Stiff Little Fingers Inflammable Material, 1979, Rough Trade
State of Emergency
Here We Are Nohere
No More of That
Barbed Wire Love
Law and Order
Right, we’re back to classic punk now. Northern Irish Stiff Little Fingers formed in 1977 in Belfast and named themselves after a song by The Vibrators, another UK punk band. This was SLF’s first album and It reached number 14 in the chart and was the first album on an independent label to break into the UK top 20. At the time of this album’s release, the band were made up of Jake Burns on guitar and vocals, Henry Cluney on guitar, Ali McMordie on bass and Brian Faloon on drums
Suspect Device was their first single originally released on their own label, it got them a record deal thanks to being championed by John Peel. It’s a full throttle screaming intro to the band. State of Emergency is more in the heavy metal vein. The brief Here We Are Nohere has a bit of a sea shanty feel to it and then becomes all thrashing guitars. Wasted Life takes on a military beat but the lyrics are anti violence and sectarianism, talking about the futility of the loss of life in The Troubles. This understandable dissatisfaction with living in a war zone is a theme throughout the album. No More of That has just a sliver of a celtic beat to start but then becomes a classic punk track with a catchy chorus. The rhythm section is particularly strong on this one. Barbed Wire Love has a riff that any Franz Ferdinand fan will recognise, it even has a ‘50s style change in the middle of the song. This is actually a surprisingly great song. White Noise is the fastest both in terms of guitars and lyrics, it’s about racism and has one of their most arresting lines: “Irish bodies don’t count, life’s cheaper over there”. It ends with actual white noise. Law and Order an anti-police song drips with injustice. Rough Trade a diatribe apparently against the music industry in general rather than their label in particular is plaintive and almost delicate compared to the rest of the album. Bob Marley cover Johnny Was takes on that military drum beat again and the guitars are tight. It shows they are more than just angry teenagers. Then Alternative Ulster shows exactly how angry they are with the situation in Northern Ireland. It’s so clearly a standout, it’s no wonder it was a successful single. Written as a song about the boredom of living in a place where conflict had destroyed the opportunity for a social life it became an anthem for a generation of Northern Irish youth. It’s also just a great, tight punk song. Closed Groove closes the album and it’s the only bad song, they really should have just left it at 12 songs and ended on a high.
The themes that run through the album are sectarian and police violence and the difficulties of growing up during the civil war. SLF were heavily influenced by The Clash but were criticised for their political stance which they said was simply them doing as The Clash did and writing about their own life experiences.
They have influenced other Irish artists like U2 and Sinead O’Connor as well as countless punk bands - notably one of my favourites, Bad Religion. This album is important because, this was a band who had plenty of things to be genuinely angry about but who used them to make great music and despite breaking up in 1983, they reformed with a new line up and continue to make music today.
There’s a great 30 minute audio documentary about the genesis of the band and the making of this album here: