Stiff Little Fingers back at Barrowland Ballroom with a bang!

After having to re-schedule twice, SLF finally celebrate St. Patrick’s day back in Glasgow

St. Patricks day in Glasgow had been a regular event for nearly 30 years until the covid lockdown meant the celebrations were put on hold. The Barrowland Ballroom had been the venue for some legendary performances by Stiff Little Fingers as they had chosen to play there every year on 17th March. The easing of restrictions meant the band could finally get their re-scheduled tour back on track and had invited some fellow legendary punk rock musicians to join them. Sex Pistols drummer, Paul Cook, one of the most famous drummers in the world would be joined on stage with his fellow “Professionals” and T.V. Smith of The Adverts would open the evening with his trusty acoustic. The ballroom would once again bounce to the boys from Belfast. 

Tim Smith is no stranger to a large stage, but he had never graced the famous Barrowland Ballroom, ever. He had never even been in the building in his 45 years of touring which is rather surprising considering his prolific career. Tim reminded the crowd exactly where he started off his live career as he ripped into “No Time to be 21” one of the The Adverts popular singles. He wasted no time kicking off his set and after the popular opener, he played three songs from an album he recorded during lockdown. The album, “Lockdown Holiday” is aptly named. Tim played another three back catalogue songs before closing with two other seminal Adverts songs. “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” and “One Chord Wonders” were well received by the crowd as they grew in numbers during Tim’s set. Talking with Tim after, he had struggled with covid early on but triumphed over adversity by recording and releasing his latest album. Tim told me it would be a busy year for him and he’s making up for lost time by playing a good number of festivals up and down the country including support slots for The Damned and a full tour with Ruts DC. As well as his solo gigs, he’ll be playing a few live Adverts sets with his band TV Smith and the Bored Teenagers. He may not be 21 anymore but there’s still plenty life left in Tim. 

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The Professionals have also kept themselves busy during the last 2 years and released their latest album “SNAFU” just 6 months ago. It’s not that long ago since the band played another famous Glasgow venue, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut but in stark contrast, the band could spread themselves across the stage and play to ten times more people. The past 5 years had seen a few changes to the line-up but Tom Spencer and of course, Paul Cook have been the main stays. The line-up for this tour saw the welcome return of Chris Catalyst on lead guitar and Toshi JC Ogawa on bass. Chris has also been busy writing and releasing new material and toured recently as a three piece. Playing a support slot meant the band had to curtail their usually set list so they limited themselves to a few older numbers and some tracks from their last two albums. The opening track “Easily Lead” from their latest offering “SNAFU” kicked off their set, but it was the older songs that brought the biggest reaction from the busy crowd. “Silly Thing”, which of course was a Sex Pistols single, had the audience interest peak mid-set amongst the set regulars of “Going Going Gone” and “Payola”. The biggest cheer of the night went to the set closing “Stepping Stone”, another Pistols song, albeit a cover song and B side. The band left their mark on Glasgow and judging by the busy merch desk, won over a lot of new fans. Talking with Liam Feekery (Tour Manager) the band had been able to raise over £1600 towards a Ukraine fund so far and intended to send a van with some much need relief. 

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Sound Engineers are well known for subjecting their musical preferences on audiences between bands to keep the crowd amused and the 10-minute lead up to SLF coming on stage certainly had the crowd smiling. You’d expect some old school punk, a bit of reggae or even some obscure electronic music being pumped through the PA but no, it was a mash up of TV Theme tunes ranging from Hawaii 5.0 to Only Fools and Horses, with a bit of Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Minder and Steptoe and Son, it certainly kept the crowd grinning as the memories of the old tv favourites came flooding back. It set the scene for some nostalgia and the traditional intro song from their 1981 album “Go for It” signalled the imminent appearance of the band. The opening line of “Suspect Device” was shouted out by Jake Burns and the trip down memory lane was complete as the hit single from 1978 kicked off their set. The hits kept coming with “At the Edge” and “Fly the Flag” as SLF got off to a flying start. Great way to get an already eager crowd on your side! No signs from the band that the lockdown had affected their performance as they were on fire. After the onslaught of the first three songs, Jake took the time to acknowledge the crowd and explain the band wanted to play songs from their back catalogue as they continued with the album titled song “Hope Street”. Of course, it’s not all about the older songs as they played a varied set which included a new tune. “The Last Protest Song” had Jake explaining that he likes to seek out material done by younger bands and listen to what they have to offer, but when that includes songs of drinking and debauchery, he’d rather sing about something more substantial! The new song follows the traditional format set by SLF with some great tuneful picked chords and a sing a long chorus. “Roots, Radicals, Rockers, Reggae” is always a great mid set high and reminded everyone what the band are about. Just a shame the lyrics of that song couldn’t be heard across the planet! Jake led into the next song with a story about a night he met Phil Lynott and it inspired him to write the song “When We Were Young”. The inspiration to write material comes from real life and the next song was again very timely as the tour had kicked off on International Women’s Day and Jake informed the crowd that he wrote “Safe as Houses” about how pre-conceived societies rules have an effect of people. Of course, any SLF gig is always going to be about the set favourites and the band didn’t disappoint but there’s was still space for a reminder that the past 2 years have taken its toll on a lot of folks and “My Dark Places” certainly hit home with its subject matter. What better way to re-engage with the crowd than have them singalong to “Barbed Wire Love”. The enthusiastic crowd certainly gave their all as they all joined in. Another influence on Jake when it came to writing songs was Joe Strummer. Jake’s way of letting the world know Joe Strummer’s inspiration still lives on but he’ll never play “Strummerville” again. Somewhat poignant yet uplifting. The band wasted no time with the run up to the end of the set with a blistering rendition of “Wasted Life” followed an epic “Gotta Getaway” which always has the crowd bouncing. There was never any doubt of an encore, and the band saved the best til last. After a miserable St. Patrick’s night last year, the band unleashed the pent-up frustrations as they built up the intro on “Tin Soldiers”. The volume and intensity seemed to rise at the end of the song which led right into the signature guitar intro of “Alternative Ulster”. There is probably nothing like being in the Barrowland Ballroom when Stiff Little Fingers play their iconic hit and the crowd lost themselves in those frantic last few minutes. The chords hung in the air as the crowd went wild screaming for more but that’s it for another year. If there’s a better way to end this lockdown, you’d be hard pushed to beat it. 

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