Stiff Little Fingers tonight – their second session for John Peel – recorded September 12, 1978 and broadcast on September 18th.
Prior to becoming Stiff Little Fingers, Jake Burns, vocals and guitar, Henry Cluney, guitar, Gordon Blair, bass, and Brian Faloon, drums, were playing in a rock music cover band, Highway Star, in Belfast. Upon the departure of Gordon Blair (who went on to play with another Belfast group, Rudi), Ali McMordie took over on bass. Cluney had by this time discovered punk, and introduced the rest of the band to it. They decided that Highway Star wasn’t a punk enough name, and after a brief flirtation with the name “The Fast”, decided to call themselves Stiff Little Fingers, after the Vibrators song of the same name.
It was while doing a gig at the Glenmachan Hotel that they first met Gordon Ogilvie, who had been invited along for the evening by Colin McClelland, a journalist who Burns had been corresponding with.
Ogilvie suggested they play material based upon their experience of the Troubles. McClelland arranged to get the band some recording time at a local radio station, and in the studio normally used to record jingles, they recorded “Suspect Device”. The single was packaged in the form of a cassette, with a cover depicting a cassette bomb, apparently causing great hilarity in the group, when one record company phoned them and asked for another copy, as they’d thrown the first one in a bucket of water for fear that it was a real bomb.
A copy of the single was sent to John Peel. He played it repeatedly leading to a distribution deal through Rough Trade. The single was released on the band’s own Rigid Digits label and sold over 30,000 copies. Peel later did the same with the first single by another famous Northern Irish band, The Undertones. There were a number of well-publicized arguments between the two bands; the Undertones accused Stiff Little Fingers of sensationalizing the Northern Ireland conflict, while they retorted that The Undertones ignored it.
Their second single, “Alternative Ulster”, was originally intended to be given away free with the fanzine of the same name.
In the second half of 1978, they toured with the Tom Robinson Band, and in 1979, they released their first album on the Rough Trade Label, Inflammable Material. The band signed a contract with Island Records, but it fell through, leaving the band to release the album on their existing label. Despite the album’s independent release, it reached number 14 in the UK Albums Chart and reached Silver status, selling over 100,000 copies. Inflammable Material was the first album distributed by Rough Trade records, and the first independent album to chart in the UK.
This inspired their move to London, which led to the departure of Brian Faloon and Colin McClelland (who along with Gordon Ogilvie had been joint manager of the band up until that point).
Jim Reilly became their drummer in time for the “Gotta Gettaway” single, and played in the Rock Against Racism tour.
And as a reminder of that watershed year, here is their second session for John Peel, from September 1978.
Crank it up and enjoy.