Review by Alan Steenson for MPM
Billed as the punk section of the Custom House Square gigs the assumption was that the demographic would be 50 plus (I include myself as part of that)
To my pleasant surprise my own son was at the gig and a host of other 20 somethings discovering what us ‘oldies’ listened to when we were their age.
First up, playing to those that arrived early to enjoy the first sun on a Saturday since 1899 (well that’s what it felt like with the current weather) was Terri Hooley playing classic tracks including, The Damned, Pretenders, Squeeze, XTC, Undertones and much more to get the retro juices flowing. As the sun disappeared behind the inevitable cloud the STARJETS were first on to the stage, not knowing who they were I was keen to hear the local sound that I was too young myself to listen to in the late 70’s
The STARJETS set list began at a fast pace with a retro punk/pop vibe which nowadays sounds not as hard as it probably did back in the day… something I have found with punk bands when comparing to todays harder rock/punk outfits. We were treated to 5 songs interjected with the lead singer taking advantage of the mic to name check possibly everyone in the crowd, he seemed to know a LOT of folk. ‘Schooldays’, followed up with ‘Any Danger Love’ had good strong vocals and also the only songs I managed to find out track names (apologies to reader for not knowing the rest of the set list) They were a tight outfit and clearly have been around a long time and were comfortable playing to the local crowd with a set list of a further 6 songs with an updated weather forecast pointing out a cloud… and of course 3 minutes later and just before their penultimate song ‘Run With The Pack’ the rain fell…. But only for a short time and that was the last of the rain for the evening, apart from the Beer Rain (which will be explained later) The vocalist, Terry Sharpe mentioned that they only get together every four years and signed off with their biggest UK hit that nearly hit the top 40 in 1979 ‘War Stories” and looking at the top 40 at that time that in itself was an great achievement for a local band.
During that late 70’s period period was a transitional period from punk to new wave/pop and one of those that started the punk movement was up next, GLEN MATLOCK who was introduced by Terri Hooley our own Punk Godfather who hadn’t seen him in over 40 years and was enthused by the honour of introducing a legend of ‘Punk Royalty’ to the stage.
GLEN MATLOCK has great stage presence and as the crowd started to fill the floor in front he introduced his band and launched into one of his own tracks ‘Head on a Stick’ from his 2023 album ‘Consequences Coming’, trying to drum up a bit of action from the quiet crowd.
Few hand claps later and there was at least a bit more enthusiasm (I guess they were expecting a few punk classics) after a cover of the Rich Kids ‘Burning Sounds’ the crowd woke up when he launched into the all to familiar riff to the start of ‘God Save The Queen’ … finally punk arrived to Belfast and the crowd responded in full voice to ‘No Future’ at the end of the song.
At this point it was good to treat us to ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ a Glen Matlock recent single that delivers a bluesy style with punchy chorus. With a bit of interjection with the crowd Glen sang ‘Blank Generation’ a cover of Richard and the Voidoids who I hadn’t heard of but ticked the box for me in terms of sound and fitted in with this bluesy guitar sound that his own renditions had.
Matlock looked the part in a smart shirt and you can tell this guy has been around a long time to own the stage even as a support act, bringing us the lead track of his album ‘Consequences Coming’ a very American sounding track that didn’t float my boat that much but did have some nice guitar work and fitted well the the style of the whole set. The 8th and final song was another Pistols classic ‘Pretty Vacant’ which was given the ‘Matlock’ makeover, a great end to a short set and it livened up the crowd that had started to grow by the second.
A few more Terri Hooley treats in-between Matlock and the latest treat for the crowd a set of Joy Division classics by PETER HOOK and THE LIGHT.
I was looking forward to this set the most not having watched Joy Division but a big New Order fan (having seen them a few times) I always loved Hooky as a bassist and as a person. He’s an outspoken character and if you get a chance listen to his audiobook full of honest and frank views on his former New Order band members as well as a portrayal of is life full of drink and drugs and partying…. He really did things to the max during the early 80’s.
HOOKY greeted the crowd by thanking Glen Matlock and saying if it wasn’t for that man HE wouldn’t be here and above all “most of YOU lot wouldn’t be hear either” the crowd responded with cheers of approval and Hooky launched his base into ‘Digital’ the concrete floor bounced into our chests with the bass drum and guitar delivering CPR at maximum strength, Hooky vocals were good and whilst not the same as Ian Curtis the enthusiasm was pure and ‘day in day out’ chorus belted out in the balmy Belfast evening.
Hooky’s Bass style is like no other with the low playing style and walking about the stage left and right with bass on knee and arm aloft milking the crowd enthusiasm to the max while launching into classic ‘Disorder’ with its edgy sound still sounding great in this line up. ‘She Lost Control’ making use of the second bass player really well, as Hooky sang and soaked up the music himself, hands and guitar by his side head back and breathing in the electronic drum hypnotic rhythm.
‘Shadowplay’ followed and was the weakest song of the set and after they sorted out a bit of bass feedback it kicked on well. ‘Warsaw’ up next and my personal favourite Joy Division track 350125 GO! shouts Hooky the punky guitar kicks in with ‘Three one G’ chorus part complimenting the earlier Joy Division sound the band felt really in unison on this track and for me one of the best from the set.
‘Isolation’ delivered the more electronic sound with Hooky’s bass that went onto become the ‘New Order sound’ with the keyboards generating a background symphony that complimented the base and edgy vocals. The forgettable ‘Interzone’ was next followed by ‘Ceremony’ one of the last Joy Division songs that became a classic New Order Track and set the tone for them for the next 20 odd years of them being together, the New Order version was much more polished (as with all their studio tracks) but the Joy Division and this version stripped it right back and sounded great live.
