Stiff Little Fingers have just released their first album in over a decade and early indications from fans are that No Going Back is possibly the best album they have released in over twenty years!

Formed in 1977 SLF helped to pioneer melodic punk and achieved significant mainstream success before splitting back in 1983. They reunited in 1987 and line up changes aside, have been together in one form or another ever since.
We spoke to founder member Jake Burns ahead of the Manchester show on their current tour.

R13: So you're out on tour again and it must be nice to do a tour with an album to promote for once?
JB: Yeah it's been a while! Obviously the record only came out last week initially just to pledgers but it is, it's taken a long long time, it wasn't something that we deliberately planned it's just that life got in the way. I think it's not just from our point of view but from the audience as well, for all that we've had the songs and we've played quite a few of them, to have them all gathered together in something concrete gives you a new lease of life so it's good from that point of view.

R13: You've never stopped touring and always been active so is it purely a question of having the time to get into the studio?
JB: Yeah, well apart from that about 5 or 6 years ago I had about 8 songs written and that coincided with my 50th birthday and normally I don't make a big fuss of birthdays but my wife was insistent that it's a milestone so that led to a load of people turning up in Chicago and what was supposed to be a quiet night out ending up in a 3 day party, which led right up until going away on tour. So we came out on tour and we thought we're nearly at the stage where we can make a record and we listened to those songs through again to make sure they're OK and I don't know whether it was the weight of the 50th weighing on me but either way I sat down and listened to those songs and I thought they were terrible, well terrible is perhaps a bit harsh but they sounded like the sort of thing I could've written when I was 20 and because there had been such a fuss made of me turning 50 I kid of felt that I should be writing something more mature than I was. So I basically scrapped the whole lot, much to the bands annoyance as you can imagine and then we were back to square one. That was after going through a divorce, I'd moved out, met somebody else, married again and changed continents! So a lot of life got in the way as well.

R13: What made you decide to go down the pledge route this time?
JB: To be completely honest with you we went and spoke to a couple of record labels and they weren't overly enthusiastic and I don't mean that in terms of the band, they said they liked the band but they weren't actually very enthusiastic about their own chances.

R13: That's interesting!
JB: Well basically they actually said to us "why do you want a record deal?", cos back in the day the reason you wanted a record deal was to get access to distribution to get your record in the shops and there aren't any anymore, apart from specialist ones that mainly deal in second hand vinyl or whatever, so whenever you realise that all you really need is some form of web presence, which we've had for a long time, you think that well we don't need a record deal. Then the pledge thing came up as a suggestion by one of our managers and at first we were a bit nervous about it because it's quite a leap of faith to effectively ask the audience to buy a record they haven't heard. The other thing that slightly worried us was that back in the day when you'd go to EMI, who we were with for a long time, and say we've got this new album, are you interested? And if they say no you've got CBS or Warner Brothers or whatever that you can go to but with this pledge thing if you go to your audience and say are you interested and they say no, that's the end of the line, you're done! So we were slightly nervous from that point of view so we talked to the guys from the pledge thing and asked how long do these campaigns normally run? They said anything from a month to 2 months so we said OK we'll give it 2 months, let's veer on the side of caution and we'll see what happens and we had the funding within 12 hours! So I guess we got our answer that people were interested. That not only gives you a huge boost but it also gives you a huge sense of responsibility as well!

R13: Yeah I was going to ask you about that, does that then put more pressure on you because in the past you could say you were making music for yourselves and if people liked it that's great but this time round those people are actually funding it so we have to make sure they like it?
JB: Yeah absolutely, there was definitely an element that when we got in the studio and the guy hit the record button, it was like "we better not screw this up!" but equally there was an amount of well if they don't like it they've already kind of paid for it so I really hope they like it! Laughter I don't know how we're going to deal with a flood of records coming back!

R13: You said in the past that you were happier with 'Guitar & Drum' than with some of the previous albums; what's your view of 'No Going Back' in that respect?
JB: Hard to tell, we're still a bit close to it. I think you always think the last thing you've done is the best thing you've done, I think that's natural but I'm very pleased with it, I think the songs are stronger but then someone could argue that you've had eleven bloody years to get it right so they want to be. Somebody pointed out to me that it only took Michael Angelo 4 years to paint the Cistine Chapel Laughs so when you put it like that... he knew what he was doing and I didn't know what I was doing! I was and still am very pleased with Guitar and Drum, there are a couple of things that I would've done differently but that's the case with every record you make. Whether it's as good as or better than I don't really know, at this stage of the game that's really down to the audience to say rather than us. I haven't really lived with it long enough to say and again when you're out on tour the last thing you want to do is listen to your own damn record!

R13: Did you have to revisit some of the lyrics to make sure they were still relevant as in some cases it was several years between writing and recording?
JB: Yeah, probably the oldest song on it is Liars Club and luckily I didn't name dates cos we're at least 2 Prime Ministers and a President out of date since then! What I think was almost saddening about that song was that I wrote it almost 10 years ago and we did change it a bit over the years but what was sad was that I was just as disillusioned with the people in power as I was then, especially considering I thought Obama was going to be one of the good guys. A lot of the songs have changed radically from what they were 5 or 6 years ago, we've chopped bits out so a song like Guilty As Sin, which has been there for at least 5 years took an awfully long time to write because I wanted to get the approach right, it was such a big subject that I didn't have any personal experience of but I felt strongly about and didn't want to trivialise it. I think I'm happy with it now but the other side of that is with songs like Liars Club that we've been playing live, you get to road test it and that's always the best way to work new material in, to play it live and you do see what works and what doesn't work you know?

