100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #95 Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster

Released : 1978

A recipe for punk: take three dollops of phlegm, add some youth, stir in a bit of trouble with the authorities and sprinkle with a thousand tonnes of energy. Next, whack into a pressure cooker and leave to rise. Voila! you’ve got a dish best served hot and fast.

Next, imagine all of that taking place in Belfast during the long running, ultra-violent conflict between the establishment, nationalists and the British army. By definition then, punk had to be different in Northern Ireland, and it was; speaking around his 2017 exhibition ‘Punk Troubles: Northern Ireland’, Toby Mott Summed up why it’s songs were necessarily more hedonistic by nature.

“You get an English band like The Jam, with ‘A Bomb On Wardour Street’, or The Clash with ‘White Riot’, but if you’re actually living in a state of constant fear of militarised strife, then you’ll more likely sing about your girlfriend not turning up.”

Stiff Little Fingers were at the vanguard of a new scene which, as well as getting right up the noses of the Province’s moral majority, served the more important purpose of providing a refuge from sectarianism. Singer Jake Burns was happy to point out to grinders of whatever axe that the quintet was made up of both catholics and protestants and bore no tribal allegiances, the common enemy being those getting in the way of progress.

Alternative Ulster was not, as another Irishman from a different place frequently stated, a rebel song. On it SLF didn’t just play the instruments, they attacked them, opening up with a hardscrabble lone guitar riffing like a call to arms, after which in the joyous melee that followed Burns roasted anyone and everyone that made their lives harder, from uptight venues to the RUC. Baking it for yourself because nobody else will. What could be more punk than that?


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