The penultimate song ‘Transmission’ delivered the best Joy Division guitar riffs and as the crowd settled down from the ‘Dance, dance, dance, to the radio’ chorus Hooky thanked the crowd and belted out ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ which even if you didn’t know most of the songs this would have set you up nicely for the main act of the evening.
A few last bits of DJ action with Terri Hooley with an ironic sign behind him saying “Down with this sort of thing” from Father Ted and some random songs to confuse the younger members of the audience including ‘I could be good for you’ by Denis Waterman, my son looked at me with a WTF look in his eyes.
The set for tonight main act consisted of a backdrop of a small boy with his arm across his face and a barcode saying ‘Everyone IS Someone’ this was replicated on the Bass drum and on the speaker stacks.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS is a band that for whatever reason I had never managed to see live and coming from Belfast that is a tad embarrassing, but nevertheless I was here now and glad that I got to see them with my son George and his buddy Ryan.
Two 20 year olds who weren’t even in my thoughts when SLF hit the heights in the late 70’s but glad they are embracing what NI has to offered to the world and still do touring regularly throughout Europe ad the US/Canada in the 2000’s. The crowd had by now had the obligatory tour T shirt that said SLF ‘Putting the Fast into Belfast’ and so it began….
This evenings setlist started with ‘Tin Soldiers’ classic SLF sound with Jake Burns taking stage front and centre belting out his rasping vocals that have not gotten weaker with age in fact far from it sounding polished and clear from the start and for the first time this evening the crowd kicked into action with a LOT of dancing from everybody down at the front, without even a pause they battered out ’Nobody’s Hero’ with a frantic power punk song with a decent set of stage lights blinding us with in unison with every bass drum sound.
The rain appeared again briefly, but this time just in the form of beer that regularly ended up in the air at the front.
Time for a breather for those 50+ folk at the front with the backdrop changing to a Jamaican flag colours to compliment ‘Roots Radicals, Rockers and Reggae’ a Clash sounding song that appealed to me a lot live. Jake announced he wasn’t going to talk that much and launched into ‘Fade away’ and then ‘Full Steam Backward’ which burns said was a new song even though it was from the last album from 10 years ago.
Burns decided to talk more to the crowd saying, every time recently he ends up having to dedicate a song to someone the music industry has lost, and in this case it was the legendary Terry Hall and Sinead O’Connor to which the crowd responded very well, the former who sang the next song ‘It Doesn’t Make it Alright’ an anti racist / anti-bullying song from the Specials which set the tone for remembering Sinead O’Connor who dealt with her fair share of abuse for her own views.
The next song ‘Get a Life’ was one that I had not heard and the sound reminded me of ‘Big Country’ with Stuart Adamson guitar and rolling drum sound that was very familiar in the mid 80’s a very pleasant diversion from the usual power punk sound that SLF were famous for, and for me a highlight of the set and will check out the album of the same name as a follow up. ‘Listen was up next from the 82 album ‘Now Then’ which gets the crowd interaction with the ‘whoaaaaa’ in unison with Burns Saluting the crowd in appreciation.
He then addressed the crowd by retelling his struggles with depression over the years and asking the men in particular in the crowd to remember to talk about those struggles and how it will help to share the pain which his song ‘My Dark Places’ was written about. ‘Silver lining’ brought the mood back up about not getting what you want in life but there is always something there, the bassist; Ali McMordie; wandered about the stage clearly enjoying the freedom and continued to do so for the rest of the gig which by now was warming up nicely in the open air,
By now it was dark and the lights were in full effect as Burns said that Ian McCallum guitar would perform a magic trick…. turning it into an acoustic guitar as they played ‘Each Dollar a Bullet’ an Irish Rock Ballad that got the crowd going when it launched into action. A proper Northern Irish song that is still powerful today, ‘At the Edge’ brought us all right back to 1980 with its pulsating bridge into its anthemic chorus with both McCallum and McMordie singing backing vocals.
‘Wasted Life’ another classic SLF song from ‘Inflammable Material’ built the crowd up again with their anti paramilitary anthem. The original angst driven vocals still there but a reminder to the younger members of the audience what life was like back in Belfast in the 70’s and 80’s thankfully a distant memory for the dancing mob.
‘Gotta Get away’ delivered more dancing juices into the frenzied crowd at the front and reached its crescendo with ‘Suspect Device’ the last song of the main set, the interjection between the band and crowd on this song was brilliant and one of the highlights of the evening.
Off they popped for a well earned , although short, breather due to the curfew and back they came to deliver two final songs from Inflammable Material’
‘Barbed Wire love’ and the final act of the evening was Jake Burns asking the crowd “Please be upstanding for the National Anthem” as we all knew what was about to happen as the familiar opening chords of ‘Alternative Ulster’ rang out and 25 seconds later the sold out Custom House Square is jumping, from front to back , all as one, singing the chorus if there was any one song that we can call our own it is this…
The punk gods were kind keeping the rain off us for this great evening.
The band took their bows, exited and off we wandered back into the streets of Belfast to the tune of Eric and Ernie’s bring me sunshine … The streets that are now safe compared to the days when SLF created these punk classics.
Alternative Ulster is a track that instantly makes you homesick when you are abroad but tonight we are all in Belfast and Stiff Little Fingers reminded us all that there is only one place to listen to them and that is home and ‘everyone IS someone’
Photography by MPM