Stiff Little Fingers

TrackSingle / Album
Alternative UlsterInflammable Material
Barbed Wire LoveInflammable Material
StrummervilleGuitar And Drum
78 RPMRough Trade RT 004 single
Gotta GettawayNobody's Heroes
Suspect DeviceInflammable Material
Piccadilly CircusGo For It
Johnny WasInflammable Material
My Dark PlacesNo Going Back
Doesn't Make it AlrightNobody's Heroes


SLF playlist



Contributor: Neil Waite

Though most people who are passionate about music will try out different genres, we all have ‘standards’ we return to. For me, Stiff Little Fingers (SLF) are a punk gold standard. SLF gigs make landmarks through my life, from the early 80s through to their reunion gig and their current return to form. Jake Burns has remained as the core of the band as other members have come and gone.

It’s hard to take no more than four of my toppermost 10 from their awesome debut, Inflammable Material. I first heard this soon after its release in 1979, on Geoff Travis’s independent label Rough Trade. It remains a wonderful assault on the senses with blistering guitar, Jake Burns’s snarling vocals and furious energy. Only later did I get the song’s political messages. Then I was 13 and judged them by their music, though that included the vehement vocals. Their stand-out track was always Alternative Ulster – a song Jake originally wrote as a giveaway for a fanzine of that name.

Barbed Wire Love is a concert staple with its quick tempo changes and amusing lyrics, as the singer is “blasted” by his girlfriend’s “booby traps”. I’ve also included their first single, Suspect Device, which on the album is even angrier. Another highlight is Johnny Was, an 8 minute reworking of a Bob Marley song with a long passionate guitar solo. On the recent tour Jake played it understatedly, without the arching of the back and grimacing you get from other guitar aces.

78 RPM was the B-side to Alternative Ulster and has that same raw feel to it, with a fast and furious solo at the end that makes you want to play guitar yourself, or at least pretend to.

Nobody’s Heroes was a great follow-up album with two singles. With commercial success, Jake found himself famously mis-miming the words on Top Of The Pops. Nobody’s Heroes felt more refined than Inflammable Material but had the same raw edge and good songwriting. For me, Nobody’s Hero (the title track) with its irresistible chorus was better than At The Edge, though live I prefer the latter, with the galloping drum intro. The album also included a cover of The Specials’ Doesn’t Make it Alright, currently one of their crowd-pleasing standards.

Gotta Gettaway opens the album but was originally their third single. The original Rough Trade version is better, with a soft bass sound which on the album became percussive, though the vibrancy and tunefulness are there in both.

1991 saw the release of Go For It with some technically brilliant songs. The instrumental title track replaced The Dam Busters theme as the opener for gigs, allowing the crowd to chant along before the band arrives on stage, which is fun. I felt the two single releases, Just Fade Away and Silver Lining, were the weakest songs, so instead I’ve included the soulful but punky Piccadilly Circus, protesting at senseless violence on the streets: “Never knew him, tried to kill him” Jake intones forcefully at the end. I was slightly disappointed when I saw SLF during their Now Then period as they’d become more commercial and the softer sound didn’t suit the early songs. Now Then included some fine tracks, though none make my topperten.

In 1988 I was lucky enough to get tickets for SLF’s reunion concert in Kilburn. It was a magical night with a spot-on set list and well-engineered sound, as you can hear on the Live & Loud album, documenting one of their best gigs. The five albums that followed were all good but for me they lacked the vim of the ‘pre-Kilburn’ ones, except for Strummerville, a tribute to the late Joe Strummer on the 2003 release, Guitar and Drum.

In 2007, Jake announced a new album to be funded by fans through the PledgeMusic foundation. It appeared seven years later in 2014 and was worth the wait. No Going Back is up there with the likes of Nobody’s Heroes and Go For It. My favourite track is My Dark Places, with a driving rhythm and tune to sing along to. Back to great form.

I’ve seen Stiff Little Fingers three times over the last two years and they’re better live than ever. They play so well, give the fans what they want and seem to be having a good crack. They’re still a ‘standard’ for me, and for a few others who like punk that’s sincere and truly musical.


Stiff Little Fingers website

Stiff Little Fingers biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #292


  1. Keith Shackleton
    Jun 3, 2014

    30 seconds in (but a great scene anyway)

  2. Andrew
    Mar 24, 2019

    As informative and engaging as ever, Neil. Still a great live band 💪🏽

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