It was the day when all of Australia pitched together to raise money for all of those that suffered during the devastating bushfires and Subculture was there to make sure we kept you right up to date. Here are all of our reviews of the artists playing at Fire Fight Australia.
Poor Lee Kernaghan had the unfortunate task of kicking of Fire Fight Australia to a near empty stadium. He didn’t let that worry him though and after a mellow start his catchiness caught on and had the small crowd starting to sway along to things. His highlights were clearly the beautiful duet ‘Where I Want to Be’ which saw his wife Robby X join him on stage. Then anybody who was already caught up with the emotion of the day would have had it flow over them as Kernaghan launched into his final song – the thought provoking ‘Spirit Of The Anzacs’ which he dedicated to all the firies who have put their lives on the line this summer.
Conrad Sewell arrived on stage looking like a very young John Farnham and then delivered with the voice to match. Festivals like this are important to artists like Sewell as it opens up their music to a lot of people who perhaps would have never have heard their music before. With that in mind Sewell really delivered. He eased into things with ‘Start Again’ before his backing singers really kicked in on ‘Healing Hands’ almost making themselves sound like a choir. Anyone that doubted the talent of Sewell though was really put in their place though with his amazing falsetto vocals on ‘Changing’.
Somebody had to finally get the crowd moving that that somebody ended up being indigenous rapper Baker Boy. His loud clothing really made a statement… as did his music. He fused all genres together and rap suddenly turned to didgeridoo, but more important was the fact that his tracks like ‘Cool As Hell’ seemed to get the crowd moving and on their feet.
Of course this wouldn’t have been an Australian music festival without one of Australia’s best performers – Daryl Braithwaite. As usual though Braithwaite did not disappoint. He overcame early microphone issues to deliver a great version of ‘As The Days Go By.’ That was quickly followed up by ‘One Summer’ which again had the crowd singing along. Then came the song that everyone wanted to hear from him – ‘Horses.’ Once again the crowd joined in and even MC Celeste Barber returned to the stage to ride across on her wooden ‘horsey.’ One thing became very apparent as the strong crowd sang along, even acapella at time, more people know the words to ‘Horses’ than do the words of the national anthem.
The Aussie rock royalty then continued with Pete Murray arriving on stage and going straight into a mellow version of ‘Opportunity.’ The audience then joined in again as the sweet acoustic sounds of ‘Better Days’ filled ANZ Stadium and we were once again reminded of what an amazing artist Murray is. That audience then listened in total silence as the beautiful sound of ‘So Beautiful’ filled the stadium. He then closed the set with a great performance of ‘Feeler’ and once again we were reminded just why Pete Murray is one of the best Aussie artists going around.
The grunt finally arrived on stage with alternative rockers Grinspoon. They started out mellow with ‘Chemical Heart’ but then hit full stride when they launched into ‘Just Ace.,’ the track that finally see some moshing start. They intensity continued with the ferocity of “Lost Control’ leaving those that were there for the pop artists a little confused. To close out their set they celebrated the fact it was Sunday by delivering another fan favourite – ‘Hard Act To Follow.’
ANZ Stadium then become part central as Australia’s soul queen took to the stage. Jess Mauboy kicked off with ‘Saturday Night’ before the funky guitar riffs of ‘Can I Get A Moment’ took over. She then toned it back a little with ‘Honesty’ a song that really did showcase the fact that she has one of the finest singing voices in Australia. The energy returned then as she performed ‘We’ve Got Love’ a track that now means a hell of a lot more to Australians then it did when she performed it at Eurovision. Lyrics like ‘don’t give up’ now have an entirely different meaning to Australians than they did a few months ago.
The new wave of Australian music then went on show with rapper Illy bringing some sweet, melodic rap as he started out with ‘Then What.’ He really found his groove though with ‘Catch 22’ as he crooned ‘stay another round’ and you just knew that people were hitting up Spotify to add it to their collection. Then in act of sheer bravery (or should that be stupidity) Illy decided to debut his new single ‘Last Laugh’ in front of a lazy 70,000 people, the biggest crowd he has ever played in front of. He then showed more of his skills with an stunning rendition of ‘Paper Cuts.’
