Stiff Little Fingers will light up the streets of Belfast four decades after the band’s inception when they will perform to a sold-out crowd at Custom House Square next Saturday, August 26.
With the Stranglers as a support act, this gig is set to be one of the most memory-inducing performances for anyone who revelled in the world of punk here in the late 70s and early 80s.
“This will be one the biggest gigs we’ve done to date and it’s amazing that 40 years on we can do this when initially we thought we’d be lucky if we lasted a year or two,” said Ali McMordie, 58, who has been with the band from the beginning, bar a 15-year break when he worked in music management alongside Sinead O’Connor, Moby and even Madonna.
“We didn’t know if that genre would last,” he added. “The New Romantics followed and it was as if punk never happened. We were on the same label as Spandau Ballet and I remember them walking into the studio in London, dressed in what looked like their mothers’ curtains and I thought ‘this is it. This is the end’.”
But it wasn’t the end, in fact the band’s appeal has travelled through the decades and will continue to do so it would seem.
Among the tracks played at the concert will be the ‘‘old favourites, a few new ones and brand new ones,’’ said Ali.
“We don’t think anyone will be disappointed. It’s a festival and we’ll be playing for the crowd so the emphasis will be on the firm favourites.”
As well as celebrating a musical milestone, Stiff Little Fingers will also advocate integrated education at the gig - something that the band is passionate about.
Ali, who went to Cliftonville Primary School, in North Belfast, has reflected over the years on his upbringing and division in Northern Ireland.
Inclusion has always been a bit of an ethos for Stiff Little Fingers so it makes sense that even though much of the band is living outside of the province, bringing the community together is still in its makeup.
The four-piece band has been supporting the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), a charity that supports the establishment of integrated schools in Northern Ireland. Today there are 65 formally integrated schools here accommodating 23,000 pupils.
Ali has followed the IEF’s progress throughout the years and after seeing the conversion of his old primary school into an integrated facility he decided to speak up and support the movement.
“I always followed the IEF and received its quarterly magazine where I read a story about Cliftonville Integrated raising a couple of thousand pounds through a walk around the Waterworks. That was my old stomping ground. I thought we could definitely help the fund and with the profile the band has we could publicise the concept,” explained Ali.
Much of the proceeds from the band’s merchandise sales have, in the past, gone to the IEF, including a special IEF T-shirt with red, white and blue and green, white and gold accompanied by the slogan ‘integration not separation’.
“Thinking back to when I was at school in the 70s I remember having to be careful about which way I walked home sometimes. It would get you in trouble and you would be stopped and asked ‘what school do you go to?’ and that determined what part of the community you were from,” said Ali.
“The theme of integrated communities is something that I found made sense. The bottom line is there are massive waiting lists for these schools. They’ve all done very well academically and I think it’s important for the wellbeing of the economy, but there is a struggle with politicians,’’ continued Ali.
“There is resistance there because it would be seen as a road to end the culture and tradition of the existing institutions but one of the things that impressed me about Cliftonville is they learn about each other’s faith and it’s not just Catholic and Protestant but about people from Ghana, Romania, America and beyond and it’s good to nurture that curiosity in kids.
“We are a mixed-background band and we understand the importance of educating together.
“When you’re young you tend to just absorb the social politics of peers and parents before you get to think for yourself but if you’re taught about people of other religions, race and persuasions then I think that’s a great thing,” added Ali who visited his old school recently where he was dumbfounded by one little girl’s question.
“She asked why I wanted to be in a band and I’d never been asked that before. People assume you want to be famous and want success but I really had to think about it. I suppose I did anything to avoid getting a proper job,” he joked.