Updated: Sunday, 5th July 2020 @ 5:57am

Review: Stiff Little Fingers @ Manchester Academy

Review: Stiff Little Fingers @ Manchester Academy

| By Harry Benbow

“I believe in the power of guitar & drum. I believe in the hope held in a song. I believe that the music makes you strong.”

So goes Stiff Little Fingers track Guitar & Drum, and it summarises the feeling of the crowd from the second they kick their set off.

But before we get into that, we have Eddie & The Hot Rods opening the night. Their pub rock sound still going strong 44 years on.

Despite being attached to the punk scene in the mid-to-late 70s, The Hot Rods sound is far more pub rock, highlighted by their covers of rock hits such as Gloria by Them, which they closed their set on.

Having toured on and off since 1975, the only remaining original member Barrie Masters looks weathered, but despite his limited movement he still has an undeniable swagger, his marching band jacket and sunglasses giving him an age defying on stage look.

In the short set they rattled through their classics, including Teenage Depression, Quit This Town, and the punk power ballad that is Why Should I Care?

The penultimate song of the set, their top ten hit Do Anything You Wanna Do brought on a meteoric reaction from the, up until then, quiet crowd.

This was followed up by their cover of Gloria, a roaring version of Van Morrison’s early vessel Them’s hit. The crowd interaction heavy anthem left everyone in the room raring to go and ready for the Northern Irish punks up next.

As the lights dip low and the drum beat starts, cheers go round: everyone knows what’s coming. The excitement is palpable as everyone chants the chords back to their iconic instrumental intro of Go For It.

The drums build, simmering above the crowd, engrossing everyone into the explosion of passion and punk that will soon follow.

This is the seventh time that I’ve seen Stiff Little Fingers, one of them being a fortnight ago in Birmingham, and it’s refreshing to see the set list being mixed up for this 40th anniversary celebration of their debut LP Inflammable Material.

These anniversary tours have been coming thick and fast for bands of the punk era over the past two years, with The Stranglers touring Black and White and Adam Ant his seminal album Kings of the Wild Frontier.

Not one to stick to the script, Stiff Little Fingers have mixed it up by, unlike the aforementioned artists, not playing Inflammable Material from front to back, but rather mixing up the setlist and playing songs that appear less often live.

This becomes apparent instantly, opening with Law & Order, a track that usually misses the setlist. The reaction was huge, the crowd proved they were up for it and their enthusiasm was matched by the band.

Jake Burns and co burst into At The Edge, before smashing through their first single Suspect Device while arms were raised galore, fans bellowing the lyrics back.

This explosion of guitar-driven singalong tunes hits the crowd like a brick wall, not one body in the room is still as the punks rattle through their early tracks as if it’s still 1977.

Jake’s voice, often described as like ‘he’s gargling razor blades’, is as growly as it was in 1977 and showing no sings of damage despite over 40 years of touring.

They seamlessly transition from the early punkier tunes to the more melodic songs from the Guitar and Drum LP.

Never a band to shy away from politics, covering paedophilia in the church, corrupt politicians and with their new, as yet unreleased song - 16 Shots - the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the Chicago teenager shot 16 times by a police officer.

Jake knows how to rile an audience and makes the story of Laquan’s murder universal to all the crowd: the vitriol-fuelled chorus of “16 shots, nine in the back, 16 shots in the Chicago night” are enough to make anyone angry.

Jake jests with the crowd after, completely changing the mood, talking about writing Silver Linings in 1981: “I thought things can’t get any worse can they? Boy did I get that f*cking wrong!”

The set powers on, and I don't want to go into any more detail about the songs played, as many of them do come as a surprise, but as mentioned earlier, what is played is enough to make you believe in the power of guitar and drum.

Jake remarks at one point about how much he loves Manchester and our crowds, insistent that it isn't something he says everywhere, and having seen them in Blackpool, Reading, Oxford and Birmingham also, I can confirm he’s not lying.

Finishing, as always, on Alternative Ulster, its lyric “grab it and take it, it’s yours”, summarising the ethos of the band, is the last thought on everyone’s minds as they leave the Academy.

It’s one you can’t fault – after all, it’s worked pretty well for them!