Anyway who had forgotten the power of Guy Sebastian’s voice was very quickly reminded as he launched into the soulful ‘Bloodstone’ before following it up with ‘Before I Go (You’ll Know My Name)’ a track that took his voice to even deeper depths. Sebastian then showed his talent by rapping while holding an acoustic guitar as he performed both his part and Lupe Fiasco’s during their hit ‘Battle Scars.’
The vibes at ANZ Stadium rose as Peking Duk took to the stage. A real summery vibe swept in as they belted out ‘Stranger’ and then took it to a whole new level with ‘Say My Name’, complete with some Inni Kamoze inspired melodies. In what was one of the most sombre parts of the day both members of Peking Duk shared personal stories about how they had relatives and close friends who lost their homes in the fires… it is moments like that that kept reminding us why we were all there. Rightfully so they followed the stories up with a haunting rendition of ‘Take Me Over.’ To finish off they closed with ‘High’ which had the audience screaming the moment the first strains started to play… yes Peking Duk were one of the highlights of the day.
Delta Goodrem walked onto the stage draped in the Australian flag looking more like a prize fighter walking into the ring rather than a singer about to sing in front of one of the biggest crowds she will ever perform in. She quickly won over the audience with a cover of The Seekers’ ‘I Am Australian’ before then performing one of her biggest hits – ‘Born To Try.’ Then while seated at her piano Goodrem performed the song she wrote during these fires – the extremely emotional ‘Let It Rain’ while reminding us all that when Australian hurts we all hurt. Goodrem then sent all of her fans into raptures with a melody that consisted of some of her biggest songs.
Next to take to the stage was honorary Australian Ronan Keating who flew in from Malaysia just to perform at Fire Fight. He kicked off with of his biggest hits ‘Lovin’ Each Day’ before then crooning ‘When You Say Nothing In’ while walking through the crowd. Keating then kept the hits coming when he sang ‘Rollercoaster’ which again had the audience joining in.
Tina Arena’s set started with a funky flashback to her past with ‘The Machine’s Breaking Down’ before continuing the flashback with ‘Chains.’ While many Australians would have not seen Arena perform for a number of years she showed that she has a strong fan base when singing ‘Heaven Help My Heart’ and having a lot of audience joining with her. Then in a complete shock Arena delivered one of the biggest surprises of the night when she rocked it out when a cover of The Divinyl’s hit ‘Boys In Town.’ Now we know that Arena is that good at rock… we can only hope that one day we see her do a rock album… seriously everybody people were freakin’ head-banging to Tina Arena.
Looking like a rock n roll pirate Alice Cooper stormed onto the stage and launched into ‘Department Of Youth’ before Nita Strauss took centre-stage with an epic guitar solo in the middle of ‘I’m Eighteen.’ The youngsters in the audience then got a rock lesson as Alice and band took it to the next level with an energetic version of his greatest hit ‘Poison.’ It was then time for the teeny boppers in the audience to duck for cover as Alice’s fans started to mosh during ‘Schools Out.’
Amy Shark showed why she is one of the biggest stars in the Australian music scene at the moment with a mellow version of ‘I Adore You’ before launching into ‘All Loved Up’ while looking at home performing in a stadium. Her electronic and more aggressive sound then came through with ‘Mess Her Up.’ One of the highlights was the motivational speech she gave before ‘I Said Hi’when she reminded Australia that we are one of the strongest countries in the world and that we should never give up. Continuing to watch Amy Shark grow as a performer has been one of the highlights of being a music journalist in Australia over the past few years and seeing her perform so well in front of a stadium audience has been one of my highlights of the past couple of years.
