“If it wasn’t for your stiff little fingers Nobody would know you were dead.” – The Vibrators
If any band on Earth at any time was purely fucking incendiary – able to produce the soundtrack and atmosphere of riots, chaos, bombs, explosions, strife, hate and hope – it was certainly Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers circa the late 70’s. Hailing from a city full of violence and disdain, SLF weren’t some kind of art-students singing about pasting the Queen or Parliament, they were dodging gunfire and landmines, by God – and their attitude reflects this. Recognizing they had a life different from bands like the Clash who had inspired them, but wanting to be part of the same movement, SLF sprang to life. Spurred on by their manager/journalist Gordon Oglivie to write about what they knew, SLF would go on to become one of the greatest punk bands the UK would ever produce, mixing personal agendas with political upheaval to produce scathing melody, truly defining the over-used punk adjective “energy.”
Led by the often imitated but never duplicated gravelly voice of one Jake Burns, SLF sprang to life in Belfast, in 1977, complete with a moniker taken from the above Vibrators song. With guidance from Ogilive, and musical backing from Henry Cluney on guitar, Brian Faloon on drums and Gordon Blair and Ali McMordie on bass, respectively, Burns was soon churning out such slice-of-life classics as “Suspect Device” and “Wasted Life” which would appear as staples of the debut LP.
Released in 1979, Inflammable Material debuted at #13 on the then-important UK Charts. The album itself is a burner. SLF classics fill the LP, from the aforementioned “Suspect Device” and “Wasted Life” to the classic rally-cry of “Alternative Ulster,” it’s a blistering journey through a teenagers Belfast. From the top-speed “He We Are Nowhere” to the musings of “Barb-Wire Love”, all bases are covered. The LP also introduced the bands talent for fusing reggae and punk, by covering Marley’s “Johnny Was.” Throughout their career, the band always retained their love for reggae.
This is Irish punk in its purest form – as in punk from Ireland, from the heart, nothing more, nothing less. No mandolin or tin whistle present, it’s simply geographically and politically a disgruntled bunch of Irish teens that vent their aggression and frustration with everyday life onto one of the best punk albums ever made. So many bands have covered so many songs from this LP, it’s influence cannot be overstated. No excuses for missing this, kids….listen to it and feel what it was like to be blown to hell by a landmine in Belfast…and to survive and persevere.
Review by Sean Holland