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Stiff Little Fingers

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Stiff Little Fingers
One of the best bands out of the late 70's punk scene (much rawer, grittier and punkier than the Clash who they are often compared with). Many of their songs such as the classics 'Alternative Ulster', and 'Suspect Device' were about life during the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland.

About Stiff Little Fingers

See also Northern Ireland as reflected in the lyrics of "Stiff Little Fingers"


Stiff Little Fingers are a punk band, originally based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, formed in 1977. They started out as a schoolboy band called Highway Star, doing rock covers, until they discovered punk. They split up after six years, and four albums, although they subsequently reformed five years later, in 1987. Despite massive personnel changes, they are still touring and recording as of March 2006. Jake Burns, their lead singer, is the only member to have been with the band during all its incarnations, although in March 2006, original bass guitarist Ali McMordie rejoined them following the departure of Bruce Foxton after fifteen years. It remains to be seen if McMordie's return is permanent.

Early years

Prior to becoming Stiff Little Fingers, Jake Burns, Vocals and Guitar, Henry Cluney, Guitar, Gordon Blair, Bass, and Brian Falloon, Drums, were playing in a cover band, Highway Star, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Upon the departure of Gordon Blair (who went on to play with another Belfast group, Rudi), Ali McMordie took over the duties on Bass. Henry had by this time discovered punk, and introduced the rest of the band to it. They decided that Highway Star wasn't a punky enough name, and after a brief flirtation with the name The Fast, decided to call themselves Stiff Little Fingers, Jake taking the name from a Vibrators track.

It was while they were doing a gig at the Glenmachin Hotel that they met up with Gordon Ogilvie, who was a journalist with the Daily Express newspaper, invited along for the evening by Colin McClelland, another journalist, with whom Jake had been corresponding.

Ogilvie suggested they play material based upon their experience of the troubles. McClelland pulled a few strings and managed to get the band some recording time at a local radio station, and in the studio normally used to record jingles, they recorded Suspect Device. As a publicity stunt, the single was packaged in the form of a cassette, with a cover depicting a cassette bomb, apparently causing great hilarity in the group, when one record company phoned them back and asked for another copy, as they'd thrown the first one in a bucket of water for fear that it was the genuine article!

One copy of the single was sent out to John Peel. He liked it so much, he played it repeatedly thereby leading to a distribution deal through Rough Trade. This was a tactic Peel had used before in promoting another famous Northern Irish band, The Undertones. There were a number of well-publicised arguments between the two bands. The Undertones accused Stiff Little Fingers of sensationalising the Northern Ireland conflict, while they retorted with accusations that The Undertones ignored it.

Inflammable Material

In the autumn of 1978, they toured with the Tom Robinson Band, and in 1979, they released their first album, Inflammable Material. This inspired their move to London, which in turn led to the departure of Brian Falloon, and Colin McClelland (who along with Gordon Ogilvie had been joint manager of the band up until that point).

Jim Reilly was installed on the drum stool in time to make his debut on the Gotta Gettaway single, and play in that spring's Rock Against Racism tour.

Nobodys Heroes and Go For It

In the summer of 1979, Stiff Little Fingers signed to Chrysalis Records, and in 1980 released their second album, Nobody's Heroes. 1981's Go For It followed hard on its heels. Soon after the Go For It tour, Jim Reilly left the band. His place was taken by Brian 'Dolphin' Taylor, who Jake had remembered from Taylors day's with the Tom Robinson Band.


Now Then

In 1982, came the third studio album (although it was their fourth album, as they had released a live lp Hanx between Nobody's Heroes and Go For It), Now Then... By this time they had diversified musically, and Now Then had an almost pop feel about it in places. This led to some of their more hard core punk fans feeling alienated, and in the face of low sales, and lower concert attendances, they broke up in 1983, with quoting Burns: "''Our last LP Now Then was to my mind the best album we have made. But it is also unfortunately the best I think we will ever make. So I have decided to call it a day."


They reformed in 1987 according to Jake, because they were "skint and wanted to make a bit of cash to get back to Ireland for Christmas". The response from the fans was overwhelming. They released some live albums and did the occasional short tour towards the end of the '80s, and by 1990 were thinking of reforming permanently.

Flags and Emblems

Ali McMordie decided he wouldn't be able to commit the time to touring full time, or recording, and so left to be replaced by The Jam's ex bass guitarist Bruce Foxton in time to record 1991's Flags and Emblems. The single from this album, Beirut Moon, was banned in Britain because it criticized the government for not acting to free hostage John McCarthy in the Lebanon.

In 1993 Jake made what he describes in the book Stiff Little Fingers-Song by Song as being one of the hardest decisions of his life in asking Henry Cluney to leave the band, and the trio of Jake Burns, Bruce Foxton and Dolphin Taylor continued, for the next four years, joined on live shows by either Dave Sharp or Ian McCallum.

Get A Life

In 1994 they released Get a Life in the UK, releasing it in the States in 1996. By the end of 1996 Dolphin's family commitments had become such that he felt he could no longer commit the time he needed to the band, and he left. Jake called in Steve Grantley who had played drums for Jake Burns and the Big Wheel in the late '80s.

Tinderbox - Guitar and Drum

The trio of Burns, Foxton and Grantley recorded 1997s Tinderbox album, as well as and best of all...Hope Street in 1999. Shortly after this, Ian McCallum joined the band on a permanent basis, and the line up of Jake Burns, Bruce Foxton, Steve Grantley and Ian McCallum recorded 2003's Guitar and Drum.

Lineup change

On January 18, 2006, the following announcement appeared on the SLF Website:
Bruce Foxton has announced that he is to leave Stiff Little Fingers with immediate effect. After 15 years of writing, recording and touring with SLF Bruce says it is time to move on and concentrate on other projects. "The situation is amicable" says Foxton. "I have enjoyed my time with Jake, Ian and Steve and will miss them. Naturally I wish them all continued success and hope to catch up with the boys during their spring tour." The band are currently talking with various people regarding replacing Bruce. The upcoming March tour will not be affected. Obviously, we as well wish Bruce every success in everything he goes on to do in the future. He has been a fantastic asset to the band and we'll miss him as well.
Jake, Steve, Ian.

On January 23, 2006, it was announced that original bass guitarist Ali McMordie was to rejoin the band for the duration of their upcoming March tour.


Lou Kaim wrote on 2020-05-03 00:00:00:
Last memory, promise: '95, I was working @ a frameshop on Clybourn. SLF was supp2be @ Liar's Club(Chgo). My buddy Bobby asked me 2go & I declined. I couldn't imagine having 2compare em to the memories of my youth & all that music meant 2me. Sorry,Jake!!
Lou Kaim wrote on 2020-05-03 00:00:00:
Lou Kaim here..I am trying to find out where my family might be in Ireland. Anyone who knows a Kaim, pls have em email me @ ThxAton. 🙏Lou
Lou Kaim wrote on 2020-05-03 00:00:00:
LouKaim here. Worked @a pizzeriaInLisle,IL. Mgr.Joe,a displaced NYpunker,gaveme Inflammable Material/Nobody's Heroes onA cassette.NobodysHero&WastemyLife helped me2standUp2my a-hole adopted P's &blow off senior yr.ThxJake!!!
Dulcimer wrote on 2011-02-07 00:00:00:
Suspect Device had the same effect on me as Smells like teen spirit did years later - blew me away. Still sends a shiver through me.
howie awkward wrote on 2010-01-03 00:00:00:
they used to do okie from muskogee as an encore lyrics were by the journalists
keva farrell wrote on 2006-10-28 00:00:00:
Great band slF, seen them in dublin in the 80's.much better than rudi or the outcasts.
"Jenny Callahan" wrote on 2006-05-24 00:00:00:
I really like what Ive heard of this band. Very inteesting. Different from most "punk" .
Bob Schober wrote on 2005-11-16 00:00:00:
I have loved SLF since I first heard their live album way back in the late 70's. They really could rock. Wish I coulda seen em.
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