Punk band Stiff Little Fingers started up in the late 1970's in Northern Ireland. We sat down to interview original member and front man Jake Burns.
You started off as Deep Purple Cover band "Highway Star" in 1977 before reinventing yourselves as legendary punk rockers. What was the UK punk scene like in the 70's and 80's versus today?
Actually we were never a Deep Purple covers band. Highway Star was a different entity to S.L.F. although some of the same people were in both. It's difficult for us to say what the scene was like on the U.K. mainland as we were based in Belfast, N. Ireland. It's amazing how much difference 30 miles of water can engender. Northern Ireland was probably about 6 months behind the rest of the U.K. in awareness etc. Most of the stuff we got was through radio and music papers like the N.M.E. etc. Having said that. It was a very exciting time. Unlike today, punk wasn't just another branch of the entertainment industry. Then it was truly "outlaw" music. Stuff you had to do for yourself because no large corporation was going to force feed it to you. As long as you had a tune and an idea, you could find an audience. Nowadays, it seems that what we would have considered "teenybop" bands are seen as "punk" bands. It's a huge dilution of what it once was. I'm not saying that's bad, or that what these bands do is in some way "inferior" to what we did (or do). Just different.
Stiff Little Fingers broke up in early 83 and your turmoil led to fist fights. How do you deal with band politics now, and to what do you owe your longevity?
Well, the fist fights etc. came about because we were immature. Hopefully, now we have the benefit of the wisdom that age brings. I think the main reason the band has lasted this long is because we have always tried to be honest with our audience and not take part in any "rock star" bullshit. As far as we were/are concerned, the things we sing/write about are the same things that would worry/interest the folks who come to see us. I believe that as long as we continue to make that connection and don't patronise our audience, then they will continue to come watch and listen to us.
When you first started out in 1977 it was about word of mouth and playing shows. Now all it takes is a click of the mouse. How has the internet changed you as a band?
It has made living on different continents viable. It has made self-management easier. Although we haven't gotten into it to the extent that some bands have, I can see how it would make running your own record company etc. a going concern. It's almost like a high-tech return to the early days of the D.I.Y. cottage industry ethos of punk rock in the late 70's. The idea that you don't have to go "cap in hand" to a major record company for distribution etc. is a very exciting and attractive one, and is actually a step further than most "independents" managed the first time round. Also, it has given us an even more personal level of contact with our fans. Not just the likes of myspace, but through the band's "online pub" forum at www.slf.com we can interact on an almost immediate basis with audience members from around the world. Indeed, thanks to that, we have become friendly with quite a few of them in real life as well.
How do you feel about bands like Rancid and Bad Religion citing you as major influences?
It's always very flattering when anyone cites you as an influence. It's like a verification from your "peers" if you like, that you're doing something right. Having said that, there are some bands whose endorsement is more of an embarrassment than something we'd put on our CV's ! Although, the ones like Bad Religion (who you mentioned) who have gone on and established their own independent and obvious voice are always the most gratifying. I'm much happier about a band like Manu Chao, for example, who have also cited us as an influence rather than a Stiff Little Fingers soundalike. Simply because it shows that we have been a part of something new developing. A part of an artist finding his or her own voice rather than slavishly copying ours.
How did it come about that you worked with Grammy award winning Don Lett, also known for his work with Elvis Costello, George Clinton, Frans Ferdinand and The Clash, to direct your 30 year anniversary documentary? What was is like to see your career over 30 years?
We'd long been admirers of Don's work and when the possibility of making the "30 year movie" came up, we all wanted him involved. As luck would have it, he was a friend of a friend of ours (Alan G. Parker). Alan mentioned the project to him. Don thought about it and said: "Yes". It was only when we started working together that he became a "fan" of the band to any degree, although through his connections etc. he was obviously aware of who we were.
What are your current plans?
At the moment, we've finished touring for 2008 and I am working on new material for the next album. (It's been faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar too long since the last one !) The trouble (if you can call it that) with S.L.F. is that we get offered too much live work and therefore getting the time to put new material together is always at a premium. So, I have to take whatever time I can get, although our dance card is already starting to fill up quickly for 2009 with Spain, Ireland and the U.K. already confirmed and talk of (possibly) South America also in the offing. It's fantastic to be this busy after all this time but I wuold like a bit more time to write !
Why did you choose Bandzoogle to host your site?
Shirley (webmaster): I've been managing the band's Web site for almost 13 years (hence the rare three letter URL!) I created the site as a tribute and thank you to my favorite band, though I had never met them. One thing led to another...and another...and four years ago Jake and I were married. A rock and rock fairy tale!
Until last year, I managed slf.com via hand coded html, because I couldn't find tools that were up to my standards, yet met a rock and roll budget. I'm very impressed with the usability, flexibility, and overall stability of bandzoogle. And of course the fact that it's designed for bands means it has the functionality I need, and not alot of other features I don't. Thank you!
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