Stiff Little Fingers

Stiff Little Fingers are a punk rock band from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They formed in 1977, at the height of the Troubles. They started out as a schoolboy band called Highway Star (named after the Deep Purple song), doing rock covers, until they discovered punk. They split up after six years and four albums, although they reformed five years later, in 1987. Despite major personnel changes, they are still touring and recording. In 2014, the band released their tenth studio album and a world tour followed its release. Jake Burns, their lead singer, is the only member to have been with the band during all its incarnations, but in March 2006, original bass guitarist Ali McMordie rejoined them following the departure of The Jam bass player Bruce Foxton after fifteen years.

Stiff Little Fingers
Live in Chicago 2012
L-R: Ali McMordie, Jake Burns, Ian McCallum
Background information
OriginBelfast, Northern Ireland
GenresPunk rock, pop punk[1]
Years active1977–1982, 1987–present
LabelsRigid Digits, Pledgemusic, Rough Trade, Chrysalis, Kung Fu, EMI, Mondo Recordings/INgrooves
Associated actsThe Jam, Jake Burns and the Big Wheel, Tom Robinson Band, Spear of Destiny, Ruefrex, Casbah Club, Friction Groove, Dan Donnelly, The Alarm, Rudi
MembersJake Burns
Ali McMordie
Steve Grantley
Ian McCallum
Past membersHenry Cluney
Dave Sharp
Gordon Blair
Brian Faloon
Jim Reilly
Dolphin Taylor
Bruce Foxton


Early years

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.[2][3] Upon the departure of Gordon Blair (who went on to play with another Belfast group, Rudi),[2] Ali McMordie took over on bass.[3] 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.[2][3]

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.[2]

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".[2] 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 had thrown the first one in a bucket of water for fear that it was a real bomb.[4]

A copy of the single was sent to John Peel.[2] 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.[3] Peel later did the same with the first single by another famous Northern Irish band, The Undertones. There were a number of well-publicised arguments between the two bands; the Undertones accused Stiff Little Fingers of sensationalising 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.[5]

Inflammable Material

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.[2] The band signed a contract with Island Records, but it fell through, leaving the band to release the album on their existing label.[3] Despite the album's independent release, it reached number 14 in the UK Albums Chart and reached Silver status, selling over 100,000 copies.[3] 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).[2][3]

Jim Reilly became their drummer in time for the "Gotta Gettaway" single, and played in the Rock Against Racism tour.[2]

Nobody's Heroes and Go for It

In mid-1979, Stiff Little Fingers signed their Rigid Digits label to Chrysalis Records, and in 1980 released their second album, Nobody's Heroes.

The Nobody's Heroes era brought some success in media terms, with the single "Straw Dogs" narrowly missing the cut for Top of the Pops; they eventually got on the show twice, with "At the Edge" and "Nobody's Hero". However, after their appearance with "At The Edge" the band were told they would never be invited on again as they did not take it seriously as they were not playing live; it was to be one of the most infamous Top of the Pops''s performances. They subsequently appeared on Top of the Pops for "Nobody's Hero", "Just Fade Away" and "Listen".

In 1981 the band released their third studio album Go For It which was to be Jim Reilly's last involvement with the band.[2] Go For It signified the change in Burns' writing style, with much darker and taboo subjects, such as domestic abuse in the song "Hits and Misses" and football hooliganism in the song "Back to Front" (not on the original LP but a bonus track on CD reissue) but the band also still told the story of being a teenager growing up with the song "Kicking Up a Racket".


Now Then...

In 1982 came a 4-song EP called £1.10 or Less and their fourth studio album, Now Then... (actually their fifth album, as they had released a live LP, Hanx, as their official third album between Nobody's Heroes and Go for It). Now Then was the first album for former Tom Robinson band's drummer Dolphin Taylor. In the face of low sales and concert attendances, they broke up in 1983, when Burns said: "Our last LP Now Then was to my mind the best album we have made. But it is also unfortunately the best I think we will ever make. So I have decided to call it a day". The band later revealed the original split had been somewhat acrimonious, with band members apparently having fistfights rather than talking through their differences.[6]


After Burns had moved on from Stiff Little Fingers, he had a short stint at a band with former The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton. They made a couple of demos, but Foxton received an invitation to make a solo album which ended their collaboration.

In 1987 the band reformed. Despite some critics who had said "Nobody would be interested in coming to see you" the band had a successful tour including Germany with shows selling out night after night. The band changed their plan of it just being a temporary re-union and decided it was to be permanent.

