Stiff Little Fingers – Portsmouth Guildhall (March 13, 2023)

Punk originals Stiff Little Fingers were forged in the darkness of 1970s Northern Ireland. Their  Everyone is Someone tour hit the third-most populous British Isle™ on this chilly March night at the end of another dark period half-a-century on.

The chill was first warmed by former Stray Cat, Slim Jim Phantom and his Trio, who got the undiverse crowd (as a 5’6” middle-aged white bloke I fitted right in) moving with an upbeat set of trademark rockabilly covers.

The Clash-inspired Ulstermen, notably championed by John Peel, have seen several iterations but are far-from being washed-up and hackneyed. Their powerful mix of punk, rock, reggae and blues blends pretty seamlessly, still works really well and makes for a great night’s entertainment.

And entertain they do, with the set clearly thoroughly thought through, well-produced and balanced.

For those who love an anthemic classic that gets arms in the air, SLF do not disappoint. “Tin Soldier”, “Suspect Device” and “Gotta Getaway” are more than just toe-tappers and the Fingers’ intensity shines through despite them being of nearly retirement age.

But we didn’t come just to be entertained, did we? Frontman Jake Burns and bassist Ali McMordie of the original four still thrill with an anger and righteous fury. They poke holes in comfortable middle-class existence, nationalism and decades of Tory government.

At times this feels like it strays into demagoguery, but is nonetheless welcome in these times of trouble and censorship.

Away from the floor-fillers there was a hefty dose of fitting solemnity, a cover of The Specials’ “Doesn’t Make It Alright” was aired as a proper and decent tribute to recently departed Terry Hall. And “A Tower in London”, a newer track about the avoidably tragic 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire brought the band’s agitpop brand more up-to-date.

The encore saw a traditionally lengthy version of Bob Marley’s “Johnny Was” that manages to artfully be full of menace, sadness and anger.

Yet who would have imagined the finale, “Alternative Ulster”, a roaring primal punk teen boredom yell, would still sound amazing and be incredibly relevant the best part of 50 years from its release?

Words and pictures by Rob Finch

More about Stiff Little Fingers can be found here.


Rob Finch

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