5 SECONDS OF SUMMER
In one of the biggest shocks of the night 5 Seconds Of Summer really blew things up with an almost hard rock sound before returning to their more familiar pop punk sound of ‘Easier’. Still the epic jam in the middle of the song sounded a lot heavier than I expected they would sound. Their new track ‘No Shame’ had a catchy vibe to it as did ‘Want You Back, but nothing else matched that early hard rock sound they managed to deliver. One of the biggest cheers of the day though was reserved for when 5 Seconds Of Summer started ‘Youngblood.’ The song had their fans singing along from start to finish.
QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT
What do you do when you are a band with a plethora of hits spanning decades but are playing a small festival slot? Queen + Adam Lambert solved that problem by beginning their set with a mash of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Radio Ga Ga.’ It was obvious from the start that Adam Lambert was at his full vocal best while Brian May showed that age certainly hasn’t sowed him down any as very soon the strains of his guitar were soon filling ANZ Stadium.
Queen then showed why they are still one of the best rock bands in the world with a high energy version of ‘Hammer To Fall’ complete with an amazing guitar solo by Mr. May himself. To follow on from that Adam Lambert then did a great mix of Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury as the band performed ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love.’ The pumped up crowd then happily joined in when the band decided to play ‘We Will Rock You,’ there enthusiasm surprising considering many of them had now been standing for eight hours. Not even those hardened fans could match Adam Lambert’s vocals on ‘We Are The Champions’ as he reached notes that many of us could only dream about reaching. Yes, if you go back over the set list it is the same set list that played at Live Aid… respect, guys, respect.
THE HILLTOP HOODS
Following a band like Queen is never something that you would look forward to but The Hilltop Hoods did in their stride bouncing onto stage with energy as they performed ‘Leave Me Lonely’. With a full brass section their version of ‘Clark Griswold’ had a very funky vibe. They were then joined by Australian Eurovision 2020 winner Montaigne for a smooth version of ‘1955.’ Things really picked up though when the crowd started jumping as the band sang ‘Crosby Sweater.’
One of the hardest jobs of the night was given to Canadian songstress K.D. Lang who was given the task of being next on stage directly after the one minute silence for the 33 people that perished in this summer’s fires. She was up to the task though with a haunting, piano driven version of ‘The Valley’ that gave people more time to reflect on those that had lost their lives. She then followed it up with an amazingly powerful rendition of ‘Hallelujah’.
The Aussie legends kicked off their set with an atmospheric version of ‘Great Southern Land’ complete with didgeridoo, then came the moment we had all been waiting for as the band sand ‘Electric Blue’ and ordered the crowd to sing along with them… as if anybody needed any urging. They then closed their set as their fans danced along to ‘We Can Get Together.’
JOHN FARNHAM & OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN
And with the biggest cheer of the night the legend himself John Farnham walked onto stage and dove straight into ‘Age Of Reason.’ In full flight Farnham then jumped straight into ‘Pressure Down’. As the crowd begun to settle they were then whipped into a frenzy again when the recently Dame’d Olivia Newton-John joined Farnham on stage and joined him for a duet of ‘Two Strong Hearts.’ Farnham’s greatest hits package then continued and as he sang ‘That’s Freedom’ it became very clear that his vocals are still as strong as ever… there seems to be no slowing down Farnham at all.
On of the highlights of the night though was when Brian May and Adam Tambo joined Farnham on stage for ‘You’re The Voice.’ It was no secret that a few years ago May was trying to get Farnham to join Queen so this was a rare opportunity for the pair to work together… and a moment that Aussie music fans wills remember for a long time to come. We were promised that this would be a day to remember… and that moment with two music legends made sure that was certainly the case.
There were probably some seventy-two year olds in Melbourne last night tucked up nicely in bed by 7.30. There were probably some others trying to work out whether or not they should wear the red or beige cardigan tomorrow. Then there was one seventy-two year old man named Alice Cooper. He was taking centre stage at Rod Laver Arena, rocking out like a man half his age with a hard rock that has to be seen to be believed… oh and he had some giant babies, masked psychos and a huge Frankenstein with him.
Yes as Melbourne can attest to this morning age has certainly not wearied Mr Cooper at all. Sure he isn’t jumping off speaker stacks any more but he can certainly still bring his audience one hell of a show… and that was something that we were all a witness to last night.
By the time Cooper hit the stage last night the audience was already pumped to the max. Victoria’s own Airbourne had already seen to that. If you have never seen the lads from Warrnambool live then you have really done yourself a disservice. How these guys aren’t already as big as their mentors AC/DC is beyond me. Their catchy tracks delivered with electric ferocity live is something any serious music fan must see.
Last night the lads certainly delivered. At one point they had Rod Laver Arena resembling London during The Blitz as air raid sirens sounded and search lights darted this way and that. The highlight of their set though was when Joel O’Keeffe left the safety of the stage during “Girls In Black”, ran through the crowd and then scaled the banister of level 2 all while still playing guitar and not missing a beat… you want showmanship – you certainly get it with these guys.
That showmanship then continued with Mr. Cooper himself. Not to be outdone he brought his very own Nightmare Castle set with him. A set complete with chandeliers, two levels and more fire torches then on the set of Survivor. But if you thought the set was impressive that was nothing compared to what happened when the music started.
Cooper is now at a point of his career where three generations of fans now turn up to his shows. A quick look around the arena last night and it was very easy to see those in their sixties still decked out in their early Cooper T-Shirts, people my age who also got into the legend’s music through their parents album collection and then the younger generation just as eagerly excited as their parents. There was even one primary school aged kid their last night wearing a jacket that not only boasted an Alice patch, but also patches for Soilwork and Kreator… respect young Sir, respect.
None of those three generations would have left Rod Laver last night disappointed as Cooper once again delivered the showmanship and brilliant live show that has seen him at the top of his game for 50 years. The true testament to how well the show engaged with the audience was that not only did the fans sing along with the hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “Poison,” “Department Of Youth” and “Schools Out,” but how that singing continued even with slower tracks like “My Stars.”
The last time I saw Alice live it seemed like the theatrical side to his show had died off a little, last night he proved that wasn’t the case though. Last night he had a masked psycho kill fans who ‘invaded’ the stage during “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask),” his bloodied bride appearing during “Rose On White Lace.” Then of course there was the epic performance of “Steven” and “Dead Babies” ending with Cooper being put to death before ultimately returning to the stage.
An Alice Cooper show though is just a glorified Dracula’s performance though. No, Cooper has surrounded himself with one of the finest bands in the world. When you have Nita Strauss, Tommy Henriksen and Ryan Roxie delivering the goods like they did last night on guitar and then joined by Glen Sobel who delivered a literal ground-shaking drum solo on “Black Widow Jam”, then your band is something pretty special.
Perhaps though my highlight of the night was Cooper himself picking up the harmonica and playing soulfully alongside his band as he brought a haunting sound to the very catchy “Fallen In Love”. If there was anybody out there dumb enough to suggest that Cooper’s time is up, then that was the time that showed it certainly isn’t.
Cooper last night showed Melbourne that there is still life in ol’ black eyes yet. A stunning band, entertaining theatrics and tracks that had people singing along all night, that is all you really want from a show like this. Perhaps Joel O’Keeffe best summed it up last night when he said “As long as I’m still alive, as long as you’re still alive, rock ‘n’ roll will never die!”
Long before most people had any idea at all what climate change meant one band was already out there spreading important information about social issues such as the climate and the deplorable treatment dished out to many innocent animals around the world.
That band has been Cattle Decapitation a band who has never shied away from controversial topics like genocide and animal abuse. Their forthright way of spreading such important messages has not been without controversy. The graphic cover of their To Serve Man album back in 2002 saw distribution company SPV refuse to handle the product in Germany. Then again in 2004 another graphic album cover caused some trouble when the cover of their Humanure album saw some store owners self-censor it without label permission.
Flash forward to 2020, now people are taking notice of the message that the band has been trying to convey since 1996 and their past three albums have all charted in the US, including their current album Death Atlas which peaked at number 3 on the Hard Rock charts.
Now with Cattle Decapitation about to kick off their Australian tour I had a chance to sit down and talk to front man Travis Ryan about the tour and how the band want to help their Australian fans as much as possible.
“I actually called up my manager and told him that we didn’t want to wait two fucking years between the album coming out and us hitting Australia,” laughs Ryan as we talk about the closeness to the tour and the release date of Death Atlas. “ I don’t know what it has been but the evolution of the band has seen the international stuff for this band become few and far between. We do so much stuff in the States and we are trying to change that and do as much else as possible. One good place for us is Australia, and we know that we have to get out there and do more world tours because it has been too spotty.”
As our discussion goes on I also learn that there is a much deeper reason for why Ryan and the rest of the band felt that an Australian tour was so important right now. “We are really excited about heading back,” he says with clear excitement in his voice. “And I mean really, really excited, but we are also very saddened about what we have seen happening over there and we felt it was important to come over and help take people’s minds off things for awhile.”
There is no way you can dodge the fact that the events of this summer in Australia has been something that Cattle Decapitation has been warning us about for a long time. Even on my way home recently I found myself listening to their track ‘One Day Closer To The End Of The World’ while Melbourne was choking in bushfire smoke and bright red apocalyptic sunset sat right in front of my face. That is not something that is lost on the band either.
“Obviously we don’t have the foresight so it was almost embarrassing knowing we were coming over there after putting out such a record,” he tells me with real emotion in his voice. “But with that in mind we decided that we couldn’t just come over there without helping in some way so we have organised a few revenue streams, like charity streams, so that we can donate to this Sanctuary that got destroyed…named Cobargo Wildlife Sanctuary. We have a special T-Shirt that will be available with all proceeds going to Cobargo and we’ll have some special VIP ticket upgrades available as well.”
“People will be able to come in and watch us do sound check,” he explains. “They they can hang out with us. We don’t normally do that kind of shit, because we are more old school, that is something very new for us and we’ve had a lot of people ask us to do VIP shit so we thought that is one way that we could help raise money – it’ll do some good and we get to hang out with people, and it all goes to the Sanctuary, we don’t want to see that die. It is all so fucking sad man but yeah the album does say that this does feel like the end times.”
This tour may see the more sombre side to Cattle Decapitation as they do what they can to help their Australian fans but as usual the band will put in great lengths to make sure that they deliver the best damn shows they can while they are on shows. Get behind them and help them support those Aussies that need a helping hand.
The musical journey continues for newly formed duo Nick Batterham and Josh Meadows, with the release of the video for The Bell Streets’ debut single ‘Fragile.’ The melodic pop lullaby is the first taste of what’s to come from their forthcoming LP Monument, to be released via Popboomerang Records, Friday 3 April.
A song in praise of fragility and vulnerability ‘Fragile’ honours the delicateness of human connection. Commencing with a very simple ascending piano line and the opening phrase: “You know your own mind. You say what you believe. You dive underwater. Know when not to breathe”, the song grows with a peppering of string plucking and wistful harmonies, creating a dreamlike atmosphere now perfectly enveloped in the sun-drenched new film clip.
Shot near Port Arthur, the clip shows three friends setting out on a road-trip in a big old stubborn Toyota land-cruiser named ‘Gloria’. The stunning southern Tasmanian landscape sets the scene for a video that evokes the bygone summers of yesteryear. Complete with lavender-field naps, milkshake slurps and remote river dives, the ‘Fragile’ clip accentuates the nuanced subtleties of the songs Nick and Josh have written and recorded, which present a classic feel, but are fresh and new.
Filmmaker and Director Ursula Woods wanted to create a soft and groovy summer vibe, “I see so much beauty in this close friendship and the moments shared throughout the road trip. I wanted to focus on the individuality of each person and also their connection with each other. Their youth, road trip experiences and floaty moments, all represent fragility to me. I feel both song and video are dreamy and full of wonder and reflection.” – Ursula Woods
The duo have known each other since the early ’90s when they were both in bands on Melbourne indie label Summershine; Nick as a central figure in bands Blindside, The Earthmen and Cordrazine, and Josh as the singer from The Sugargliders and The Steinbecks. Together as The Bell Streets, they have recorded a collection of songs that takes the creative synergy of their partnership to immense heights, in the aptly titled 10-track album Monument coming this April. Get excited.
Monument album is out Friday 3 April via Popboomerang Records
The prestigious and highly-coveted Australian Music Prize has unveiled its Shortlist for its 15th anniversary year, with a cohort of the country’s most respected music experts narrowing down the of 107 nominated albums to just the finest nine Australian releases of 2019.
The shortlist reflects Australia’s diverse pool of talent with an unrivalled consistency of quality continuing to rise to the top not only at home but across the world stage; Ainslie Wills’ introspective, folk-pop debut album ‘All You Have Is All You Need’, Amyl And The Sniffers reverence for 1970s punk in their self-titled album, Julia Jacklin’s honest journey through heartbreak and reconnection with self in ‘Crushing’, Methyl Ethel’s closure-seeking third album ‘Triage’, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds latest epic ‘Ghosteen’, the eclectic dance album ‘Rebel Force’ from Sleep D, Thelma Plum’s story of culture, heritage, love and pain in debut album ‘Better In Blak’, the uncompromising, unapologetic sounds from Dispossessed’s ‘Warpath Never Ended’ and previous winner Sampa The Great with her acclaimed record ‘The Return’.
“It’s always great when an album as a body of work is recognised, The Return was one hell of a journey. Being nominated again feels very special,” said Sampa The Great.
“As a first time AMP judge, binge-listening was a chance to revisit great albums and discover albums that had slipped through the cracks now we’re all seemingly bombarded with more music than ever before. Heaven knows how they managed to cull all those albums down, but they’ve come up with a fine nine that is a killer snapshot of Australian music in the last 12 months,” said Australian Music Prize judge Cameron Adams.
Inspired by the UKs coveted Mercury Prize, the Australian Music Prize has previously recognised artists including Gurrumul, Sampa the Great, Courtney Barnett, Hermitude, The Jezabels, Eddy Current Suppression Ring and The Drones, and continues to thrive with the support of the industry it serves.
“The Australian Music Prize has never been more vital in our music ecosystem, providing a separation from the fight for commercial success and encouraging a reconnection to the very heart of what draws us to music. We are proud to lift up music that inspires lives and change our culture for the better,” said Australian Music Prize director Scott Murphy.
The 15th AMP is also increasing its consultation and inclusion across the industry to showcase the album format, shine a light on amazing records which may not have had the support they deserve and to celebrate great Australian albums.
Rock quintet INTECHNICOLOUR have released a video for the new single ‘Big Sleeper’, the title-track from their debut album which is due for release on 21st February 2020 via Big Scary Monsters.
Guitarist Dave Jackson comments on the single:
“This song used to be called ‘Sexy Boys’ but we changed it to ‘Big Sleeper’ in a vein attempt to increase our chances of getting on Top Of The Pops…then we realised the programme had been cancelled and regretted our decision terribly!”
INTECHNICOLOUR will play a series of headline shows in February, March and April in support of the new album, joined by CLT DRP and Operation Kino on select dates.
19.02.2020 – Glasgow, Broadcast (w/ CLT DRP)
20.02.2020 – Bristol, The Exchange (w/ CLT DRP)
21.02.2020 – London, The Black Heart (w/ CLT DRP)
22.02.2020 – Southampton, Heartbreaker’s (w/ CLT DRP)
23.02.2020 – Brighton, The Pipeline (w/ Operation Kino)
26.03.2020 – Worthing, Bar 42 (w/ Operation Kino)
27.03.2020 – Tunbridge Wells, Forum Basement (w/ Operation Kino)
28.03.2020 – Hastings, Crawley’s (w/ Operation Kino)
23.04.2020 – Cheltenham, Frog And Fiddle (w/ Operation Kino)
Hailing from Brighton, INTECHNICOLOUR are a riffy, groovy, rock band with a knack for creating a colourful song or two. Formed in 2015 through a want to play loud music through slightly broken amps, the basis of the band was created.
Comprised of members from the likes of Delta Sleep, LUO and Broker the five-piece are a fully-formed band of technically gifted musicians, cutting loose and playing music that’s about as far removed from their day jobs as it’s possible to get – and they are doing it better than a good portion of their contemporaries. Landing somewhere between the slack desert-groove of Kyuss and Karma to Burn, the band combine deeply satisfying riffs with a dynamic vocal style, which calls to mind the sounds of Baroness, Gojira and Mastodon.
The band have previously been quoted as saying that they “literally have nothing to say about themselves,” but with music this good, it’s highly likely that there’ll be plenty of others willing to do the talking for them.
INTECHNICOLOUR have previously toured across the UK and Europe with the likes of Physics House Band, Black Peaks, Town Portal, Bitch Falcon and Haggard Cat. The band concluded 2019 with a performance at Big Scary Monsters’ Xmas Party, with headline dates confirmed in support of the album.
The year was 1979 and a tiny Irish punk band were about to send out a shockwave that would not only change the genre but forever impact on the wider music scene. Surprisingly the band responsible – Belfast’s very own Stiff Little Fingers – had no idea what they about to do.
How could they? Things were not exactly going the greatest for them. The band had started out in 1977 as a rock cover band called Highway Star but then after a few line-up changes they were introduced to the sound that was punk. That lead to a brief flirtation with the name The Fast before finally settling on Stiff Little Fingers.
The uprising and violence that Ireland was experiencing at the time ended up heavy influencing the early music of Stiff Little Fingers and after recording some of their tracks in a studio normally reserved for the creation of radio jingles the band signed with Island Records, a deal which fell through.
Not to be put off the band released some cassette singles, the ‘cassette bomb’ that was ‘Suspect Device’ did cause some problems at publications it arrived at, and eventually signed with Rough Trade Records, a deal which ultimately saw part of the rise of Chrysalis Records.
That led to the release of their debut album Inflammable Material and the rest as they say is musical history. Audiences took to the album that explored deep topics such as police oppression, sectarian violence and teenage boredom and the result was the first independent album to ever chart in the UK.
“We didn’t think anything about it,” said vocalist Jake Burns who I recently had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to about the anniversary of this stunning album. “I don’t think anybody ever does, but there seemed to be a lot of time to talk about this album. People have said to me ‘did you realise that it was going to be a classic?’ or ‘did you know you know you were recording something special?’ The answer to both of those questions is no!”
“As far as we were concerned we had already been turned by literally every record label in the country. It was only through the good graces of Rough Trade saying ‘you’ve never made an album, we’ve never made an album, so let’s see what happens.’ It was a shot in the dark for them, it was a huge leap of faith for them to take us. But as far as we were concerned we had been shot down by all of these labels so this was our last shot, I think from my point of view I thought that at least if we recorded them then in forty years time when I was sitting down with my grandchildren I could be like ‘here take a listen to what I did when I was young and stupid.’ Of course flash forward forty-two years and I haven’t got any kids, let alone grandkids and I’m talking to you about it instead.”
What Inflammable Material did when it comes to musical history though is not lost on Burns. “The thing did go on to become successful on so many levels. If I knew that was going to become the case though we would have tried to bottle it, it just happened to be the right time and the right place.”
One of the ironies that followed the success of the album was that nearly all of the record labels that originally knocked back the band then came knocking. “Everyone one of them except CBS came back,” says Burns with a laugh. “We heard that CBS didn’t come back because in their words they said ‘we have enough trouble with The Clash’ which I thought was a wonderful thing for them to say about us.”
But yeah everybody else came back and it was a wonderful experience for our point of view because we were as green as grass,” he continues. “We had no experience in the music business at all. Had we been signed straight off the bat we probably would have signed the world’s worst record deal and we would have gone down that path of ‘well we did all this work and we got nothing out of it.’ I was working as an Accounts Clerk before the band took off and I could have been back doing that again, it could been like that. But the deal we did with Rough Trade, who was just as green as us, was done on a handshake that covered the costs and then we split fifty-fifty and by the end of the year the thing had sold 100,000 copies. So when these labels came back to us they were like ‘well we will give you ridiculously large advances’ but the joy of working with Rough Trade was that we didn’t have to wait for the traditional eighteen months to get paid because they were selling them themselves so we were paid straight away… so the one thing we didn’t need from the labels was money but what we did want was control over the albums so we could control what they sounded like.”
“As it turned out Chrysalis were the only label that would give us that, the others were all like ‘we’ll give you seventy five thousand pounds’ and we were like ‘we don’t want seventy five thousand pounds you’re not listening.’ But Chrysalis were like ‘okay’ and we had a really good working relationship with them. We have been pretty lucky though people have normally ‘got’ the band straightaway or have gotten on board pretty quickly so we’ve been pretty lucky.”
Despite that early success it was the deal with Chrysalis that saw Stiff Little Fingers become members of a very different league. “Rough Trade were one of the most major independent labels but all the other bands they had would make a single or do two singles and then go off it never seemed like a long term thing,” Burns explains. “No disrespect to the other bands but there were no rock ‘n’ roll legends there you weren’t going to meet The Beatles when you walked in and then over night we signed with Chrysalis and then I found myself being introduced to Rory Gallagher my hero and we were on the same level as Blondie and the same level as Jethro Tull and I was suddenly like ‘wait a second these are the guys that were in the music magazines I read when I was growing up and they are talking to me like I am there equal.’ That was when I said to myself, damn I guess this is my job now.”
They were obviously the bands that Burns himself were in awe of but over recent years bands such as Bad Religion and Rancid have mentioned that Stiff Little Fingers were a major influence on their early work and that is something you can tell that Burns is incredibly proud of. “That is very flattering,” he says with humility present in his voice. “It is always very flattering when you hear a musician say that because I know how I felt when I first met Rory Gallagher, he was just charm and friendliness personified and if I mentioned what a fan I was he would look embarrassed and say ‘oh, don’t be like that’ so we’re kind of the same. I mean I met Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, for pete’s sake they don’t get much bigger, and we were doing a television show together… this silly little quiz thing. On the form you filled out before you went on it said ‘what was the first album you ever bought?’ and I wrote Led Zeppelin II which was true and I didn’t know then that Robert Plant was going to be on the show and then he walked into the green room and all eyes turned to him because everyone is saying ‘it’s fucking Robert Plant’ and he stood in the doorway and said ‘who is the idiot who bought my record?’ and I was like ‘me.’”
“I guess because those guys were so cool about it when it first started happening to us we were like ‘okay let’s go get a beer let’s not talk about that’, he says. “Internally though you are impressed, I mean those bands you mentioned we’ve toured with both Rancid and Bad Religion and they are both great bands, so yeah it is very flattening.”
Today Stiff Little Fingers are still together with founding members Jake Burns and Ali McMordie still at the helm. The band will be touring Australia this year and to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Inflammable Material will be playing the album in full. Yes everybody, this is a return to the good old days of punk.