Song of the Day: Stiff Little Fingers “Alternative Ulster”
Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers were one of the few first wave UK punk bands to emerge from the at-the-time political powder keg of Northern Ireland. The 70s in Northern Ireland was the height of the troubles, where pro-English Protestant Unionists were locked into combat with the Catholic Irish Republican Army (IRA). Life in Belfast, a city divided between these two factions was marked by bombings, political kidnappings, violence on the streets and permanent occupation by the British Army. “Alternative Ulster” was one of the singles from the Stiff Little Fingers debut, Inflammable Materials. It is a poppy-punk blast that highlights much of what was going on the wider Ulster region at the time. The group laments their lack of personal and political freedom and the hopelessness that the constant violence and occupation resulted in. The Stiff Little Fingers were outliers within Belfast in that they were non-sectarian. Indeed, their music was effectively a rejection of the sectarianism and violence that they saw as destructive. Ironically, despite their musical aggression, the band’s sentiment is one that demands peace.
“Alternative Ulster” then, is not just a cataloging of grievances, but also a bold vision of an alternative society freed from political violence and division. In this way, Stiff Little Fingers were much like their London-based compatriots, The Clash, in that that while they were suspicious of politics, they were firmly anti-violence and pro-creativity. Also, much like The Clash, they had a strong pop sensibility behind the aggression of their punk attack, which is partially what makes their songs stand out.