Stiff Little Fingers // Peter Hook & The Light // Glen Matlock // The Starjets // CHSQ // Live Review // Belfast
It’s that beautiful, magical time of the year again folks. No, I am not talking about Christmas! I am talking about the fifth-annual gathering for Northern Irish punk rockers, to Custom House Square in Belfast city centre, a night filled with punk royalty, headlined by the OGs themselves; Stiff Little Fingers.
As the sea of leather, tartan and SLF shirts made their way into the venue, they were greeted by Belfast punk’s most iconic figure; Terri Hooley (Good Vibrations records). He acted as DJ and MC, taking the crowd back to their youth by performing tracks by The Undertones, The Specials and many more.
The first band was another familiar name in the local punk scene,The Starjets. ‘God Bless The Starjets,’ in reference to their 1979 album, was heavily plastered throughout the band’s performance, as they took the Belfast faithful back to their youth. Bopping along to pop-punk classics, including the hit track ‘War Stories.’ What was most evident here, was that the band were bowled over amongst friends, with guitarist Paul Bowen calling many dedications throughout the band’s set.
After a short introduction by Terri Hooley, Glen Matlock made his way onto the stage. Who is Glen you might ask? Well, he’s the original bassist for a little band called The Sex Pistols. No biggie! To say this man was humbled to be in Belfast would be the understatement of the century, as he brought a more rock-a-billy vibe to the night’s proceedings. Sure, it was great to hear some of his original material. But it was when he played Sex Pistols classics ‘God Save The Queen’ and ‘Pretty Vacant,’ that had every voice in attendance singing along.
Main support was a group who are no strangers to these shores, as Peter Hook and The Lightominously made their entrance. How many Joy Division and New Order tracks can this founding member of both bands squeeze into a 45-minute set? Well, enough to bring many smiling faces to both young and old members of the audience. Hook wasted little time as he ploughed through many classics such as ‘Disorder,’ ‘Warsaw’ and ‘Transmission;’ while projecting that signature symphonic-droll sound that everyone had grown to love. Of course, Hook saved the best for last with the hit single, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ which even had this reviewer beaming from ear to ear (I don’t know much Joy Division stuff!)
The last time I saw Stiff Little Fingerswas with my Dad in the Ulster Hall back in 2014, so I had a little nostalgia fest the second ‘Go For It’ played across the speakers. Led by the big man himself, Jake Burns, each member took their positions all while taking in a hero’s welcome from their homeland. There is one thing that is guaranteed at a SLF show, and that is energy that just never stops, and for the fifth year in a row at CHSq this was still evident. Performing toe tappers such as ‘Tin Soldiers,’ ‘Nobody’s Hero’ and ‘My Dark Places’ you’d have almost thought a mini earthquake had started in the centre of Belfast.
Jake had to frequently excuse himself for waffling on too much in between songs. But it was okay, as he was amongst friends and family, who were more than happy to hear his stories.
You’d have thought everyone would be tired from such an already energetic and song filled day, but that was far from the case. Especially as these legends blasted through such highlight tracks as ‘Barbed Wired Love’ and ‘Suspect Device.’ But of course, it was Northern Ireland’s true national anthem that brought this punk filled night to a close. All were upstanding as the opening chords to the iconic, ‘Alternative Ulster’ echoed throughout Custom House Square.
As stated at the start of this review, a Stiff Little Fingers show in this venue is always a night to remember. And for the fifth year in a row, that still remains the case. The question is, what will be in store for 2024?