Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Belfast giants ‘STIFF LITTLE FINGERS’ rolled into Nottingham ready to bring the late 70’s to the crowd already waiting to get in, as I arrive at the venue.
My old mate Kevin is in the pit tonight so no doubt I’ll get the story of how he was duty bobby when the Pistols case went to Crown Court, over the infamous album cover, here in Nottingham many moons ago.
We have three bands treading the hallowed boards of the main stage tonight. It will be another early start and quick-change arounds so it’s in and get sorted. First up we have T.V.SMITH founding member of the Adverts back in the late 70’s, the band sadly split in ’79 after just two albums.
Smith went on to form other bands including T.V.Smith’s Explorers and Cheap as well as a couple of solo endeavours. He toured constantly, along-side the likes of Germany’s Die Toten Hosen and Spain’s Suzy & Los Quattro, before joining Amen, an American band who were ardent fans of The Adverts.
He later went on to appear in a 2012 BBC 4 documentary which helped renew interest in his work.
Having released numerous albums, he has quite a back catalogue to choose from as he stands, alone, in front of us tonight, dressed in bleached skinny jeans, mine no longer fit (lol) and a black and orange striped vest to clutching tight an acoustic guitar, full of beaming smiles and jangling chains, he sets about giving the crowd a taste of what’s to come.
Starting with ‘No Time to Be 21’ this being from the Adverts first album, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts’. He reminds us that we’re in a time that is messed up but we’ll go back to ’77 when it wasn’t.
With a gritty sound from the guitar and a vocal that’s more deliberate than shouted, he gives it his all, at one point I thought he’d slipped but checking my camera he had in fact done an impressive kick, hats off, this guy is still living it as he tells us it’s no time to be 21.
Moving on we get ‘Tomahawk Cruise’ an appropriate song with what’s happening in the world today. This, he tells us was about the Americans installing Cruise Missiles on UK soil, a scary time. This is from his band T.V.Smith’s Explorers and the album ‘ The Last Words of The Great Explorer’.
The original has an early Numan type feel to it, with a driving drum beat the power of the song is lost in this acoustic version, partly made up for by the shear energy T.V.Smith is putting into the delivery.
We now jump to 2020 and a track from the album ‘Lockdown Holiday’ no prizes for guessing for the inspiration for this album. A rattling acoustic riff intro Smith sings about trains and tails between our legs, of political confusion and shopping in stealth, his rasping vocal tells us we are the ‘Lucky Ones’. A poetical viewpoint on how the world forgot about everyone else only to concentrate on itself.
‘No Hope Street’ from 2018’s ‘Land of the Overdose’ follows on. Bombs and angst of living on no hope street. Again, his delivery is powerful as the acoustic is flung around. Looking around, the crowd are behind his every word, heads are bouncing as they sing along, wow! ‘Bounce Back’ follows again from the ‘Lockdown Holiday’ album. Another tune that talks about being on your own during isolation. ‘Punk Poem’ is a spoken word about touring with the Damned, touring with Iggy Pop being banned from venues but it was great being in a punk band.
As he stands there strumming, he tells us about headlining a show with the Adverts in Belfast during the summer of ‘77, on first, he says, were a young, local band called Stiff Little Fingers, he says they ‘fucking’ blew us of the stage, it’s nice being back with them tonight. Another circle of life it seems.
We then go back to the Adverts and 1978 and their most recognised tune ‘Gilmores Eyes’ a song about a man in a hospital who receives the eyes of a murderer but only hears about it via the news. A sinister song but one that has caught the imagination of the crowd as they chant along as one voice.
The set finishes with ‘One Chord Wonders’, T.V.Smith tells me later as I chat with him about the set list, that this was the first song written by the Advert’s. A song about rejection, about not being liked by the crowd, how it would feel. Well there’s no fear of that as it goes down a storm.
As Smith says good night the crowd erupt, there is an awful lot of love in the room for him and Nottingham is sharing it by the barrow load. An impressive set. I shake his hand later, as we briefly talk, I get the feeling he’s a man with many a story and wants the world to hear it, and those hands, super soft, like a surgeons.
After the quick change over we’re primed and ready for THE PROFESSIONALS. A band formed by Ex Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and Drummer Paul Cook back in 1979. With the debut single ‘Just Another Dream’ released in 1980 and plans for an album release later being delayed due to recording contracts resulted in Andy Allan, a session musician, leaving the band. Paul Myers joined on bass and Ray McVeigh came onboard as second guitarist. All the previous material was then subsequently re-recorded.
With recordings made for the John Peel show in ’80 the band tried to release the single, ‘Join the Professionals’, but legal difficulties led to a delay of the album ‘The Professionals’ until 1990. The album ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ was, however, eventually released in the November of ’81.
