SLF - return of the rebels
Gary Fitzpatrick • Published 1 Aug 2012 09:30
IT's been a long time coming but Jake Burns says Stiff Little Fingers will have a new album out next year.
The Belfast punk legends return to Dunfermline on Saturday and Jake was on top form when we spoke to him at his home in Chicago this week.
"It's either been ridiculously hot over here or we get monsoons. We've had the sun but's been about 100 degrees so you don't want to go out in it."
Jake's jovial nature is in contrast with his uncompromising lyrics in which he has refused to duck the major controversies of the day whether it was the Troubles, racism, football hooligans and these days lying politicians and greedy bankers.
Formed in the late '70s, SLF classics such as 'Alternative Ulster', 'At the Edge' and 'Tin Soldiers' have stood the test of time.
The last time he was here two years ago Jake said the new album was always being delayed because he kept ditching his songs because he was super-critical but now he seems to have relaxed a bit more.
"I've been writing songs and I'm pretty pleased about how things are coming along which is good because it's been a long time since we've done anything.
"The rest of the band got fed up with me. I got a talking to when I was over there last time basically them saying 'Just let us hear the songs will you?'
"There was at least one I was going to throw out that Ali (McMordie) made me go back and listen to and he was right. It was a much better song than I thought it was. I was just being overly harsh. It doesn't hurt to have an outside pair of ears because I can lock myself away in the basement here and not be seen for days.
"You do lose sight of what you're trying to do. You can disappear up your own backside after a while.
"It's great to have the resource of being able to record stuff at home but back in the early days when we'd written a song you had to try and remember the damned thing. You had to record it on a crappy little cassette recorder just to remind yourself of it.
"What in general would happen was you'd turn up for rehearsal at the weekend and say 'Right I've got this idea for a song' and you'd just stand there with the guitar and play it to them and then you'd work it out from there.
"Whereas now I can spend the whole day just working out the drum part and then (Steve) Grantley says 'I'm not playing that'.
"When you look back over the songs I've written I've got to be honest and say the best ones have been the ones that take as long to write as they do to play. The ones you can write in three minutes tend to be the better songs.
"The ones that you agonise over for months and months tend to be.... well they sound like they've been agonised over for months and months.
"When we were on the road in early days, you'd have an idea for a song and you'd be working on it while you were on tour. You'd throw it in the set a few nights to see how it worked. You got a feel for that pretty quickly.
"On the John Peel sessions you can hear we were playing 'Tin Soldiers'. The words are completely different from the ones which ended up on the finished record. We were still writing the song while we were playing it.
"Playing live is still the best. I enjoy making records but it's a totally different mind-set. You don't get the instant feedback you get from an audience and all the time you're doing it you've got to be thinking three weeks ahead in terms of what the finished thing is going to sound like.
"Me being the centre forward I don't get to run out to the end. I've been hanging about for a fortnight while they do the f***** drums.
"I don't get my go until right at the end when I get to do the guitars and singing.
"It's difficult for me because you want to encourage the other guys but bearing in mind in general I've written the songs, I have a clearer idea of what I want them to sound like.
"That's when you start to get into arguments. You know - 'I wrote it', 'Well, I'm playing it', 'Oh well I'll shut up then'.
SLF are still finding new fans around the world and are going to Columbia in October. "You do go to places like Brazil, Argentina, Australia. Some of the farthest flung places you can think of and when you're travelling you think 'is there going to be anybody there?'
"My dad sadly passed away at the end of last year. I remember telling him we were going to Australia and he said, 'What are you doing that for? Do they know who you are in Australia?' I laughed and told him 'I guess we'll find out'."
During his last gig in Dunfermline Jake said he had heard David Cameron was claiming to have been a SLF fan when he was Eton and made it clear the band were certainly no fans of the PM.
He said, "That wasn't quite as horrifying as finding out Nick Griffin (BNP leader) claims to be a fan. That really was terrifying. He claimed to be a fan of ours and The Clash. You just think 'Have you listened to the words?'
Of the new album Jake said, "If we can get that done by the end of the year so it's ready to come out next year that will be great. If not hopefully we'll get it done as quickly as possible into the new year.
"We've got ten to 12 songs that we're happy with. Back in the day if you had ten songs you had an album but now you need at least 14.
"We're talking to a couple of record companies. It's a strange situation to be in these days. Back in the day you couldn't make a record unless you has a record label but you think 'Do I really want to be on a record label?'
"Realistically what they did for you was get your record in the shops but there aren't any record shops any more. If you can strike a deal with i-Tunes and Amazon, what do you need a record deal for?"
Stiff Little Fingers play the Glen Pavilion on Saturday night.