Listen to this track by Belfast, Northern Ireland punk-pop forefathers Stiff Little Fingers. It’s “Barbed Wire Love” as taken from their celebrated 1979 Inflammable Material album, which was something of a flagship record to the emerging Rough Trade label, and almost certainly an early example of that popular genre as it exists today – punk-pop.
The band are not often spoken of when it comes to arguing about the most influential U.K punk rock outfit. But, when it comes to being snotty, political, and tuneful all at the same time, SLF make a pretty good package.
This tune is a prime example of that. It’s a love story set in a war torn environment, center of the Troubles, referring to severe religious intolerance and the violence associated with it in that part of the world. But, instead of grief and misery, which was surely a big part of what was happening around the time of Bloody Sunday, the Birmingham Six, The Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the IRA hunger strikes of a few years later, we get something of a self-deprecating send up of the classic love during wartime story.
Talk about your punk rock! But, what else is here?
The band took their situation in Belfast as seriously as any residents there, particularly during a decade when The Troubles were gaining worldwide attention.The record as a whole echoes sentiments made in their 1978 single “Alternative Ulster”, which discussed the tragedy of selling a future in favour of continued violence and military occupation. The lead track “Suspect Device” covers the same ground, with some genuine anger toward British troops occupying their home in the name of protection and liberation while turning that home into something resembling a prison. That’s all heavy stuff, and appropriately so.
But, with “Barbed Wire Love”, we see that nothing can stop the human spirit where love is concerned, not even the tragedy of militarism and sectarian violence. And nothing can stop it where humour, and a love of classic pop music is concerned either, with an early 60s doo-wop vibe meeting with the jagged, Ramones-influenced guitar of the late 1970s. Underneath, we still see the over arching theme of separation by culture, and by prejudice too. But, the tone of the song is about laughing in the face of a situation, rather than letting it make one cry.
It’s that emotional content that allows Stiff Little Fingers to really stand out among their peers. Besides their clear talent for compact punk rock, it’s the important skill with balancing out their motivations – political oppression, love, humour, etc – that they score on.
Stiff Little Fingers have had a rotating line-up over the years, including bassist Bruce Foxton, once of the Jam. But, they are an active touring band.
Check out SLF.com for information about tours and other stuff.