It’s been seven years since the release of their last album, so Otwo’s Alison Lee catches up with Stiff Little Finger’s vocalist Jake Burns to discover the cause of the delay.
ALTHOUGH A NEW Stiff Little Fingers album was recently in the works, frontman Jake Burns wasn’t happy with it. “I listened back to the songs we had… I could have written those when I was 19!” This revelation resulted in a sudden about-turn. “I basically just phoned the guys and said ‘Don’t bother learning those songs, I’ve decided to scrap them all.’ They were so pleased!”
That said, Burns states that he still writes about “whatever offends my sense of justice”, including everything from seeing people “sleeping in doorways” to being involved in “an unjust and pointless war in Iraq.”
This seems like a far cry from early rants about the misery of growing up in Belfast during the Troubles, but Burns still sympathises with young people, maintaining that not much has changed since his youth.
“The only difference is the fact that there isn’t the violence on the streets.” He laughs, saying “Obviously I’m not going to write songs about not being able to pay my mortgage,” but adds “I would hate to be trying to make my way in the world at the moment.”
“We never bought into the whole rock star crap”
But are people fed up of rock stars trying to save the planet? “I think we’re sick to death of celebrities trying to get themselves publicity on the backs of other people’s misery,” says Burns.
He also feels punk rock has lost its way. “I’m not in the business of naming and shaming bands that I think are rubbish,” he says diplomatically, “but if you listen to what they’re writing about, (which tends to be juvenile nonsense)… they’re not saying anything, they’re not making any point, they’re not moving forward.”
No one could blame Burns for feeling jaded by the commercialism that plagues today’s music industry. After all, Stiff Little Fingers emerged from the golden age of punk and are contemporaries of The Clash, The Jam and The Sex Pistols.
They didn’t have Facebook and MySpace to market themselves with either. “We were just annoying! I would write to local journalists and pester them into coming to see the band. We sent demo tapes to radio stations, to John Peel, anyone we thought would listen to the damn thing.”
Annoying they may have been, but never underestimate pester-power. Stiff Little Fingers were the first band ever on an indie record label (Rough Trade Records) to have an album reach the Top 20 in the charts, and their debut record was indeed championed by John Peel, “the single most important figure in the British music industry since the late Sixties,” according to Burns.
“We have always been honest and never tried to bullshit anybody” is how Burns explains the band’s appeal. “We never bought into the whole rock star crap.”
The integrity that permeates their every song still wins Stiff Little Fingers new fans every day. If you’re one of them, make sure you check out their gig at The Academy on 22nd May.