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Stiff Little Fingers - Big in the US and back in Belfast.
Jake Burns tries to explain SLF’s current situation to journos who are more interested in getting his autograph.

It was 20 years ago today! A group of young Belfast punks led by a straggly youth named Jake Burns got together to record two now legendary songs, the incendiary "Suspect Device" and "Wasted Life". Shortly afterwards, John Peel picked up on the three minute polemics which subsequently fuelled a generation of disaffected teenagers. In many ways the archetypal punk band, SLF split in 1982, leaving a legacy of four studio albums and a real live one.

It’s now 1997, and the Fingers are back. Actually, they have been for some time, having regrouped in 1987 for beers and live shows. In the interim, they’ve become one of the hottest live acts on the circuit and have managed to record two new studio albums, 1994s "Get A Life" and the recently released "Tinderbox". Jake Burns is the only original Finger left, having been joined by former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton.

In an empty Mean Fiddler on a wet Thursday evening, he granted an audience to a band of journalists who less resembled members of the professional media than a motley crew of pseudo punks, worn-out "Inflammable Material" T-shirts to the fore. One of these was an American, writing for a home-based punk fanzine, a sign of how things have been turned on their head in recent years. Burns is aware of his bands growing reputation across the seas, 20 years after the event, a phenomenon illustrated by the fact that two members of the long-running punk outfit (and main influence on Green Day), Bad Religion, have asked them to play Australia with them.

"Yeah, they arrived at one of the shows and were very humble towards us. It got to the point where we nearly had to tell them to shut the fuck up because they were going on and on and on, but we got round to talking about touring with each other. I don’t know how much of that was down to the fact that Brian (Bad Religion) and I were very drunk at the time, but we’re definitely interested."

"Australia came up because we were looking for a place where neither of us were that impressive, because obviously in America we’d be supporting them whereas over here they’d be supporting us. It’s beer talk at the moment but it’d be nice. We’ve never gone to Australia. We got as far as Japan but decided we couldn’t be bothered going any further."

In general, America’s been getting better for them. Both SLF websites on the internet are American-based and Burns says that it’s got to the stage where they play to more people in America than they do over here. He isn’t enthused about their contribution to rock ‘n’ roll, however, dismissing Green Day as a "cartoon fuckin’ group".

"I feel that way about a lot of young bands today. A lot of them don’t seem to have their hearts in the right place. I don’t want to sound like ‘old father rock’ but you weren’t there in first place guys, do something original," he adds with a vicious punk snarl. (Only joking! Throughout the interview Burns comes across as a likeable, pleasant and utterly gentlemanly person.)

Asked whether he thinks the Sex Pistols were a cartoon group, he pauses a few seconds before hesitantly saying ". . . no, because they had a lot of shit to put up with when they started out." And the second time around?

"We actually supported them in Glasgow and Finsbury Park. I know that tour didn’t do the business they had hoped. We were put on the bill in Glasgow because they couldn’t sell enough tickets . . . and we got treated like shit for it, but that’s a different story."

When pressed he isn’t slow to comment. "I’ve known Johnny (Rotten - if I have to explain who he is maybe you shouldn’t be reading this article) for a number of years now, but on that tour he was being a complete fucker. In fairness, he was probably under a lot of pressure, though."

Despite his new-found appeal across the water, Jake Burns is still fond of home. The night before they’d just played their first gig in Belfast in five years. The delay is something Burns puts down to various technical and legal reasons.

"Basically, a promoter isn’t willing to pay us if he can get a cover band for less than half the price."

Having toyed with the idea of doing a secret gig as the Rigid Digits, they finally got it together to perform in their home town, an experience Burns humbly concedes was "very gratifying." Apart from knowing the whole front row, he feels the northern music scene is being taken much more seriously than in his day.

"Young bands are being recognised more in the north today. When we started out we were always being told that we were ‘alright for a local band’, y’ know, ‘at least yer not from England’, but people up there are more willing to listen now, as a result of what bands like us and The Undertones have done.

Twenty minutes later the manager’s at the door, pleading with us doe-eyed fanboy journos to let his star go. He’s just secured a cab despite the city wide cab strike and the rest of the band are waiting. Nothing more to do except get my copy of "Go For It" signed and wait for the gig that evening (which was a blinder, by the way).

Other press members have the same idea. One of them produces a photograph and apologises for playing the "real teenybopper". Burns takes the aforementioned article and good-naturedly quips "D’ you want a job with Bad Religion". Or was that really so good-natured?

Attitude, I believe, is what you call it.

by Niall Byrne.