Finally, 2 years late the SFL Wish We Had 20/20 Vison tour is finally on the road. There’s been a lot of chatter online about just how good the shows have been, and tonight the excitement is tangible. Almost like an away football match, where the visiting team come mob handed, adorned in replica kit and take over the hostelries near the stadium. This is an invasion. Round the corner from the Academy, Manchester indie legends, Inca Babies are playing a free gig and the Grafton Arms is packed with SLF fans of a certain age. Sadly, none will stay to witness a fine band do their stuff. Across the road Big Hands is heaving with Fingers fans, many who have travelled down from Scotland, Newcastle and Ireland. When Jake Burns assembles the band, a veritable punk army follows. For a good number of them this is the 3rd or 4th gig of the tour. By the end of the tour there will be fans who have seen them more times on this tour alone, than the 9 previous times I’ve seen them. These fans are loyal to the hardcore. And for very good reason. Stiff Little Fingers gigs are normally unforgettable. When their own high standards drop, they are still brilliant.
Tonight’s support is provided by punk stalwart, TV Smith entertaining us with a solo set culled from his days with The Adverts and TV Smith’s Explorers. It’s a decent crowd who have come in early to watch him rip through numbers such as Gary Gilmour’s Eyes, One Chord Wonders, No Time To Be 21 and Tomahawk Cruise (a pertinent tune in light of the current situation in Ukraine). He’s even had time to pen a new song, Lockdown Holiday. He’s obviously enjoying himself, with a beaming smile throughout the short set as he continually thanks us for coming in early. It was our pleasure Mr Smith!
The Professionals were formed originally by (S)ex-Pistols, Paul Cook and Steve Jones in 1979, but their career was beset with legal wrangles, over unpaid royalties to original bassist Andy Allan. Their debut album went unreleased for 10 years as a result and the band came to a shuddering halt in 1982, less than a year after “I Didn’t See It Coming”, their second recorded album but debut release. Eventually, in 2015, Cook decided to start up again, enlisting Tom Spencer on guitar, replacing Steve Jones. In 2018 Chris McCormack (ex-3 Colours Red) was added on guitar to play live dates after the release of What In The World in 2017. Bass Tech, Toshi JC Ogawa, stepped up when bassist, Paul Myers retired through ill-health. It’s odd seeing a real live Sex Pistol on stage and the band don’t shy away from using it to their advantage. “Come and sniff a real live Sex Pistol at the merch stand later”, opines singer Tom, halfway through their set. This is good honest punk/pub rock, melodic and catchy. The rapidly assembling crowd sing a long to the ones they know, Just Another Dream and Kick Down The Doors, before we’re treated to a Pistols cover in the shape of Silly Thing, which has the front 10 rows jumping. The set is concluded with another Pistols related song, (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone, originally covered by Paul Revere and The Raiders, but best known by 60’s band The Monkees. [Trivia fans: it was also covered by Ian MacKaye’s pre-Fugazi outfit, Minor Threat].
We are now well and truly warmed up for Ulster’s finest to (punk) rock our worlds.
As the first strains of intro music, Go For It leak from the PA, pints are downed or jettisoned and it’s time to strap yourself in. Tonight, I’m accompanied by my young friend Flo, who is experiencing them live for the first time and has done a sterling job all night, looking after my pint whilst I’m in the pit with my camera. I think it’s her which illuminates the stage as Jake takes position, rather than the stage lights, she’s beaming and raring to go (for it).
Jake is very active on social media and fans get a real insight into his life Stateside. Flying in for rehearsals, whilst trying to avoid COVID is not ideal preparation for a tour, but you’d think they rehearsed every day they are that tight. The opening salvo of Suspect Device, At The Edge and Fly The Flag are as powerful today as they were over 40 years ago, despite Jake having just got over a cold, which caused them to cancel two shows earlier in the week. Burns voice has more depth to it these days. None of us sound the same as when we were 19!
Jake has also been writing some new songs and we’re treated to one in the shape of Last Protest Song. Before the crowd have time to digest this newcomer, the band launch into a Bunny Wailer cover, and the pit swells. SLF have always been able to embrace these sounds, whether it’s The Specials cover Doesn’t Make It Alright, Johnny Was or Bloody Dub (all sadly absent tonight, but that’s just me being greedy). Reggae played a major part in the evolution of punk in the early days, as it was often played at the early gigs due to the lack of available punk recordings. DJ Don Letts was hugely influential to both The Clash and The Slits and it’s great to hear Roots, Radics, Rocker, Reggae, a real live fave in their armoury. As strongly as the set opened, it is neatly bookended by State Of Emergency, Wasted Life and Gotta Getaway. The encore is obvious, as neither Tin Soldiers nor Alternative Ulster, have been played and the band duly return to give us the payoff.
By his own admission Jake may have had a few pints and pies during lockdown, but he still cuts an imposing figure on stage, wringing every last sound out of his favoured green ESP guitar. On bass, Ali McMordie has the air of a ninja or someone with Special Services training, taut and lean, belying his 62 years, prowling the stage and throwing shapes, a photographer’s dream. Steve Grantley towers over the band from his drum riser and keeps impeccable timing throughout and is now in his 26th year in the Fingers hot seat. 2nd guitarist, Ian McCallum goes quietly about his work, rarely taking the spotlight but is a fantastic foil for Jake to have alongside him. If you’d told me back at Aylesbury Friars in the early 80s, that I’d still be watching them in my 60th year, surrounded by like souls, I’d have had you drug tested! No band in rock history had done 40 plus years back then, not even Elvis or The Stones. To consistently sell out 2500 venues is testimony to both band and fans alike. With half of the 19 song set lifted from the first two (and most successful) albums, we are time-warped back to our youth, when waist bands were looser, teeth and hair were the full issue and events like tonight were better than sex, whatever that was. I’m watching through teenage eyes, wearing the face of my father, but I feel alive. I catch my reflection in the glass doors as I leave, half expecting the teenage me to be staring back. All I see is a grinning middle-aged man. Go For It indeed!!
- Suspect Device
- At The Edge
- Fly The Flag
- Hope Street
- Just Fade Away
- Bits Of Kids
- Nobody’s Hero
- Last Protest Song
- Roots, Radics, Rockers, Reggae
- When We Were Young
- Safe As Houses
- Silver Lining
- Barbed Wire Love
- State Of Emergency
- Wasted Life
- Gotta Gettaway
- Tin Soldiers
- Alternative Ulster