Stiff Little Fingers–Get A Life interview

Stiff Little Fingers–Get A Life interview

With the recent release of ‘Get A Life’ SLF have attracted fans both new and old.  Although they will probably still be ignored by the mainstream press, anyone who has seen them live will agree there is plenty of life in the band.  In fact live, there are very few bands with the same wealth of material, ability and drive to push it to it’s limits.  Pint in hand, Steve Janes caught up with Jake Burns a few weeks before their European tour. Secured in the Chillingham Arms in Newcastle, on an outside table talking of Stiff Little Fingers…

‘Get A Life’ is the first album Bruce Foxton has been involved with from the start, compared to ‘Flags And Emblems’ where he joined later on, has  that made much of a difference to the band?
“Yeah, I mean not just the obvious difference, in terms of his playing and helping with the writing, the main thing Bruce has brought to the band is a real sense of enthusiasm.  It’s really easy, particularly when the likes of Dolph and myself have been playing together for so long, to sort of just drift along.  You do it once or twice and you think “Oh, that’ll do, that’s good enough” but Bruce was a great one for cracking the whip, “Nah, we can do it better than that, we can do it better.”  Even Dolph when he wasn’t working would turn up and sit in the studio encouraging us, to the extent you wanted to snack him in the gob!  No, but it really did help you know.”

What’s the official line up now, are you down to a trio?
“Yeah, we are basically playing as a three piece, but we’re going to add a guitar player when we are on the road, so effectively what that means is that when we are in the studio I’ll do all the guitars, but when we are actually out touring we need somebody else there just to fill the sound out.”

The first single from the ‘Get A Life’ album, ‘Can’t Believe In You’ as far as I can guess… it concerns racists, Nazis basically, is that right?
“You’re not far off, it was written when we toured Germany, not long after the country had become unified.  Effectively what sparked it was the kids that had grown up under the Communist regime in the East had suddenly been given, if you like their freedom almost, and the first thing they did was shave their heads and start setting fire to Jewish premises again.  It was just astonishing to watch how they had come from one totalitarian regime and instantly embraced the exact opposite, the mirror image, you know.  That just amazed me, I couldn’t understand the mental process involved in it and that’s what sparked the song.”
“What I tried to do with the lyrics on this album particularly was, I always felt that in the past I’d made it all a bit too easy, it was all little snap shots, it was all sort of there for everybody, there was no need for the audience to think at all.  So this time round I tried to be, without sort of being wilfully obscure, I tried to make it a bit more oblique.”

Talking of oblique, ‘Baby Blue’, tell me a little bit more about that, I saw it as a song about young Conservatives actually.
“Partly, again, I’m quite glad that different people are getting different things out of the songs.  It was basically when I realised that somebody that was born effectively when the Tories were just about to take power or maybe they were about two or three years old then, is now of an age to vote and they have known nothing but a Conservative Government in this country.  Again in common with the track ‘Get A Life’, as well the number of kids of that age that I’ve spoken to either when we are out playing, or just that you meet when you are walking about, they seem to feel that life has got nothing for them, you know what it’s like.  They are just eighteen years old men they have got no dreams, they’ve got no ambitions, there’s nothing, they don’t even see anything for themselves.  Yet thinking back to when I was eighteen you felt like you could rule the bloody world, you know.  Nobody seems to have any get-up-and-go any more and that’s what basically sparked the song and apart from the obvious Bob Dylan references, the fact that all of these kids grew up under the Tories, hence the title ‘baby Blue’.”

How do you see this album on the whole, with your first album ‘Inflammable material’?
“I think it’s the best album we’ve made since then.  I think it’s the strongest, but obviously you can’t really draw parallels because literally they are two different bands.  It’s certainly the one I feel that I can stand strongest by, with all the others either there have been bits that it was too rushed doing it or the songs…You know a lot of the time we went into record, with the exception of ‘Inflammable Material’ we had the twelve songs that were going to be on the record and that was it, we had no other choice.  With this one we took a lot longer over writing it, we had I think it was twenty one songs and we just turned these thirteen out.”

What about the single, ‘Can’t Believe in You’?
“Well it was one of those things, when it came up to do a single, ‘Can’t Believe in You, was one of those songs that if it had been down to me, wouldn’t have made the album even, it would have fallen at the last hurdle, we did a lot of work on it, but the initial demo, I thought, was a bit lightweight really.”

It’s an enjoyable song…
“It’s a pop song, that’s basically it, but I thought it was a bit lightweight, it was Dolph who actually pushed to get it on.  Like I said I don’t think we have ever really been a singles band and I don’t see the point in them, particularly since we didn’t record anything specifically for the B-side and particularly with the price of singles these days.  We tried to put as many tracks on it as we could.  On the CD single at one point there were going to be 7 tracks on it, but Gallop told us we couldn’t do that because it wouldn’t be a single any more, it becomes an album then.”

