Words: Max Falvey // Pictures: Ian Mc Donnell
“Astonishingly, this is our 45th year of doing this thing!” Belfast punk legends Stiff Little Fingers made their valiant return to Dublin’s Academy last Friday night for their long awaited ‘20/20 Vision Tour’, ripping through a career-spanning 19-song set including their undeniable punk classics and some new unreleased material. Joined by Ricky Warwick of the Black Star Riders for a fantastic support set, it was a deafeningly brilliant night of punk in the capital.
Warwick kicked off the night with an 11-song set consisting mostly of his own solo work, and the opening track ‘Gunslinger’ from his latest album, 2021’s ‘When Life Was Hard & Fast’, was a rockin’ start to the show. His drummer, Jack Taylor of Tax The Heat, was such a standout as he absolutely battered his drum kit for 45 minutes straight with such skill and power, it was just a joy to watch. As the venue began to fill up, Ricky revelled as the brilliant frontman that he is, firing his way through fiery punk tunes like ‘The Arms Of Belfast Town’ and my personal favourite from the night, ‘Fighting Heart’. Considering Ricky’s band for his solo shows is an ever-changing lineup, the tightness and chemistry this group had on the night was so evident, and with barely any breaks between songs they were full on from the get go.
The ovation from the growing crowd grew after every song, with Ricky thanking the audience by saying “it’s a real honour and privilege to be in Dublin City!” The band played blisteringly loud at 100 miles an hour, which must be credited to the other two men wielding guitars, bassist Richard Vernon and guitarist Sam Wood. The latter’s solo’s and rhythm work, particularly on the Black Star Riders’ classic ‘Finest Hour’, was just electric. Other highlights from the set include a cover of Motorhead’s ‘Iron Fist’, and a brilliant performance of ‘Free ‘N’ Easy’ from Ricky’s first band, The Almighty. This really was a headline-worthy performance from an opening act, and was the perfect punk appetiser for SLF.
Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts, Set List
Gunslinger – Ricky Warwick
When Patsy Cline Was Crazy(And Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues) – Ricky Warwick
You Don’t Love Me – Ricky Warwick
Fighting Heart – Ricky Warwick
The Arms of Belfast Town – Ricky Warwick
Celebrating Sinking – Ricky Warwick
When Life Was Hard and Fast – Ricky Warwick
Schwaben Redoubt – Ricky Warwick
Iron Fist – Motorhead
Free and Easy – The Almighty
Finest Hour – Black Star Riders
But the energy in the room could be felt even before Stiff Little Fingers hit the stage, with the crowd singing their hearts out to the band’s entrance song. Their stage setup is so brilliant and unique, with a banner containing cartoon-artwork of a fire breathing dragon hanging at the back of the stage, with every amp and the drum riser also draped in a similar style. The band came out to such an ovation, and without a word exploded into the legendary ‘Suspect Device’. The guys are still at the top of their game, playing with such energy to a surprisingly youthful crowd, a brilliant achievement for a band whose first record came out in 1978. Lead singer Jake Burns paused the intensity of the show for a moment to speak candidly about his mental health and struggles with depression. He said their song ‘At The Edge’ deals with this, and through the years has seemed to help other people who were struggling. “This song is about being depressed, you didn’t think Stiff Little Fingers was going to be fun, did you?” Burns encouraging people to speak to someone if they’re struggling was incredibly motivating and got a huge applause from the crowd.
Mixed inbetween punk classics from their brilliant discography, like ‘Barbed Wire Love’ and ‘Gotta Getaway’, were a few fascinating anecdotes told by Burns about the bands early days, how they weren’t welcomed into the punk scene but befriended legendary figures like Motorhead’s Lemmy and our own Phil Lynott, which led into a performance of a currently unreleased tune, ‘The Last Protest Song’. Burns prefixed this song by saying he wished younger bands who sold out stadiums would write songs that actually mean something, but followed it by saying “I know, I know, old man yells at cloud”. Once the band returned for their encore, they banged out just brilliantly furious performances of ‘Tin Soldiers’ and of course, ‘Alternative Ulster’ to close the show. The show was an all round masterclass in Irish punk, and I hope another Dublin outing for SLF isn’t too far in the future. Thank you for reading.
Stiff Little Fingers, Set List
At the Edge
Just Fade Away
My Dark Places
Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae (Bunny Wailer Cover)
Bits of Kids
Last Protest Song (new song)
When We Were Young
Safe as Houses
Barbed Wire Love
State of Emergency