Review: Stiff Little Fingers 25th Anniversary – Barrowland, Glasgow

This is Glasgow, this is St Patrick’s Day, and this is the 25th year in a row that Stiff Little Fingers have played the Barrowland. Just to let you know how well this gig is known in these parts, I just have to tell my taxi driver where I am going and the response comes back straight away “Off to Stiff Little Fingers, eh?” .

It is not only for Glaswegians though. This gig brings our celtic brothers from across the sea in droves… in fact it brings the Irish in almost religious numbers. Part of that may be due to the fact that tonight’s historic achievement is being filmed for a DVD, but for most it is for the occasion.

The streets are full of Paddy’s Day revellers, drunk, disorderly, funny, and a bit cheeky…. pretty much what punk was founded on, eh? Yes, the revellers at tonight’s show were out early and getting the libation in before they pay the ridiculous prices for awful Tennants lager. This show sold out a long, long time ago, and the queue to get in is winding round the building. I have to fight through the throng of people taking selfies of the famous Barrowland sign lit up in all its fluorescent beauty… I can tell before setting foot inside the building that this is going to be one hell of a night.

Before we get to the main event, we had the no small matter of the support band tonight. Another Irish boy done good, and also a solid friend of Glasgow in Ricky Warwick, and his band the Fighting Hearts. Tonight has been a log time coming, which you may find a funny statement considering I have seen him live six times in the last two years, but as three of those were acoustic sets and the other three were as the man puts it “his day job” with Black Star Riders, so this is the first time we have seen Ricky solo with an electric guitar in some time.

It was also the perfect stage to endorse his brilliant double album release. Although this was only released this month, those of us who pledged for it have had almost a year to get to know the songs, and just as well, as the bulk of tonight’s set was from the new album.

As the band broke into “Damascus Street”, I noticed that the sound was off just a notch, and although I moved about the venue it just didn’t sort it for me. I put that behind me straight away and focused on the band and the man. Although Stiff Little Fingers are slotted into Barrowland history, Ricky is no stranger. Going back to the 90s when his band The Almighty were based in Glasgow you could always find him roaming around the foyer at any rock gig.

The Glasgow choir loved him then, and they love him now… and like Stiff Little Fingers, he has even managed to get some quotes in  the book on the venue (Barrowland: A Glasgow Experience by Nuala Naughton, which I thoroughly recommend for anyone who has ever been to a gig here).

Just for fun, I can let you know the good, and not so good, Ricky has had at Barrowlands. He played the smaller venue here with The Almighty and Polydor saw them and signed them to the label. The not so good was in 1993 when Stiff Little Fingers asked him to join them for their encore. This should be good, you would think, but not if you fall flat on your arse like Ricky did (He doesn’t drink much these days… maybe for the best, Ricky).

But enough of the past and on to tonight. “Toffee Town” was next up and you could tell the songs are all chosen for the Stiff Little Fingers crowd. He did his damnedest to get this crowd going for the boys. “When Patsy Cline Was Famous” is  one of my favourites from his new collection. It is a rocked up walk down memory lane (It even mentions Dickie Davies). It is also a very personal song to Ricky, and one I am sure he holds very dear to his heart, especially after his recent loss.

Although for me it was good to hear the new songs live for the first time, it has to be said the biggest cheer and sing along came when “Tommy Gun” was played. Ricky even tipped his hat to Stiff Little Fingers when he informed us his first gig way back in 1980 at the age of 13 was SLF (and he was shitting himself).

For a big Ricky fan, it was too short a set for me. The sound was a bit annoying, but it was great to see the new stuff aired and I just hope I get to see the man as many times over the next couple of years.

Now, as I was travelling to this gig tonight, the thought crossed my mind that you never usually know when you are going to a historic gig. It is usually after the event it dawns on you. For me the most recent gigs that fall under that remit was seeing Ronnie James Dio’s last gig in the UK and last year at Hellfest as I witnessed the mighty Lemmy for the last time. There is no doubt though that this gig will be set in the annals of history for everyone here and the Barrowland itself. There is no other band in it’s history who have been so entwined with its own.

There is no way this band would have had any idea 25 years ago, as they took to the stage, that they would have played the same venue on the same night for quarter of a century…They only took the 1st gig as The Pogues couldn’t do it. In Jake’s own words” The Barras is the best venue in the world”. Even on the tenth anniversarry of this show they thought that was it but here we are and it still holds the emotions to this day. Jake will tell you” It’s the one night of the year that we really look forward to and you don’t want to fuck it up. For me, the nerves kick in as soon as the soundcheck is finished and you’re walking out of the place knowing the next time you come in, you’re on stage”.

I was in the photo pit tonight (well, that is what it is called, but it is more like a jungle gym from hell) waiting for the band to come on, a heaving, drinking, slavering audience behind me. The anger was pent up and was almost palpable until the intro music starts (I grabbed my camera quickly and held it tight) and the lager went flying from every angle… the air was filled with liquid and no one gave a shit!

The chanting from the crowd before the band even get on stage was deafening. The crowd surfing started without one member present. This was going to be one hell of a shoot, I could tell.

Luckily things settled for a bit as the band came out and burst into “Wasted Life” and the party had now begun. The TV cameras were everywhere tonight and everyone wanted on them… and, to be fair, it is just as well this is being filmed as I think there were a lot of people who will have very few memories of tonight down to the levels of alcohol consumption.

As the songs passed by, I noted a number of things about Stiff Little Fingers and their fans. Regarding Stiff Little Fingers, they are so far removed from the punk era of the 70s. They are everything that a lot of those bands were not… extremely talented for starters. I will be honest, it is a long time I have seen this band live. I class punk as my gateway drug that lead me to my main love of rock and metal, but I was there in the 70s….. I was young, but I was still there. They were the bands of my early years at secondary school, but for me it was all about the attitude. There were far too many punk bands that could not play (this includes some big names) but for me, Stiff Little Fingers just did not and do not fit into that mould, and I think this is why they are still going strong today. The songs are guitar based, they are catchy, they are edgy, but they are also extremely well structured and solid.

Now to the fans… boy can they sing. They were louder than any rock crowd I can ever remember, and every one of them knew the songs inside out. It doesn’t matter if they are in the crowd, waiting to be served at the bar, or in the toilet… they were still singing. they were also very, very loyal, and they like their merchandise. There was more merch on sale than a festival!

It was an incredible show tonight, well worthy of its historic billing. I cannot wait to see the DVD and relive the whole thing again, and for the rest of the world to see this band in this setting. The legacy is well and truly set, and here is to many more shows on this night. I know I will be saying “I was there” to anyone who will listen.

Review and images Ritchie Birnie

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One comment

  1. No pent up anger.only excitement. SLF still best live band about.best gig yet ….keep going strong..

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