To still have the opportunity to see massively influential, original punk bands is so special. I feel very lucky to have caught Irish Punk band, Stiff Little Fingers, in Birmingham in March on their 2020 Vision Tour, before their remaining dates were cancelled due to the current pandemic. After a couple pints of Guinness, me and a few middle-aged, male punk friends eagerly head over to the O2 Academy for the gig, ready to knock back a few more and get a bit wild.
There couldn’t have been better support for Stiff Little Fingers. TV Smith of the punk band, The Adverts, jumped around singularly on his guitar, playing his own gems and popular songs from The Adverts’ 1978 album, ‘Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts’. He was a bursting flame of old energy, singing of everyday life’s current hardships and ones felt as a youth in working class 70s Britain. It felt special to hear the rusty twang of his voice grind strongly on through pretty little melodies in more recent songs of his like ‘Lion and the Lamb’, but also in timeless, iconic hits of the punk movement, like ‘Bored Teenagers’.
To take us to another level of reckless energy were The Professionals. This band’s sound is so pure and electric. Unlike with TV Smith, you can’t hear the gentle melancholy in The Professionals’ sound. The raving guitars drive the feel of elation in their tone. Paul Cook and Steve Jones, ex-Sex Pistols members, are founding members of the band that came together after the Pistol’s demise, so their London Punk sound is definitely infused into their creativity. Jones no longer plays with the band and Tom Spencer is the frontman. Spencer is a suave, buoyant and cool performer who looked thrilled to be playing old and new hits with the other tight musicians. For a band rooted in a decade long ago, their performance musically and as a group is so sharp and youthful. They were very refreshing to watch.
The stage was in darkness again until vibrant lights suddenly exposed a# comic-book themed backdrop. Bold letters read ‘STIFF LITTLE FINGERS 20/20 VISION TOUR’ as a dragon breathed fire on a petrified city behind, creating the playful theme of disaster striking. It definitely seemed to be a relevant, well chosen theme for this year’s tour….Contrasting comical television themes then played as we waited in light-hearted anticipation, just before Jake Burns and the lads stepped out for the third gig of their run. Again, the sheer, electric energy of the band rocked the venue and their best songs still evoked high-spirited animation amongst us all. Burns’ voice reached the same beautiful heights and strong depths as it’s ever done, immediately sending us all into a bounding frenzy. Familiar favourites like ‘Gotta Getaway’ fuelled the frantic mosh pit. An emotional moment came with the introduction of ‘My Dark Places’, a very personal song about Burns’ own struggles with depression. He urged us all, men particularly, to express our emotions and ask for help and it is so true. With new music also on the horizon, the band is still progressing.
Seeing the passion alive in all ages from young teenagers like myself to the men and women edging sixty, felt just amazing. I looked around me at the older age groups, thinking how they were once my age, supporting bands back in the late seventies at the peak of the punk movement. A desire for change was sparked and a rebellious punk rage was growing; the same power that was flowing from me and a handful of others my age at this gig over forty years later. I wondered whether the adults there would have ever imagined themselves supporting the bands as grown ups, with their fists in the air, after all this time. I wondered if the bands thought they’d be continuously inspiring youths after all this time. How time has passed and the lyrics are still so very relevant. The beautiful spirit strongly remains.