Flags and Emblems

Ali McMordie decided he could not commit the time to tour full-time or record and so left, being replaced by Bruce Foxton in time to record 1991's Flags and Emblems.[2] In Britain, the single from this album, "Beirut Moon", was withdrawn from sale on the first day of release,[7][8] allegedly because it criticised the government for not acting to free hostage John McCarthy, who had been held in the Lebanon.

In 1993, Henry Cluney was asked to leave the band,[4] and the trio of Jake Burns, Bruce Foxton and Dolphin Taylor continued for the next four years, joined on live shows by either Dave Sharp or Ian McCallum.

Get a Life

In 1994, they released Get a Life in the UK, releasing it in the US in 1996. By the end of 1996 Taylor left due to family commitments. Burns called in Steve Grantley who had played drums for Jake Burns and the Big Wheel in the late 1980s.

Tinderbox and Guitar and Drum

The trio of Burns, Foxton and Grantley recorded 1997's Tinderbox album, with help from Ian McCallum who joined as a full-time member for 1999's Hope Street. This same line-up recorded 2003's Guitar and Drum.

Lineup change

On 18 January 2006, Foxton left the band.

On 23 January 2006, it was announced that original bass guitarist Ali McMordie was to rejoin the band for the duration of their upcoming March tour. The tour was a success, with many fans writing into SLF's message board saying how much they enjoyed it, and how fired up the band seemed to be. After much discussion regarding the status of McMordie within the band after the tour, on 21 April 2006, Burns posted on the message board "For the time being Mr. McMordie is happy to continue as long as his busy schedule allows. It may be that occasionally we have to bring on a "substitute", if he is up to his eyes and we need to do something, but hopefully we can avoid that." Mr. McMordie has occasionally been unable to tour due to other commitments and on those occasions, his place has been taken by Mark DeRosa of Chicago band, Dummy.

On 25 May 2006, SLF announced Ian McCallum would not be able to join the band on its Spring US tour due to health reasons. John Haggerty of Pegboy and Naked Raygun fame would fill in on guitar.[9] McCallum has since rejoined the band and has toured with them ever since.

No Going Back

On 9 March 2007, Burns announced that Stiff Little Fingers would record a new album, to be released later that year. A new song, "Liars Club", was added to their set lists that year. The track was named after a bar Burns drove past while listening to a press report about Tony Blair, George W. Bush and the Iraq War. At the Glasgow Barrowlands gig on 17 March 2011 Burns announced that the new album was being recorded – hopefully for a 2011 release – before launching into a new song, "Full Steam Backwards", about the banking crisis in the UK.[10] On 16 October 2013, the band launched a project on Pledgemusic to raise funds for the album to be released in March 2014. The project reached its funding goal within 5 hours.[11] Recording was completed in January 2014 and the album, titled The album, titled No Going Back was released through PledgeMusic on 15 March 2014 and to the general public on 11 August 2014.[12] A tour in support of the album kicked off in early 2014 and included dates in the US on the Summer Nationals tour with The Offspring, Bad Religion, The Vandals, Pennywise and Naked Raygun. The album was the band's first UK chart success since 1983's "All The Best" and their first number 1 record on the BBC Rock Album Chart.


Current line-up

  • Jake Burns - lead vocals, guitar (1977–1982, 1987–present)
  • Ali McMordie - bass (1977–1982, 1987–1991, 2006–present)
  • Ian McCallum - guitar (1993–present)
  • Steve Grantley - drums (1996–present)

Former members

  • Henry Cluney - guitar (1977–1982, 1987–1993)
  • Bruce Foxton - bass (1991–2006)
  • Brian Faloon - drums (1977–1979)
  • Jim Reilly - drums (1979–1981)
  • Dolphin Taylor - drums (1981–1982, 1987–1996)



Studio albums

Compilation albums

  • All the Best (1983)
  • The Peel Sessions (1989)
  • Tin Soldiers (2000)
  • Anthology (2002)
  • The Radio One Sessions (2003)
  • Wasted Life (2007)
  • Assume Nothing, Question Everything: Very Best of Stiff Little Fingers (2012)

Live albums


  • Live On Rockpalast (1980)
  • See You Up There (1988)
  • Handheld and Rigidly Digital Live (1999)
  • Best Served Loud (2015)

They also made the music for the game Pro Pinball: Timeshock! (1997)

Their single "Alternative Ulster" was featured in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game Skate 2. (2009)

°These albums were made available exclusively at live performances and through their website


