Stiff Little Fingers are
Friars legends, the band taking to Friars as much as Friars took to
them. Voted the best support act at Friars in 1978, SLF went on to play
another six headlining sold out concerts including the prestigious 10th
birthday party gig. In 1980, SLF chose Friars to be recorded for
possible inclusion on a live album. That album, Hanx, turned out to be
recorded entirely, bar one song, at Friars, such was the esteem in which
the band held it.
Jake and Ali, Northampton May 2009.
photo - Mike O'Connor
Stiff Little Fingers in
2009 retains a loyal audience and regularly gig in Britain still and
original members Jake Burns and Ali McMordie are still going strong. It
is no surprise that SLF were selected for a Friars Heroes Award which
they received at this interview.
We spoke to Jake and Ali
on their UK tour in May 2009.
Friars Aylesbury Website:
Jake and Ali, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website!
Thank you it's an honour.
Stiff Little Fingers and
Friars go back a long way. You first played Friars in 1978 supporting
Tom Robinson. What do you remember of that tour?
It was a lot of fun.
They made us so welcome. We were just a bunch of raggy-arsed punk
rockers from Belfast, we had no record deal at the time. Nobody on the
mainland really knew who we were, although we had been played on the John Peel
show. That was as much as anyone was aware of, so for Tom to take us
round the country was a huge boost for us. Not just from the point of
view of going out and playing to people but we were being called back
for encores, most evenings as people were aware of who we were.
That must have been
Ali McMordie: We weren't bottled off, so that tour was a success!
Was it that bad?
Being a support
band could be difficult especially in the punk days. Many support bands
to SLF, the audiences were less than tolerant of them, so that (the TRB
tour) was a huge boost.
You may not have been
aware, but each year, there was a members poll at Friars and you were
voted best support band of 1978. You came back twice in 1979, firstly on
the Rough Trade tour and then the Friars 10th birthday which was a huge
success. Do you remember these occasions?
I have to be honest
and say I don't remember particular shows, but I do know we always
looked forward to playing Friars because it was always a capacity
audience and it was so welcoming. The other thing, as Ali mentioned, was
that some audiences could be a bit hairy for a better word, you were
never sure of the reaction. But at Friars, it was run like a family club
almost. Everybody...not just backstage, but the audience too seemed to
know each other. There was a wonderful camaraderie about it. I can't
think of another venue like that. There were venues that were bigger and
may have claimed to be more legendary...the likes of Hammersmith Odeon
or Glasgow Apollo, but the atmosphere was unique to Friars and to Aylesbury.
Others have said that the
Aylesbury reception was special. You're on record as saying that Friars
was run as if it was Madison Square Gardens...
nothing was ever left to chance. I don't recall us ever having any
complaints when we got there. From a crew point of view and band,
nothing was too much trouble. It ran like clockwork, it really did.
It was run by
music fans. Friars was promoted very well. Not that you needed to
promote it too much as it always seemed to sell out.
Yes, every SLF gig sold
out and quickly too...
It was great
from our point of view but you could never take it for granted.
When you recorded (the
live album) Hanx, did you purposely pick Aylesbury?
tried to record it in Scotland, simply because the numbers would be
bigger and hence the audience sound would be bigger. But the two tapes
we made were unusable. So we decided that we had to move the recording
to later on in the tour. The Rainbow was the obvious one to do because
we hired the mobile (studio) in London so that kept costs down and we
also needed to pick a place (on that tour) where we got a guaranteed
good reception and Aylesbury was the obvious place. As it turned out,
with the exception of Johnny Was, the whole album is from Friars (July
on the back of Hanx, although a grainy shot of a kid, that was taken at
Also a couple of
songs were filmed at that gig like Gotta Getaway which went out on the
Old Grey Whistle Test.
Let's talk about that
legendary Wingnuts episode, what was going on there?!!! (for those
unaware, SLF 'supported' themselves at Friars at this July 1980 gig for
fun in masks as an American band!). I know for a fact that the promoter
had no idea what was going on! Neither did the stage manager, they were
completely taken in!
I don't know how as we were wearing clear masks and we told them we
were from Cincinnati or something (laughs heartily!) but still with
We had just gone tour crazy. We had been on a bus for weeks on end and
it seemed like a fun thing to do. Light relief? Yes. It took about two
songs before the crowd stopped throwing things at us and realised who we
You could see
this ripple of recognition going through the crowd!