A subsequent US tour was cut short when Cook, Myers and McVeigh were injured in a car accident. The band parted company in early 1982 only to reform again in 2015 for the launch of ‘the Complete Professionals’, a three-disc set released in the October. This featured a concert at the 100 club. Steve Jones was replaced on guitar by Tom Spencer. A further gig happened the following year, 2016 at The Islington Academy.
2017 saw an announcement of new music being written by the band, this was the eventually titled ‘ What in The World’. 2018 saw them play at the Isle of Wight festival, with Chris McCormack taking on guitar duties. At the same time Toshi JC Ogawa stepped in as bass player when Myers poor health meant he had to step down. March 2020 saw the release of an EP consisting of four tracks; ‘Twenty 20 Vision’,’ One That Got Away’, ‘Join the Professionals’ and ‘Good Man Down’ and a Live album entitled ‘Live in London’.
October 2021 saw the release of their much-anticipated new studio album ‘SNAFU’ hailed as both Chaotic and Beautiful by critics.
Tonight, they open their set with ‘Easily Lead’ a driving song kicked off with Cook pounding the skins like a man possessed, this is the opening tack from the new album and a great introduction to the set. A jump back to 1980 is next with ‘Just Another Dream’, although written for the first album it never saw light of day until 1991 after the albums eventual release. ‘Going, Going, Gone’ gives us another taste of the reformed band.
Released in 2017 on ‘What in The World’, Sees the band cranking forward with solid drums tied around Toshi’s creative bass line. A familiar feel smacks you aside the head as the guitars chug along, Spencer’s vocals are on point as Toshi and flat cap wearing McCormack provide off backing vocals that ooze around the main lyric.
A tasty guitar breakdown splits the vocal nicely as Spencer is crouched right down low delivering the goods, before getting back on the vocals and bring the song to a great end.
‘Spike Me Baby’ from2021’s ‘SNAFU’, with its galloping drum beat and jangly guitar that swiftly drops into the steady trademark guitar chugging riff, is up next. Cooks drum fills are spot on, the crashes lighten the mood as this bouncy song gallops along, with the vocals gritty and full of angst it’s another great song from the new album.
Payola’ from 1981 and ‘Silly Thing’ a Sex Pistols cover from the ‘Great Rock n Roll Swindle’ sees Cook back where he belonged all those years ago, the chorus ‘Oh You Silly Thing, You Really Gone and Done it Now’ is sang by the whole of Rock City, myself included. Clearly one of Punk Rocks greatest anthems is being enjoyed by the man behind the kit as he beams at the crowd who are screaming along.
‘Rewind’ from 2017 has the job of following that epic tune. With its crashing guitars and melodic tunefulness carrying this song along with its fast driving drum beat and equally fast lyric. Cook, on drums is a powerhouse, the Pistols are often insulted about being a manufactured band of misfits put together for the amusement of McLaren, however this band has proven how much of that sound and drive is down to the man sat on the throne, Cook is a seriously great drummer.
Kick Down the Doors’ and ‘Monkeys’ follow, the former being a heavier dirty guitar sound with a an almost Ozzy type feel in its delivery, goes down well, ‘Monkeys’ is about idiots like Boris and see’s us back on the same track as previous tunes. High speed riffing with the chorus of ‘see no hear no evil’ coming at you fast. As they rip into the siren sounding solo the crowd are bouncing, not a full on pogo but it’s great to see all the same.
‘123’ and ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin Stone’ finish the set. ‘Stone’ hears the crowd in full voice once again. This song, first heard in 1966 by Paul Revere and the Raiders, went on to be hit for the Monkees in the same year. It was eventually covered by the Sex Pistols and reached no21 in 1980. It was a great finish to the set and loved by the fans who showed their appreciation as the band finished their jam packed but short set. The new album is definitely on me to get list, which seems to be growing by the ‘gig’!
After yet another sterling set change over we are treated to the sounds of some by gone TV themes. Starting with the Thunderbirds, we also heard Scooby do, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Monty Python, Magic Roundabout and the Wombles to name a few.
The Wombles certainly had most of the crowd singing along. There’s been plenty written about SLF so I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself, I will say that they were formally known as ‘Highway Star’, but changed their name to Stiff Little Fingers after a song by the Vibrators, they felt the name no longer suited them or their new musical direction as they became the first, Belfast band, to release a Punk record, ‘Suspect Device’ in ‘79. A wise choice as the rest is History.
Kicking off with a taped version of ‘Go For It’ as we wait for STIFF LITTLE FINGERS to get sorted on stage. The chanting of ‘FINGERS’ can be heard rumbling through the crowd, Burns smiles as he turns around, His green guitar hanging as he delivers the opening, distorted guitar riff but sings a cleaner vocal than on the original as they get straight into ‘Suspect Device’ from the 1979 album ’Inflammable Material’, McMordie has leapt into the air as he spanks his bass, left handed McCullum, on stage right brought back an instant memory of the now departed Dave Greenfield, Stranglers keyboard player, he has that same carefree attitude, Been there, Seen it Done it! As he casually walks around his side of the stage.