  • "Suspect Device" (B-side: "Wasted Life"), 4 February 1978 (Re-released: 17 March 1979)
  • "Alternative Ulster" (B-side: "78 RPM"), 17 October 1978
  • "Gotta Gettaway" (B-side: "Bloody Sunday"), 8 May 1979
  • "Straw Dogs" (B-side: "You Can't Say Crap on the Radio"), 21 September 1979 (UK No. 44)[14]
  • "At the Edge" (B-side: "Running Bear (live)" and "White Christmas (live)"), 9 February 1980, (UK No. 15)[14]
  • "Nobody's Hero"/"Tin Soldiers" (Double A-side), 16 May 1980, (UK No. 36)[14]
  • "Back to Front"/"Mr. Coal Fire Man" (Double A-side), 18 July 1980, (UK No. 49)[14]
  • "Just Fade Away" (B-side: "Go For It" and "Doesn't Make It Alright (live)"), 20 March 1981, (UK No. 47)[14]
  • "Silver Lining" (B-side: "Safe as Houses"), 5 May 1981, (UK No. 68)[14]
  • "Talkback" (B-side: "Good For Nothing"), 1 April 1982
  • "Bits of Kids" (B-side: "Stands to Reason"), 23 August 1982, (UK No. 73)[14]
  • "Price of Admission" (B-side: "Touch and Go"), 4 February 1983
  • "Get a Life" (B-side: "Harp (live)", "Tin Soldiers (live)", 1994
  • "Guitar and Drum", 2004

EP and 12"

  • 78 Revolution ("Gotta Gettaway"/"Alternative Ulster"/"Bloody Sunday"//"Suspect Device"/"Wasted Life"), 1980 (French, Celluloid CEL 6591)
  • £1.10 Or Less ("Listen"/"That's When Your Blood Bumps"/"Sad-Eyed People"/"Two Guitars Clash"), 6 January 1982, (UK No. 33)[14]
  • No Sleep 'Til Belfast 12" ("No Sleep 'Till Belfast", "Suspect Device", "Alternative Ulster", "Nobody's Hero" - live 17 December 1987), 1988
  • The Peel Sessions ("Johnny Was", "Law and Order", "Barbed Wire Love", "Suspect Device"), 1988
  • The Wild Rover ("The Wild Rover", "Love of the Common People", "Johnny Was" - live 1 March 1988), 1989
  • The Last Time 12" ("The Last Time", "Mr. Fire Coal Man", "Two Guitars Clash" - live 1 October 1988), 1989
  • Beirut Moon ("Beirut Moon", "Stand Up and Shout", Interview with Jake Burns by John Oley, BBC), 1991
  • Can't Believe in You 12" ("Can't Believe in You", "Silver Lining (unplugged)", "Listen (unplugged)", "Wasted Life (unplugged)"), 1994
  • Harp ("Harp", "Shake it Off" (1983 demo), "Not What We Were (Pro Patria Mori)" (1983 demo)), 1994

Books on Stiff Little Fingers

  • Burns, Jake; Parker, Alan (2003). Stiff Little Fingers: Song by Song. ISBN 9781860745133.
  • Link, Roland (2009). Kicking up a Racket: The Story of Stiff Little Fingers, 1977-1983. ISBN 9781847581457.
  • Link, Roland (2014). What You See is what You Get--: Stiff Little Fingers, 1977-1983. ISBN 9781780730561.


  1. Hennessy, Kate (16 October 2014). "Central To Process: Justin Broadrick's Favourite Albums". The Quietus. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  2. Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 1139/40. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. Cranna, Ian (1979) "Rough Charm", Smash Hits, EMAP National Publications Ltd, 4–17 October 1979, p.6–7
  4. Burns, Jake; Parker, Alan (2003). Stiff Little Fingers: Song by Song. ISBN 9781860745133.
  5. "Talking "Alternative Ulster" With Stiff Little Fingers' Jake Burns". Noisey. 15 November 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Album Review. "Stiff Little Fingers Anthology". Retrieved 11 November 2006.
  8. Artist Profiles. "Bruce Foxton". Retrieved 11 November 2006.
  9. "John Haggerty filling in on Stiff Little Fingers tour". 26 May 2011. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
  10. Gordon Johnston (2011). "Stiff Little Fingers @ Barrowlands, Glasgow". Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  11. "PledgeMusic - SLF new album". Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  12. "STIFF LITTLE FINGERS new album "No Going Back" out on 11th August - PlanetMosh". 26 July 2014.
  13. "New Album: Recording Is Complete!". PledgeMusic. 25 January 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  14. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 532. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
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