Yes, it did start dawning
(laughs) Yes, this
American band.....they seem to have Belfast accents and they are using
the main band's equipment....hmmm!
Going back to that
punk/new wave era of 1977/1978 and also coming out of Northern Ireland,
this set you apart from some of the other artists, as what you were writing
about was what you were seeing at home...it was real. Whereas, some
of the others were talking about what they perceived....a police state,
oppression, anarchy which wasn't there......
Yes, if you want
me to use horrible marketing jargon, it was a unique selling point, the
fact we were from Belfast. I don't think that there was anything on the
first Clash album that they didn't either believe in or had witnessed.
Again after that, they were casting out about what to write about and to
an extent so were we. Coming from the background we came from did give
us a springboard and also meant that once we moved over here, we were
writing about the things that The Clash or Buzzcocks had written about
because we were experiencing them for ourselves. So we got an album
start on everybody I think.
I think a lot of people
were truly amazed at (debut album) Inflammable Material going into the
album chart at No 14 when in those days that was a huge achievement (for
a debut new wave record). In those days, albums even by huge acts
wouldn't always go straight to the top ten.
Yes it did...and
straight out again because of the BMRB (chart compilers of the time) who
didn't think the sales were genuine as this kind of thing had never
happened before! It took them another couple of weeks to reinstate us.
believe it because it was on an independent label, they had no idea who
we were and I don't think they had any idea who Rough Trade Records
were. And for us to go in one place higher than Barry Manilow's Greatest
Hits...there was no way they could take that on board.
That must have been hard
we'd hyped it. But if they had visited Rough Trade's offices, they would
have realised they couldn't have afforded a bus ticket never mind having
the money to hype the record up the charts. That was never going to
It was a boost for
Rough Trade as well as it almost saved the label. We are responsible for
(laughs) Are you proud of
You can take
way you want!
For the benefit of the
tape, that is open to interpretation! So without you, there would have
been no Smiths!
I'm sure they
would have signed with somebody else.
You last played Friars in
1982 and then you went away for a while. Jake, didn't you go on to
become a Radio One producer?
I did. I spent a year there.
Just a complete
change...something you wanted to do?
I'd always enjoyed it when I had gone in to do something for radio and I
wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the microphone, a
poacher turned gamekeeper type of thing. By the end of the year I had
had enough of it and they had had enough of me as well. They were only
ever going to offer another six month contract, by which time the band
had reformed and were doing pretty well. I realised it was time to leave
when I was sitting in a pub after work and was arguing that the new
Jason Donovan record was a good single. I stopped mid sentence and
thought 'I've got to get out of here!' (laughs all round)
Ali, you turned your hand
to tour managing, working with the likes of Moby...
With Moby, I was
playing bass as well as tour managing which was exhausting. Then his
record (Porcelain and album) went huge. I've always been interested in
the tour management side, discovering the other side of the industry but
still staying in it to an extent. That was until I was dragged back,
kicking and screaming three years ago into the fold!
I did see you on that 2006
tour and it was cracking!
Yes, it was a case of
never say never (on being back in SLF). It was amazing how quickly 15
years had passed.
I bet you wished you hadn't given me your phone number now! (laughs)
It's fantastic that 30
years later the nucleus of Stiff Little Fingers is still here...and
Enjoying it is
the main thing....and probably the reason we called it a day in 1983. We
had stopped enjoying it and it wasn't fun anymore. We've always said
that when this stops being fun, we'll stop. I think we've all come to
that realisation that we'll know when to stop.
Maybe that break did you
good as you've been going over twice as long this time round....so
something is working....
older and wiser...
I wouldn't go that
I think you also
realise what you had first time round. I don't think we realised how
much the band meant to people until we went away and came back again.
That was the one thing that really struck me when we reformed. It wasn't
so much the fact that thousands of people came to see us, although that was a
surprise in itself. What struck me was the amount of affection that
people had invested and you suddenly realise that whilst we might laugh
and joke about it, this was something very special to a lot of people
and not just the four guys in the band.
We were a band that
people seemed to discover for themselves. There was no great hype or
marketing campaign. That's helped the longevity.
For the record, my own
discovery of SLF was at school, where people would bring in Inflammable
Material and say 'you've got to listen to this'
So many did discover
the band at school. As they still are (discovering music at school) with
the modern generations.
Jake and Ali, thanks for
Thank you !
Stiff Little Fingers
This interview and its
content are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.