Founded in the late 1970s, Stiff Little Fingers came onto the punk scene around the same time that The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash did. While Stiff Little Fingers took a break for a good chunk of the 1980s, the band has been active for the last three decades and is still doing very well. Their 2014 album, No Going Back, made it to the number one spot of the official BBC Rock Album Chart in the UK.
A very influential group, a lot of key punk artists have covered Stiff Little Fingers’ tunes over the years. In turn, the list of famous fans of the band includes members of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, Bad Religion, Rancid, Therapy? and U2. We had the pleasure of speaking with lead singer and guitarist Jake Burns about all things Stiff Little Fingers. More on the band can be found at www.slf.rocks.
I hear your recent Canadian tour had a great start. Was that the case for you?
Jake Burns: One of our managers is actually Canadian. For most bands that come across from the UK and Ireland, Canada is tacked on as part of a North American tour and they play Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal… So, you know hopping along the border, there’s got to be other places to play, absolutely. We came up (to Canada) two years ago and we did maybe seven or eight shows. The reaction was pretty good, and when we suggested it again this time, the promoters were very keen and we’ve ended up here. We were there basically for a month. It’s was a lot of fun… Like there’s an added enthusiasm, you know?
Peep this The Stiff Little Fingers classic, “Alternative Ulster”, live in concert.
So, for someone that hasn’t seen your band live before, what should be expected?
Burns: It’s almost like a “greatest hits” thing… But what makes me laugh, we’re a band that never had any hits. (laughs) We kind of model the set that we play here on the one that we played in Belfast in the summer… where you try to hit as many points over the band’s career over the last forty-odd years as possible within your allotted hour and a half on-stage… We’ve got to be aware that there may be people that have never seen you before.
Your 2014 album No Going Back went to number one on the BBC Rock Albums chart. Was that a total surprise to you?
Burns: A complete surprise… We were actually in Toronto when the news broke in the time. I only had a U.K. cell phone that I was using, so it was hideously expensive even to pick up calls up here. And so I actually said to my wife, “Look we’re only up in Canada for about four or five days. So, you know, if anything happens just send me a text message. Please don’t call because it’s too expensive.” I sent her a text message and literally two seconds later my phone rang and I could see it was my wife… I picked up the phone and I was like, “I told you not to call.” She said, “The album’s number one.” “I’m sorry, what?” She got a pass for breaking the rules on that, you know? (laughs)
The album Best Served Loud dropped on June 30, 2017.
You mentioned a little bit ago about your band not really having hits. But a lot of your songs have been covered, which kind of makes them into hits in a way. Do you remember the first time that your band was covered?
Burns: Actually, yes. It was rather strange… I still don’t have a copy of the record and it was by a band from Finland (Ratsia). I heard it on a radio show in England. John Peel played it and he said, “I’m not really sure whether they’re singing the lyrics, what they’re going on about it.” I’ve never been able to track down a copy of it from that day to this. But that was the first time and was a very strange feeling. The first time you hear your own record on the radio, which is usually exciting to hear, to hear one of my songs sung in this other language that I didn’t understand a word of (Finnish) was very exciting.
And do you remember when you first realized that Stiff Little Fingers was an influential band?
Burns: When with somebody like Bad Religion tells you that you’ve been an influence, even a band like U2… You know, I really don’t hear an influence on U2, but they claim it’s there. That sort of thing means a lot to us… It all sounds like you’re blowing your own trumpet when you say this sort of stuff. But this is what people say to you, you’ve written songs that have meant so much to them over the years, part of the soundtrack of their lives, and they’ve been with you from day one and they’re still with you. That’s really flattering and hugely humbling as well.
Here’s a live take on “Best Served Loud”, by Stiff Little Fingers.
So, how far ahead are you working in Still Little Fingers? Do you know what 2019 and 2020 look like? Have you started planning your next album or anything like that?
Burns: Yeah, there’s a UK tour that is already on sale for March. And in fact, some of those dates are really sold out. So you know that’s the next thing… We also have an annual show in Belfast in August that’s already in place where we’re just putting the bill together for that. We’re hoping to be in a position where roughly (at the end of this year) we are in a place where we can go into the studio recording the album, which we would like to have available for the start of 2020. Then obviously that would mean, you know, doing a full-on tour.
I think that there’s a plan to do an American tour next year. We were planning to do at least something with my friends in Flogging Molly. I did a tour with them and the Dropkick Murphys just recently when I just played on my own with an acoustic guitar and opened up for those guys. We all got on tremendously… We’ve got to do something together at some point the future…
So, in closing, any last words for the kids?
Burns: Like I said before, we are going to play for these people who’ve never seen us… Hopefully, we can provide as much of an overview of our career as that time allows. And I just hope they have a good time, but we enjoy it. If we come back, come back and see us again.
Here’s a live version of the song “Nobody’s Hero”… check it!