Stiff Little Fingers man Jake Burns on huge Belfast gig

Belfast punk legends Stiff Little Fingers are staging another huge multi-band show at Custom House Square next month. David Roy quizzed frontman Jake Burns about Putting The Fast in Belfast 2

Stiff Little Fingers (with frontman Jake Burns, second left) will be back in Belfast next month

HELLO Jake, where in the world are you today?

I'm in Philadelphia, I'm actually doing a solo tour opening for the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. I've been out on the road for a couple of months now.

When we spoke last year you were just about to play your first solo acoustic shows opening for the Dropkicks – you survived, then?

Yeah, I survived! And obviously they must have thought something of it because they asked me to do it again this year, for four weeks instead of two.

Both bands and the crew are really nice and the audience is amazing. They're expecting a night of mayhem, basically, and then I come wandering out with my acoustic guitar and start into a ballad version of Wasted Life!

You can see them standing there with 'let's party!' written all over their faces, but they've been very kind – I haven't been lynched yet, although I've still got three more shows to go!

It's been a lot of fun to do, although one thing that's different this time around is that they have fewer tour buses, so there's no room at the inn for me. I've basically got to travel everywhere myself.

It's a bit strange: I'm on for seven o'clock, play for half an hour, then it's back to the dressing room, throw the guitar in the boot of the hire car and drive half way to the next show, which can be anywhere up to eight or nine hours away.

I check into a motel, go to bed, then get up and drive the rest of the way. I've got to read a lot of number plates!

Last year's Putting The Fast in Belfast 40th anniversary show went really well – are you looking forward to Part 2?

It was incredible. Last year we turned up to do a soundcheck at 11 o'clock in the morning and I'd literally only stepped out of the van when John the promoter came up to me and said "So, do you want to do it next year?".

I was like, "John, we haven't even done it this year yet!".

Obviously, this all started because we wanted to do something special in Belfast for our 40th anniversary by asking some of our pals [including The Stranglers and The Ruts] to come along and play with us.

But like you said, it went so well and everyone seemed to have such a good time – and not just the bands. People were coming up to me for months afterwards to tell me how much they'd enjoyed it and ask whether we were going to do it again.

So we said to the promoters that if we were going to do it again we really need to get bands of the same or better calibre as we had last time round.

Amazingly, they knocked it out of the park again: when they came back to us to say who they'd got, we were like "yeah, that'll work!". Just like The Stranglers last year, with The Damned and the Buzzcocks, these were guys who we bought records by when we were starting, you know? So it's a huge kick for us to have them on the bill.

Assuming it goes well again this year, they're now talking about making it an annual event – which is incredible since it was only supposed to be a one-off. But if they can keep coming up with great bands while keeping ticket prices reasonable, I would love to make this an annual event.

SLF famously namechecked Bangor punk venue The Trident in your anthem Alternative Ulster. Did you know a blue plaque is going up to commemorate it as 'birthplace of the Ulster punk scene' on the day of your Belfast show?

Is it, really? Good for them – but sadly I won't be able to get down for a look that day as I'm going to be a bit preoccupied!

Ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon will also play his first ever Northern Ireland gig on the same day, when Public Image Limited perform in Bangor. Maybe he can attend the unveiling in your stead?

Yeah – he can cut the ribbon for me and sign it as well, if he likes.

The timing of that [PiL show] is unfortunate, actually, because we were completely unaware it was happening. We wanted ours to be on the bank holiday weekend and obviously folks in Bangor were thinking the same thing.

But I wish them all the best, I'm sure both shows will be great. It's a bit like buses: you wait ages for one huge punk gig and then two come along at once.

On the subject of public transport, did you really ever "walk back to the city" after the Trident shows as your lyrics suggest?

I suppose I should really clear that up after 41 years: we never walked – we had too much equipment to carry!

:: Putting The Fast In Belfast 2, Saturday August 25, Custom House Square, Belfast. Tickets via Ticketmaster outlets.

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