You mentioned that if it was up to you there wouldn’t be another single release from the album.  But given that there would be, are there any tracks that stand out to you?
“I always felt Harp’ could have been a single…
I agree, could you tell me more about the track?
“It’s North American, from around the Boston area, it’s a derogatory term for the Irish immigrants, it’s used with the same venom as ‘nigger’ and terms like that.  I wasn’t aware of it, I’d read this book called ‘Harp’ by this guy who was an Irish American, and it just struck me as such a great title.  Basically it was then pulled around to apply to any immigrant anywhere really.  So basically back to the old anti-racist theme really.”

I was wondering if you settled up here in Newcastle, just to plague Metro Radio.  I just wondered if you were this spectre in the background…have Metro Radio interviewed you?
“No, but I believe they are going to at some point, that should be a bundle of laughs, yeah!  It’s perfectly true, they haven’t actually played any of our records since that day.  I don’t know if you heard the story that went with it?”

You were doing an interview and you said crap or something.
“I did, yeah.  And the guy instantly went…It was at the same time when Sky had a hit with…I forget what it was called, but he played the Sky record and faded us out and actually leaned across and said you can’t say that.  I said you can’t say what?  He said you can’t say crap, the station managers listening, if he hears you say crap he’ll be down here, I’ll loose my job…So, I said right, fair enough, Ok, so he came to the end of the record and he went “right those were Sky and with me I’ve got Jake Burns and Ali Mcmordie of Stiff little Fingers.  Ali, what do you thin k of Sky?  Ali said “I think they’re f**king shite!”  That was it, he threw us out, and Ali said “I didn’t say crap!”

It’s been 2 years since ‘Flags And Emblems”, and before that it was 9 years, is it going to be another 2 years before the next album or is there going to be a lot more activity?
“It depends on how the album does, at the moment we are just doing the 16 shows here, but we’re basically got a years touring to do on the back of the album, and it’s one of those things, if the album is ludicrously successful somewhere they always want you to go back there and play again and it’s a case of whether you’ve got time in the next interim to write the songs for the next album or not.  I mean I’m terrible for writing on the road, some people can take a guitar into their bedroom and sit there and have the album written by the end of the tour, I can’t do that.  I just find I can’t concentrate. Of course if it doesn’t sell at all there won’t be another one, there’s always that as well.”

How are Castle with you?  I know your on Essential records within Castle.
“They seem to be a lot more behind this one, the one good thing about them is effectively they gave us the money to go and make the record and didn’t interfere at all, which was great.  In fact they didn’t interfere to the extent that I didn’t know who half of them were!  We went and played at Medem, a music piss up in the South of France.  As we were walking from the gig to this little club across the way, there was this guy sort of on my shoulder, he kept knobbing into the conversation and I turned to Bruce and went, “who is this f**king wanker”, and he went “Oh that’s the managing director of Castle”, Oh f**k, pleased to meet you.  I hadn’t actually met the guy, never seen him before in my life.”

What’s the feedback like form the album? – I know Kerrang give ‘Get A Life’ a decent review.
“Kerrang did give it a good review, don’t know if it surprised me cos they made the single ‘single of the week’ as well.  We seem to be picking up a certain amount of  plaudits from the heavy metal fraternity, yet Raw gave the album a hammering for being too tuneful, which I thought was great.  I have been slagged for many things in my time, but never for having too many tunes, that’s the first you know.  It’s always nice to get reviews but it doesn’t pay the rent.”

SLF, by my reckoning don’t seem to get the respect that they deserve, why do you think that is?
“We’re just not trendy.  We were trendy for 10 minutes, when we did ‘Alternative Ulster’ and around the ‘Inflammable Material’ period, we were desperately trendy then, but even then, although the NME would devote five pages to us they spent all five of them slagging us off which was incredible.  I think it’s always been the fact that we have been too approachable, I know this sounds stupid, but the fact that we never tried to play the ‘pop star’ and we never tried to build a barrier between ourselves and the audience like so many bands do, and because of that the papers just saw us as four blokes you might meet down the pub.  I think that’s one of the reasons we don’t get accorded the respect from the papers, but if that is the reason then f**k ‘em you know.”

SLF are probably as relevant now with the New wave of New Wave thing as you were in the early days…
“The only mention we got recently in the NME was in a review of Therapy? Because they played ‘Alternative Ulster’ and they still managed to slag us in that.  It was something like “the only crap song they played all night was ‘Alternative Ulster’.  I must have upset someone in a previous life at the NME.  NME have always been desperately trendy.”  

Did you believe that the music industry was a young bands game when  SLF first started?
“I didn’t think I would be still doing this now if I’ve got to be honest; having said that, I didn’t know what I would be doing, but again at 18/19 you don’t think of that, you don’t think what your going to be doing when you are 36.  we thought it would last a couple of years, have a laugh and a joke – it still is, I’m just very grateful that we are still able to do it.” 

Your best defence is your music, it’s not as if you’re just going through the motions.
“If this album doesn’t do it, and I don’t mean in terms of out selling Meatloaf or anything like that, but if it doesn’t re-establish us or pick up, it’s like I said earlier it’s nice to get good reviews and if this doesn’t start picking up some decent reviews and stuff then we really will be in serious trouble, cos I think it is the best we can do really, it’s a case of well, what are we expected to do.”

(Rescued and retyped up by Klaire Fairie)

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Stiff Little Fingers–Get A Life interview