Review: Stiff Little Fingers @ O2 Academy Bristol

Posted on: 2020-03-13

Our rating:

Another triumphant Bristol return for Irish punk-rock veterans.

In the punk rock calendar, March means only one thing: the mighty Stiff Little Fingers back on tour in Britain. This has now become an annual pilgrimage for diehard fans of the Irish outfit, with this year's Bristol leg proving to be another lively affair.


Tonight looks as tasty as ever with a feast of nostalgic acts from the vaults of the glory days. TV Smith from The Adverts and The Professionals featuring an original Sex Pistol, the one and only Paul Cook. The only curveball tonight is the unforeseen worldwide pandemic of the Coronavirus, spreading further on a daily basis threatening more and more public events in its wake. Although tonight is sold out, many have decided to not attend.

Stiff Little Fingers at O2 Academy Bristol.

First up is TV Smith from The Adverts playing an acoustic set to the early arrivals already here to claim their space. To me, Mr Smith sounds very Mike Scott from The Waterboys. He plays 'Gary Gilmore's Eyes' to the joy of those who remember, albeit without the anger of the original recording. To end his spot, TV closes with the classic 'One Chord Wonders' and receives cheers of approval from the swelling crowd.


Anticipation takes a grip next as The Professionals take the stage. This band was created from the ashes of The Sex Pistols by guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, briefly gracing the lower end of the charts with debut single '123' before drifting into obscurity. The obvious excitement tonight is to see an original Sex Pistols punk icon playing the drums live. Although Steve Jones no longer plays in the band, it does not seem to matter - the set is powerful, passionate and pleasing to the crowd. They drop in 'Silly Thing' and 'Stepping Stone' from the later Sex Pistols catalogue to rekindle those cherished memories of the band that started it all.


As the stage is invaded by an army of roadies preparing for the main event the playlist begins. It is a compilation of random television themes from my youth including Captain Pugwash, The Wombles, Minder and Fireball XL5 to name a few, very bizarre. All of a sudden the stage comes to life - it's a mass of florescent colours and clever shades of light portraying America 1950s comic book animation. Out of the darkness comes the unmistakable instrumental for 'Go For It'. This is the cue to pump your fist and jump around. I'm amazed by the number of young people attending a gig to see a band that launched 20 years before they were born.

Stiff Little Fingers 2020 tour.

On come the band and burst into 'Fly The Flag', more than enough to ignite an excitable dance floor. SLF never fail to make their audience lose their inhibitions and relive their youth every time. Jake Burns continues to introduce well selected and intelligent choices from the bands back catalogue. For the hardcore faithful there are some real treasures, including 'Sad Eyed People' from the Listen EP and 'No Surrender' from Flags and Emblems.


SLF are probably the only retro-punk band that can generate such raw energy in their crowd. With a feast of fury, they deliver 'Tin Soldiers', 'Wasted Life' and end with the angry 'Suspect Device'. In what seems like no time at all after a raucous live set flies by, it's Goodnight Bristol and they're gone. No one is leaving without more, and to the endless shouts of 'Fingers', the band return and blast into 'In An Emergency'. The last song of the night is the band's anthem, and my personal all-time favourite song, 'Alternative Ulster'.


it just does not get better than this. What a night, what a band. Polished, professional, timeless and worshipped. See you next year.


Header Image: Stephen Niblett

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Article by:

Mike Headington

Born and bred in Weston-super-Mare, Mike has played in bands over the last 30 years and has an avid interest in a wide range of music genres. With a passion for live music he spends endless nights watching all types of bands, both famous and not so famous. With a love of Bristol’s infamous venues and the thriving music scene he also follows the local football club in red with a passion. His mission statement is...Keep it real, keep it live and Keep on Rocking!!