Drums are in overtime already as Grantly uses this as a warm up, arms pumping as he keeps expert time on this blitzkrieg of a song which sets the stage for the night as we are then straight into ‘At The Edge’ with its bouncing galloping trot of an intro about being young and not listening, This punchy tune has McMordie’s bass thrashing along as it drives the melody, He’s smiling as in front of him he has a line of Hells Angels sat in the photo pit watching the him and the show.
‘Fly the Flag’ and ‘Hope Street’ with its driving bassline, and ‘Fade Away’ with its crunching tom intro and its rousing vocal keeps things bouncing along. ‘Bits of Kids’ with its slow start is next. A delicate finger picked guitar leads us into a rousing middle section when the distorted guitar kicks in, along with a flourish of snare drum, the crowd are bouncing along enjoying the moment of being taken back to 1982, ‘Nobody’s Hero’ cranks up with a drum beat that’s driving hard enough to inflict casualties, as the guitars flash around it putting meat on the bone, again this is a tune that has a familiarity to it that brings a smile as you bounce up and down in time to the rhymical beat of the drums.
Bunny Wailer, a Jamaican singer songwriter, and step brother to Bob Marley sadly passed away in 2021 at the age of 73, the bands ‘Roots, Radics, Rockers, Reggae’ cover is an impressive tribute to a great man with a greater history, check it out. Given a thumping bass, this reggae anthem gets a great reception as it bounds along with its anti-war lyric making it sound an easy thing to stop. The song is miss-spelled on the original album, its ‘Radics’ not ‘Radicals’, a record company error and discovered too late to change it.
‘When We Were Young’ has a great drum beat going on, with lots of ride and cymbal crashes during the chorus, Grantly has a great fill on the snare as the song hammers home with an energetic bassline thrusting this song along into its crescendo of a finish.
Safe as Houses’ follows on with a Ska, slow Reggae type guitar refrain, as this song moves along, we get some great snare work from Grantley as Burns slowly unwraps this song. No torment of crashing guitars, this song from ‘Go for It’ was released back in ’81 but still feels current.
‘My dark Places’ brings us back to 2014 before ‘Barbed Wire Love’ with its 50’s American enthused backing vocal but its brought back to ’79 before we get the tribute that is ‘Strummerville’. This nod to Joe Strummer and the Clash goes down well, with its references to both through-out. Burns tells us that he wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for Joe, another firm favourite and goes down well as the crowd join in with ‘Clash Clash City Rocker’ to finish.
State of Emergency’ and ‘Wasted Life’ from ‘79’s ‘Inflammable Material’ ensue. These faster paced tracks take us back to the early days of distorted guitar and fast drums. The heat in rock city has risen a few degrees, I’m lucky, standing by the doors I’m getting a bit of a breeze around the ankles as I watch over a sea of bouncing heads and raised fists.
The set concludes with ‘Gotta Gettaway’ with machine gun high-hat work from Grantley, again proving he’s a great drummer, a booming bassline from McMordie cracks into life as Burns tells us he’s gotta get away. With sweat rolling down his head, he’s now totally hairless up top so there’s nothing to stop the sweat stinging his eyes, he wipes it from his quickly as he conducts the crowd into a brief call and answer, McCallum in his AC/DC tee shirt looks as fresh as when he started, McMordie is still as bouncy as his basslines as the song finishes with a resounding rumble on the drums.
Encore time and the crowd erupt chanting ‘FINGERS, FINGERS’ thankfully it’s a short one as they come on to give us the final two tracks, ‘Tin Soldiers’ from the ‘80’s album Nobody’s Hero is up first. Burns with his back briefly to us turns around showing he’s wearing a tee shirt, over his previous black gig shirt, with Ukraine emblazoned across the front, Respect! He starts riffing as the crowd start clapping. The couple next to me are dancing around to the words ‘Tin Soldier’.
As McCallum joins in on the crooning, the song marches hard, headlong to the staccato guitar and drum fest that marks the conclusion of this popular track. Taking a drink, a single riff chimes out, and then another and then the familiar bouncing groove of ‘Alternative Ulster’ fires up to finish off the set. This song about change was written back in ’79 it’s a great statement about the youth of Belfast wanting a different life, to be able turn their backs on the bad things happening around them, a short but poignant song even today.
So, it’s been a great night of musical discord and lyrics full of anti-establishment slayings and a two fingered disregard for convention and conformity. It might not have been delivered with the same hard-hitting grit and high octane fuelled aggression as when they were first written but, even today, they still carry the same sentiment and for some of those here tonight it’s just what the doctor ordered as a release from the mundane, day to day drudgery, of post lockdown living.
Catch the bands on the remainder of the tour, its antisocial, disrespectful and sweaty but a great way to spend a night being cultured into an alternative viewpoint put across using the medium of song. Stunning, Oh and yes, I got told the Johnny ‘Rotten’ Lydon Sex Pistol story.