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Noise Annoys: Stiff Little Fingers' Jake Burns on their big Belfast show

Noise Annoys chats to Stiff Little Fingers frontman Jake Burns about the veteran Belfast punks' imminent return home for Putting The Fast in Belfast 5, the fifth edition of their annual August mini-festival at Custom House Square, and why the US-based singer/guitarist and his band are finally slowing down their live schedule...

SLF are Belfast-bound again
SLF are Belfast-bound again SLF are Belfast-bound again

HI JAKE, are you looking forward to coming back to play in Belfast?

Absolutely, although it really is the most nerve-wracking show of the whole year, just simply because it's still the 'hometown' show, no matter where I live or move to. So it's really nerve-wracking from my point of view.

You've put together another great bill featuring Peter Hook & The Light, ex-Sex Pistols man Glen Matlock, and Belfast's own The Starjets. Can you believe that it's now the fifth time you've put this show on?

No, because it was only ever supposed to be a one-off for the band's 40th anniversary [in 2017] it was never supposed to turn into what it has turned into – although I do think that the promoters were keen to make it a regular thing right from the get-go.

It's hugely gratifying that so many people turn out year after year for something we now look forward to and plan part of our year around, much like we do with our St Patrick's Day show at the Barrowlands in Glasgow, which I've lost count of the number of years we've been doing now.

And, even though we're currently planning on slowing down the amount of live work we're doing going forward, the Belfast show and the Glasgow show are always going to be there until people decide they've had enough of us.

That's what will bring an end to it – the night we walk into Custom House Square and there's like 30 people standing there bringing their dogs for a walk and they're looking at us going "what are youse lot doing here?". I think that's when it will be time to call it a day.

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How do you go about putting together the bill each year?

People are now getting in touch with us wanting to play at it, which is great. But getting everybody's availability to sync up has been a big problem, because it's festival season, so people are already busy.

There's all this logistical stuff going on in the background, but in the main, we've been very, very lucky with the people who have been able to do it. For example, The Starjets [Belfast singer Terry Sharpe's Top of The Pops-troubling pre-Adventures outfit] are very old and very dear friends of ours. At first, we weren't even sure if they were still actually playing, but then we saw that they had started doing some stuff again. So it was great to get them, that was something we really wanted to do.

I think the last time I saw Peter Hook play, he was actually still with Joy Division. So that's how long it's been. But Glen [Matlock] we've known for a very long time, so it will be nice to see him again.

I actually saw the back of his head a couple of weeks ago when we did a London show at Crystal Palace with Iggy Pop and Blondie, who Glen's playing bass with. Generation Sex with Paul and Steve from the Pistols [and Billy Idol] were also on the bill, and I was talking to Ian our guitar player when I spotted Glen coming out of the dressing rooms – but before we could say 'hello', he jumped in one of these golf cart things they were using to ferry us about in and zoomed off to watch Steve and Paul play.

Stiff Little Fingers are Belfast-bound: (l-r) Ian McCallum, Steve Grantley, Jake Burns and Ali McMordie. Picture by Bernie McAllister
Stiff Little Fingers are Belfast-bound: (l-r) Ian McCallum, Steve Grantley, Jake Burns and Ali McMordie. Picture by Bernie McAllister Stiff Little Fingers are Belfast-bound: (l-r) Ian McCallum, Steve Grantley, Jake Burns and Ali McMordie. Picture by Bernie McAllister

Did you ever get to see the Pistols back in the day?

No, they'd sort of come and gone pretty much by the time we even got started. So I never saw them back in the 70s, but we saw a couple of the reunion shows in 1996 because we actually played at a couple of them, in London and Glasgow.

I mean, they were a terrific band even then – they were very, very powerful. And in terms of influence, I mean what can you actually say about a band that did what they did, you know? I mean they were right at the forefront of everything that happened in the UK.

Did you watch Iggy?

No, both myself and Ian had really early flights the next day. But I actually saw Iggy play just a couple of years ago in Chicago – and he was still phenomenal, just a phenomenal live act. I've just turned 65 this year, and as I mentioned earlier, we're thinking of easing back on the live shows. When you watch Iggy running about like he's still 17, you're like, jeez, I don't know where the man gets the energy from.

In fact, again a couple of years ago, I saw Wayne Kramer [of The MC5] play. He'd just turned 70 and was playing the same venue we would have played in Chicago, this tiny little packed club. The man was bouncing around like he was 17 or 18 – I was getting tired just watching him.

Stiff Little Fingers return to Custom House Square this month
Stiff Little Fingers return to Custom House Square this month Stiff Little Fingers return to Custom House Square this month

Is that why you're slowing down the live schedule, because of the amount of energy you have to put into each show?

It's not so much the playing to be honest with you, it's really the travelling that's getting to all of us. I mean, and it sounds awfully, awfully presumptuous to say, but we've already decided we're not going to bother going to Australia or Japan again: and it's simply because of the thought of sitting on an aeroplane for that length of time. It's just way too exhausting and too wearing these days.

I never expected to be doing this for this length of time – I don't think anybody does, you know? When I was growing up, 65 was when you were supposed to retire. Obviously, that's changed a bit, and you don't even get a free bus pass over here, but it's still kind of a landmark. There's a trigger in your brain that goes, "shouldn't I be stopping right now?"

That's honestly one of the reasons why we've just moved from Chicago out here to West Virginia. We talked about maybe doing it when I got to 70, but then it was like, we might as well go now, while we're still reasonably active and can actually enjoy living out there.

And I really don't want to completely stop playing with the band – I initially talked about that with my wife and she just burst out laughing, saying "you'd miss it too much". And she's right, although I think there was also an element of "I still want you to get out of the house" for her.

I want us to keep going as long as we can, and that unfortunately does mean scaling things back a bit. We've set ourselves a pretty high bar when it comes to playing live, and I don't want to ever get to the stage where we're doing half-assed shows just for the sake of it.

I'd rather we kept as high a standard as we possibly can, for as long as we possibly can.

:: Putting The Fast in Belfast V, August 19, Custom House Square, Belfast. Tickets via ticketmaster.ie