When the CLASH played in Belfast in 1977, among the converts in the auditience were members of a local young band called HIGHWAY STAR . Soon after, the latter decided to give up playing old rock standarts replacing them with Punk and New Wave covers instead. A change of name was also in order. As all were fans of the VIBRATORS, HIGHWAY STAR, chose one of their song titles as their new name. And so STIFF LITTLE FINGERS were born. The band's line-up at this time consisted of Jake Burns(vocals, lead guitar), Ali McMordie(bass), Henry Cluney(guitar) and Brian Fallon(drums). Mc Mordie had replaced Gordon Blair on bass. Blair going on to join first Belfast punk band RUDI. For the next few months the band gigged around locally playing note perfect Punk rock requests.

As most English groups didn't tour Ireland this was the nearest the fans would get to the real thing. This all changed in November 1977. Jake burns had written to local journalist Colin McClellan urging him to see the band live and possibly review the gig for his newspaper. McClellan went along to their next gig, and brought fellow journalist Gordon Ogilvie with him. Both were impressed with wath they saw, but urged Burns and co. to write their own material based on life in Northern Ireland at that time. Twelve days later Burns played Ogilvie two songs he'd since written: "Suspect Device" and "Wasted life". Both songs were inspired by life in Belfast(Wasted Life, in particular, was written about a friend of Jack's who was killed after joining an "organisation"). Burns' vocals were impressive too - a gravelly throated rasp, a powerful voice that could convey both his anger and emotion with great affect, and which soon became the band's trademark.
After recording both songs at local Downtown Radio's jingle studio, Ogilvie and STIFF LITTLE FINGERS financed the production of their very own single. RIGIT DIGITS was the name chosen as the label, while "Suspect Device" was chosen as the A-side. A local Dublin pressing plant supplied the first batch of just 350 copies. At first they weren't even sure if they could shift that many singles, but after John Peel played a copy that Ogilvie had sent to him on his Radio 1 show the demand increased dramatically. Soon they were distributing via Scotia and Rough Trade in London.

