Stiff Little Fingers, The Professionals

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It's as solid a performance as ever, with some nice changes to the set

Bristol O2 Academy - March 10th 2022

Two years ago, nearly on the dot, Stiff Little Fingers were the last band I saw headlining a normal gig, then live music became a thing of the past. It's poetic (or some old bollocks) that they are the first headliner tour I see post-lockdown, on the first night of their new tour. It's heartening to see a close to sold out venue, with old punks showcasing SLF T-shirts from down the decades. Well, those that can still fit into them, anyway.

I miss TV Smith, but catch The Professionals, who I last saw supporting SLF at that gig two years ago. Their music is melodic and aggressive, guitars chugging along until called to more useful action. Never less than entertaining, The Professionals live up to their name with a slew of well-played and equally well received songs that unsurprisingly give a strong whiff of the Sex Pistols when they were at their most musical. Yeah, Paul Cook is the drummer, but although they give us a rendition of 'Silly Thing' it fits in well with their own stuff. Blessed with a charismatic and talented singer/guitarist in Tom Spencer, The Professionals are a slam dunk for a good gig if they're anywhere near you, and as a bonus they finish with The Monkees/Sex Pistols 'Stepping Stone', which makes me happy.

Finally it's time for the main event, and we are buoyed up by, of all things, the theme tune from 'Thunderbirds'. Because, you know, why not? When it's followed by the themes from 'EastEnders', 'Captain Pugwash', 'Match Of The Day', 'The Professionals', 'The Addams Family', 'The Wombles' AND MORE we get the feeling Jake Burns' Spotify playlist has been left on by mistake. Who wants an extra song anyway, or two, or three! Good God, it must be over ten minutes, surely the worst idea for an intro since Gary Glitter came out to 'Thank Heaven For Little Girls'. Finally, when I'm getting tempted to firebomb the stage, the band finally kick off with now traditional opener 'Go For It' (pre-recorded) and a still bemused crowd gratefully joins in, just glad we didn't get another verse from the 'Minder' theme tune.

A now bald Jake Burns (it probably fell out whilst waiting for the TV themes to stop) finally leads the band into the explosive opener proper 'Suspect Device' and it's as glorious as ever. 'Edge Of The World' and 'Union Jack' follow, with no time wasted in-between, an aggressive, entertaining opening salvo. Jake finally stops for a breath and a chat, then we're given 'Hope Street' and 'Not Fade Away', plus 'Bits Of Kids' (not heard for a few tours), 'Nobody's Hero' and 'When We Were Young'. In the introduction to the latter Burns admits he's now sixty-four, the 'Beatles Birthday' as he calls it. We're also informed that lockdown meant the band couldn't celebrate the forty-fifth anniversary of 1981's 'Go For It' album, and this means they play a few from that album, which are very welcome. 'Safe As Houses' is one we don't get to hear usually, though 'Roots, Radicals Rockers & Reggae' is a firm live favourite.

Jake Burns will rarely be said to be a great singer, but he has a unique voice that I never get tired of, his lyrics are always meaningful and you feel that he means every word at every gig. We actually get a new song in the form of 'Last Protest Song', and it's a belter that slots into the middle of the set with ease. Just seventy minutes after they came on, we get to play the encore game. It's only a few minutes, and at least they don't play the theme to 'Andy Pandy' whilst we call and they pretend they might not do another song. Jake comes out in a Ukraine top that could house a family of refugees and they belt out 'Tin Soldiers' and 'Alternative Ulster' before the lights come up. Sound throughout has been loud and clear, and overall it's as solid a performance as ever, with some nice changes to the set, but it did seem a bit short. Oh yes, and we all leave the venue to 'Bring Me Sunshine' by Morecambe and Wise, because it's been that sort of night.

Alan Holloway

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