had suffered. I think I managed it. But, it was the single longest time I have ever spent writing a set of words.
Stiff Little Fingers UK Tour March 2019: