It was 20 years ago today! A group of young Belfast punks led by a
straggly youth named Jake Burns got together to record two now legendary
songs, the incendiary "Suspect Device" and "Wasted Life".
Shortly afterwards, John Peel picked up on the three minute polemics which
subsequently fuelled a generation of disaffected teenagers. In many ways
the archetypal punk band, SLF split in 1982, leaving a legacy of four
studio albums and a real live one.
It’s now 1997, and the Fingers are back. Actually, they have been for
some time, having regrouped in 1987 for beers and live shows. In the
interim, they’ve become one of the hottest live acts on the circuit and
have managed to record two new studio albums, 1994s "Get A Life"
and the recently released "Tinderbox". Jake Burns is the only
original Finger left, having been joined by former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton.
In an empty Mean Fiddler on a wet Thursday evening, he granted an audience
to a band of journalists who less resembled members of the professional
media than a motley crew of pseudo punks, worn-out "Inflammable
Material" T-shirts to the fore. One of these was an American,
writing for a home-based punk fanzine, a sign of how things have been
turned on their head in recent years. Burns is aware of his bands growing
reputation across the seas, 20 years after the event, a phenomenon
illustrated by the fact that two members of the long-running punk
outfit (and main influence on Green Day), Bad Religion, have asked them
to play Australia with them.
"Yeah, they arrived at one of the shows and were very humble
towards us. It got to the point where we nearly had to tell them to shut
the fuck up because they were going on and on and on, but we got round
to talking about touring with each other. I don’t know how much of that
was down to the fact that Brian (Bad Religion) and I were very drunk at
the time, but we’re definitely interested."
"Australia came up because we were looking for a place where
neither of us were that impressive, because obviously in America we’d be
supporting them whereas over here they’d be supporting us. It’s beer talk
at the moment but it’d be nice. We’ve never gone to Australia. We got as
far as Japan but decided we couldn’t be bothered going any further."
In general, America’s been getting better for them. Both SLF websites on
the internet are American-based and Burns says that it’s got to the stage
where they play to more people in America than they do over here. He
isn’t enthused about their contribution to rock ‘n’ roll, however,
dismissing Green Day as a "cartoon fuckin’ group".
"I feel that way about a lot of young bands today. A lot of them
don’t seem to have their hearts in the right place. I don’t want to
sound like ‘old father rock’ but you weren’t there in first place guys,
do something original," he adds with a vicious punk snarl. (Only
joking! Throughout the interview Burns comes across as a likeable,
pleasant and utterly gentlemanly person.)
Asked whether he thinks the Sex Pistols were a cartoon group, he pauses
a few seconds before hesitantly saying ". . . no, because they had
a lot of shit to put up with when they started out." And the second
"We actually supported them in Glasgow and Finsbury Park. I know
that tour didn’t do the business they had hoped. We were put on the bill
in Glasgow because they couldn’t sell enough tickets . . . and we got
treated like shit for it, but that’s a different story."
When pressed he isn’t slow to comment. "I’ve known Johnny (Rotten -
if I have to explain who he is maybe you shouldn’t be reading this
article) for a number of years now, but on that tour he was being a
complete fucker. In fairness, he was probably under a lot of pressure,
Despite his new-found appeal across the water, Jake Burns is still fond
of home. The night before they’d just played their first gig in Belfast
in five years. The delay is something Burns puts down to various
technical and legal reasons.
"Basically, a promoter isn’t willing to pay us if he can get a
cover band for less than half the price."
Having toyed with the idea of doing a secret gig as the Rigid Digits,
they finally got it together to perform in their home town, an experience
Burns humbly concedes was "very gratifying." Apart from knowing
the whole front row, he feels the northern music scene is being taken
much more seriously than in his day.
"Young bands are being recognised more in the north today. When we
started out we were always being told that we were ‘alright for a local
band’, y’ know, ‘at least yer not from England’, but people up there
are more willing to listen now, as a result of what bands like us and
The Undertones have done.
Twenty minutes later the manager’s at the door, pleading with us doe-eyed
fanboy journos to let his star go. He’s just secured a cab despite the
city wide cab strike and the rest of the band are waiting. Nothing more
to do except get my copy of "Go For It" signed and wait for
the gig that evening (which was a blinder, by the way).
Other press members have the same idea. One of them produces a photograph
and apologises for playing the "real teenybopper". Burns takes
the aforementioned article and good-naturedly quips "D’ you want a
job with Bad Religion". Or was that really so good-natured?
Attitude, I believe, is what you call it.
by Niall Byrne.