Thursday, 11 May 2017

"Inflammable Material" by STIFF LITTLE FINGERS (2001 EMI 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Try To Put It Right..."

I was in Dublin (probably late 1979) and went to see STIFF LITTLE FINGERS in a city club that hosted Punk Bands. Big mistake and a genius move.

SLF live was easily the most terrifying musical spectacle I'd ever seen and the most exciting. I was 21 and a Southern Irish Catholic and like everyone around me pogoing up and down and spitting at everything that moved - I was taken by a visceral storm - the volume - the no-holes-barred lyrics - the incendiary riffage that felt like a motorbike hurtling at you with its handlebars intent on doing some damage. Lead singer Jake Burns was an animal unleashed on stage (he was the same age as me) - snotty, arrogant and insanely truthful about things we didn't hear nor see on Irish or English tele.

And above the fear I also recall feeling a certain sense of shame at just being Irish. People forget now how the 'troubles' were at that time. Down South of the Border - except for the odd overturned car by rambunctious youths down from the North on a day pass or a beer-fuelled punch-up in a Baggot Street pub over dumb and poisonous ancient political loyalties - we Dubs didn't experience much of the Catholic and Protestant horror that the populous of the Six Counties did on an increasingly horrific basis. We knew of it - saw it on the news - read the lurid headlines - hurt for them - even prayed for them - but never really physically felt that loss and the rage at authority that follows it. Then I saw Stiff Little Fingers...

With their 'f' words and genuinely substantive attack-the-hypocrisy lyrics - both of their initial 45s "Suspect Device" and "Alternative Ulster" had shifted copies - moved - impressed - made us curious if not a little wary. After the gig (which had a fight too half way in as I remember hence the mistake comment earlier) and that constant stream of three-minute kick-him-in-the-goolies moments - I was hooked and bought the nine-flames dark-covered album soon after. Back home in leafy Clontarf with the safety of my Garrard SP25 and Dustbuster to protect my delicate middle-class posterior - I found the album was filled with songs about living in the physical reality of 35% unemployment – walls with murals and footbridges decked in barbed wire blocking out river views – soldiers and paramilitaries caught up in an endless cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation and always with innocents in the firing line. They sang of too many wasted lives and those in charge only exasperating and maintaining the political misery. But through the growls - it was also articulate and relevant in a way that so much of the bloated Rock scene wasn’t.

Our daughter Julia was born 1 September 1994 - the day of the IRA ceasefire (the subsequent UDA/UVF cessation came in October 1994 and effectively brought the 30 year war to an end) - so we gave her the middle name of 'Hope'. 1 September 1994 is also the release date for "The Shawshank Redemption" – in my opinion – the greatest and most hopeful film ever made. Barbed wire love indeed.

Which brings us to this kick-ass 2001 CD from EMI. Let's get to the rough trades... 

UK released 22 January 2001 - "Inflammable Material" by STIFF LITTLE FINGERS on EMI 535 8862 (Barcode 724353588625) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster of their 1979 debut LP with Three Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (64:01 minutes):

1. Suspect Device [Side 1]
2. State Of Emergency
3. Here We Are Nowhere
4. Wasted Life
5. No More Of That
6. Barbed Wire Love
7. White Noise
8. Breakout
9. Law And Order [Side 2]
10. Rough Trade
11. Johnny Was
12. Alternative Ulster
13. Closed Groove
Tracks 1 to 13 are their debut album "Inflammable Material" - originally released February 1979 in the UK on Rough Trade Records ROUGH 1 and 1980 in the USA on Rough Trade ROUGH US 5. Produced by GEOFF TRAVIS and MAYO THOMPSON – it peaked at No. 14 on the UK charts (didn't chart USA).

14. Suspect Device (Single Version) - March 1978 debut UK 7" single on Rigid Digits SRD 1, A-side (Privately Pressed, 500 Copies)
15. 78 RPM (aka 78 Revolutions Per Minute) - October 1978 2nd UK 7" single on Rough Trade/Rigid Digits RT 004, Non-album B-side of "Alternative Ulster"
16. Jake Burns Interview by Alan Parker (13/6/01) Part One

JAKE BURNS - Lead Guitar and Lead Vocals
HENRY CLUNEY - Second Guitar and Lead Vocals on "No More Of That" only
BRIAN FALOON - Drums (Jim Reilly is mistakenly credit as the drummer but he joined the band later)

Although the 8-page booklet features an intro from lead singer and songwriter Jake Burns and the near 18-minute CD interview conducted with him by ALAN PARKER is hugely illuminating (and fun) – the original lyric inner that came with the Rough Trade album is missing. And as words are so important with this most political of bands – that comes as a bit of a disappointment. The CD Remaster appears to be by NIGEL REEVES and was done at Abbey Road – so the power and punch is there – only amplified. Nice to have those rare single-sides too...

Taking their name from a track on The Vibrators 1977 "Pure Mania" debut album on Epic Records – Stiff Little Fingers open their debut with the re-recorded "Suspect Device" and immediately your listening to Northern Ireland’s answer to The Pistols and The Clash (huge influences on the young Belfast band). Other winners include the great guitar opening to "State Of Emergency" and the short but devastating "White Noise" with those GORDON OGLIVIE lyrics that floor you. While their own "Here We Are Nowhere" and "Wasted Life" talk of the despair kids felt at the time - Ogilvie adds lyrical polish to "Barbed Wire Love" and "Law And Order". The band's second guitarist Henry Cluney gets a rare vocal lead on "No More Of That" - while all the others are handled by Jake Burns. Like the first Clash, Damned and Pistols albums - it's a perfect slice of truth from the day and still sounds relevant 40 years after the event...

The June 2001 Jake Burns interview is revelatory, funny and full of great reminiscences. He talks of Taste with Rory Gallagher and watching their farewell show in 1970 at the age of 12 and realising that being a guitarist was what he really wanted to do. Initially turned on by the early Seventies heavy metal of Sabbath and Zeppelin – he formed a covers band called Highway Star (named after a Deep Purple song). But Burns bored of that and quickly moved on to the British New Wave of Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker, the Damned and The Sex Pistols. But then the first Clash album happened and his future as a songwriter with songs that had meaningful lyrics was set.

Later in the interview he talks of the cancelled Clash gig at the Europa Hotel in Belfast when the London band couldn't get insurance to play – but the disappointed and angry crowd rioted outside and Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon tried to pacify the mob. We get background on Gordon Ogilvie – Manager and Lyricist - John Peel's invaluable and timely support on the BBC's Radio 1 – making the covers of the "Suspect Device" single in their flats on the kitchen table (500 copies only) – the £35,000 Island Records offer in London that fell through (the subject matter of the "Rough Trade" song and not the indie label as many wrongly think) – the Tom Robinson tour and support his entourage gave them – the first Rough Trade independent LP breaking the English Top 20 and so on. Part 2 of the interview can be heard on the CD reissue for their 2nd LP "Nobody's Heroes".

Always a great band rather than a good one – you can’t help feel that their blistering debut is sidelined nowadays for the more obvious markers of the day. An overlooked flame. Time to step out of the shadows – again.

"...I've got very strong views..." - Stiff Little Fingers sang on "Closed Groove". Well thank God for that I say...

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