by Trevor Morelli
VANCOUVER – “If you talked to the record label and the management back in the day, they all wanted you to be as big as like U2, or whatever. I’m not sure we ever wanted to do that,” laughs Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns.
“I’m not sure we ever wanted to do that. I’m actually astonished that I’m still playing in Stiff Little Fingers and think any of the guys would say the same thing after 40 years.” Since 1977, the Belfast, Northern Ireland quartet – rounded out by Ian McCallum (guitar), Al McMordie (bass), and Steve Grantley (drums) – has been bringing their brand of unfiltered Irish punk rock to fans all over the globe.
Burns says they wouldn’t be hitting Canada If it wasn’t for the passionate and faithful fans that came out and supported them on their last Canadian jaunt two years ago.
“We all had so much fun the last time. I mean, not every show was a huge success. Saskatoon on a wet Sunday night was not terribly well promoted,” he remarks. “But in general we were pleasantly surprised by the turnout and the reaction of the people that were there; they seemed to really enjoy it. We had a really great time, so when the chance came up to go back, we jumped at it.”
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the band’s debut LP Inflammable Material (1979, Rough Trade Records), which went on to sell more than 100,000 copies and reached #14 on the UK Albums Chart.
It’s an impressive milestone considering the album was almost left in the dust. After their deal with Island Records fell through, Stiff Little Fingers were left to release the record independently through Rough Trade records, a small indie label at the time. The result is a raw, unpolished effort recorded in just 10 days and earning the band a cult following in punk circles around the world.
Although Burns is proud of Stiff Little Fingers’ body of work, he goes back and forth on whether or not there’s anything he would have done differently on Inflammable Material. “Even by the time we got into making the second album, there were things on the first album I wanted to change,” he recalls. “I would’ve liked to have had a bit more time to record it. You might think, ‘Yes, we could have played it better, we could have done this better, we could have done that better.’ But then it wouldn’t have been the album that it is.” Burns believes the raw, reckless sound of Inflammable Material is what many of Stiff Little Fingers’ devoted followers love about it.
“A lot of its charm is the fact that we were young and brash and angry and loud, and that I think is its main sort of feature,” he says. “I love the first Clash album, but you could hear by the time they got around to making London Calling, they had gotten so much better at what they were doing. I still enjoy London Calling; for my money, it’s not a tenth of the album that the first one is.”
Mix something Irish into your life – besides the whisky in your coffee, of course – and check out Stiff Little Fingers on tour across Canada this month.
Stiff Little Fingers perform November 29 at the Rickshaw Theatre (Vancouver)