All in all, around 2000 copies were pressed mostly with red labels, although it is also available with white, green or yellow labels, the latter being the rarest. A local fanzine, Alternative Ulster, asked the band to write a song that they could give away as a flexi with the magazine. The band obliged, taking the fanzine's title as the song, but the flexi plans fell though. The song was certainly strong enough for a single and Rough Trade agreed to release it in conjunction with Rigit Digits. "Alternative Ulster" released in October 1978, and backed by the equally catchy "78 RPM" became one of the band's best loved anthems and a live favourite.
The Tom Robinson Band invited them on a 28 date tour and with further airplay from Peel, the band were soon gainging widespread coverage.Peel had offered the band an important session onhis show which featured the first airing of "Johnny Was", a Rita Marley song that showed that Reggae(The Clash?) was an important influence on the band and wich would become more prominent throughout their later releases. Strange Fruit have since issued all three of the band's Peel sessions. Not everything was going to plan, however. Island Records wanted to sign the band and invited them to London to record some demos with producer Ed Hollis, of Eddie 1 The Hot rods fame, at the controls. All quit their jobs and duly moved, only o be told that Island boss Chris Blackwell didn't want them any more.
Angry at being messed around, they retorted by documenting the episode in the song "Rough Trade". Wary of major label interest they decided to stay with Rough Trade and recorded their debut album which was issued in February 1979 under the title "Inflammable Material". For an independently released debut album(for both STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and Rough Trade) it sold remarkably well, spending 19 weeks in the charts after crashing in at N°14. Sales were boosted by the reissue of "Suspect Device", which was released in its original sleeve.
Drummer Brian FALLOON had decided to leave after recording the album to return to Belfast and settle down. His replacement came in the shape of Jim Reilly who had left Belfast to work for his uncle in Sheffield, until he heard that STIFF LITTLE FINGERS were advertising for a drummer. With no previous experience, he phoned the band up saying "I'm your new drummer", and duly got the job!
"Inflammable Material" also marked the end of the band writing material about their native Ireland. They had written enough and they were also now living in London. The band had received bad press over their coverage of Belfast. They were accused of exploiting the situation and of preaching politics, both of wich they denied. They maintained that they were simply writing what they saw around them and that they hoped that people would make up their own minds about the situation.
They also stressed that they were simply a rock'n'roll band and playing what they enjoyed. Whatever, "Inflammable Material", although hugely sucessful and great album, gave them a problem with fans who felt the band should "stay angry". In Germany, for instance, fans threw bottles onstage because the band wouldn't play the whole of the first album. "Gotta Gettaway" marked Reilly's debut and proved to be the last single for Rough Trade, although a six-track French 12" under the same title was issued by Celluloid. A Rough Trade promo video compilation entitled "Rough cut and ready dubbed" including "Suspect Device" and "Alternative Ulster" was also later released.
Chrysalis became the band's new company although Rigid Digits was still involved with the releases. The first single couldn't have been less commercial - "Straw Dogs" written about racist mercenaries, did well, just missing a Top 40 place.
The band toured extensively in Britain and Europe. A gig in December 1979 at Stockholm was later issued as a Swedish bootleg album under the title "The Christmas Album". However, it's extremely rare as only 200 copies were pressed. 1980 was the band's most sucessful year, "Nobody's Heroes", their second studio album was quickly followed by "Hanx!", a live album taken from their UK tour and recorded in London and Aylesbury. The band were now a major live attraction and took time out after every gig to meet the fans. "At the Edge" and the follow-up, "Tin Soldiers/Nobody's Hero" both fared well in the charts.
Lyrically the band were as potent as ever but musically they had a more melodic edge to their songs. "Nobody's Hero" inclued a dub version of "Bloody Sunday" and a version of the SPECIALS' "Doesn't make it Alright". A BBC Play for Today entitled 'Iris In The Traffic' set in Belfast inclued an appearance by STIFF LITTLE FINGERS and an airing of "Alternative Ulster". Jake Burns made his acting debut too in this Irish drama, but embarrassed by his lack of ability has since made no attempt to do any more acting! "Go for it", the band's third studio album issued in 1981 was their most accomplished achievement. Reaggae influences fused with rock sentiments resulted in a wonderfully varied and eclectic collection of songs. The titletrack, a catchy instrumental has since been used for numerous TV sound tracks, "Gate 49" with vocals by Henry CLUNEY is a rock'n'roll workout, while "Silver Lining", includes the Q-Tips on bass accompaniment. "Just Fade Away" became the first single. "Picadilly Circus" was a true story about a friend from Belfast who came to London to get away from the troubles, only to be attacked and stabbed for no reason. Jim Reilly left after a French tour and now lives in Boston in America, he has since played drums for the RED ROCKERS and the Raindogs.

His replacement was Dolphin Taylor, previously of the Tom Robinson Band and Spear Of Destiny.The band immediatly recorded the "£1.10 or Less EP", a 4 track single aimed at giving value for money. "Listen" was the stand-out track but "Two guitars clash", another Henry Cluney song is also impressive. One couples the above two tracks on a special Jukebox issue, the other features a long and a shorter version of "Listen". Both sell for around $10.00. "Now then" became the band's final studio album. Although it boasted some strong tracks, such as the single "Bits of Kids" and a fine version of the old Nicky Thomas hit "Love of the Common People", it lacked the variety and energy of their previous output. A couple of rarities are worth mentionning here. Firstly, a free flexi given away with the Melody Maker includes edited highlights from the album, the flipside featuing Iggy Pop while "Bits of Kids" was also issued as a 12" single. Much rarer is a BBB transcription LP recorded live around this time but not issued until 1985.

The band split in January 1983 after Jake Burns decided he wanted to try something different. A retrospective album entitled "All The Best" was issued soon after. It takes in all the band's singles, both A and B-Sides.

 

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