R13: Ian gets to sing another song on this album so I'm interested in how the writing process works? Is there an unwritten rule, or even a written one that you write most of the songs or that he can get one on the album for example?
JB: No not at all, I wish they would bring more! Steve has one as well that I helped him write the words on but I kind of wish they would do more. I think Steve has an outlet as he does the RGZ thing on the side, so he has an outlet for his songwriting but Ian, I don't know honestly why he doesn't write more as he's a very good writer. I think the call of going to watch football or going to the pub just takes over when he should be working! So I end up doing most of it but there's no hard and fast rule. Whether they see that or defer to me because I've been here from the start I don't know but I don't think so, I think they're just idle! Laughs

R13: You've touched on this slightly just now but I was wondering that although you've all dabbled in side projects over the years, is there anything any of you really want to do that would be a radical departure from SLF? Like a huge prog rock opus?
JB: Hahaha
R13: ...or McCallum does country?
JB: I always quite fancied doing a country record! I think just because my dad was such a huge fan, so that's the music we grew up with a lot in the house. No I don't think so, I think that sort of thing comes around when a band is inactive for a number of years.

R13: I wonder if another side to that question is that because you've been around for such a long time and you have such a loyal fanbase, that they have a certain expectation of the style you're going to play and maybe sometimes you'd want to inject something different but you feel perhaps we shouldn't because we don't want to alienate people?
JB: I've never really thought of it like that, I suppose you could do but to be honest if we ever went down the road of trying to write the songs that we thought the audience would like we'd probably lose something. I was very very wary of that from a very early stage, I mean I was always disappointed with Nobody's Heroes, because I felt that it didn't go far enough, it kind of felt like it was just Imflammable Material Part 2 to me and Go For It always felt like the much better and stronger record simply because we decided we were going to write 15 or 20 pop songs and it was going to be different from what we'd done in the past. We probably took it too far on the next one and it was a much weaker record because of that and the diversity that was on it but if you do go down the route of writing what you think people will want to hear you'll drive yourself crazy, either that or you hit on a magical formula and I don't know who writes Britney Spears material, some Swedish guy but he writes for all of them so if you can hit on that you can retire and get someone else to do all the bloody touring!

R13: It's interesting that you say that about Now Then being the weaker album and I know you touched on this earlier, but at the time you said you thought it was the best thing you had done or could ever do and that was one of the reasons given for not carrying on.
JB: Yeah and that's because you're too close to it.

R13: So looking back on it all now is Go For It still the one that you pick out where you think you got it all right?
JB: I always think of it as almost two careers and out of the first lot Go For It and out of the second lot Guitar and Drum up to now and this one might be but I don't know, I hope that this one does turn out to be the one but for all that I've had the songs for some time and I've been working towards this I hadn't really heard it until all the band had played it. We finished it on February 5th then I flew home for a week and then we flew to New Zealand so I haven't really had chance to sit down and listen to it apart from learning the words of these three because we're playing them in the set.

R13: Now that you don't have a label and are masters of your own destiny, how do you pick your touring schedule now? For instance you've recently played in New Zealand, Australia and Japan? Are you restricted by not having the financial backing that a label might provide?
JB: Not at all! We've always managed to at least break even when we've been on tour if not actually make some money, I mean not huge amounts but when you hear of bands losing money hand over fist on tour I wonder if they ever sit down and budget! It seems to me to be crazy because you wouldn't go and try to buy a 300 television set with 200 in your pocket so I don't understand how they manage to lose money. So it's basically a case of being willing to go and play anywhere that somebody is willing to put us on! A lot of places it's down to scheduling, even within touring any given country, everyone wants you to play Friday or Saturday night, nobody wants the Tuesday so you're always stuck with those scheduling problems. Obviously the British tour has certain set way points, so we always play Glasgow on St Patrick's day, so the rest tends to fit around that. Originally this tour was supposed to run for another month but we thought we'd be absolutely exhausted and looking back we've only had one week off all year so really I'm quite eager to get home.

R13: So given that you're in that fortunate position where you've got an extremely loyal fanbase and you're always able to pull in a crowd, that crowd is getting older so how important is it to you to bring new people in or for younger people to hear what you do, or do you find that newer bands coming through who name drop you as an influence bring a certain amount of new fans to your door?
JB: Yeah that is part of it, what we always used to refer to as the Iggy Pop effect back in the day because bands like ourselves and The Damned or whatever would name check Iggy so all of a sudden his audiences were getting bigger, so when the likes of Green Day mention that they're fans of ours that's brought people in. I think in general we tend to benefit from older brother syndrome, so the older brother would move out and leave his record collection behind and the kid brother would find it and we'd get that. Nowadays it tends to be dads! Laughs But that's no bad thing, we get a lot of families coming now and when you think back to 1977 we would never have though of, and I'm not sure I think of us as a punk rock gig, but you would never have thought of a punk rock gig as a family outing and that's kind of what it is you know?

R13: You offered a unique opportunity to get up and play with SLF as one of the pledges for the new album. How did that go and was there anyone that really surprised you?
JB: Actually they've all been pretty competent and it's interesting as a lot of them when they turn up are pretty cocky, when it gets to the point where they actually have to get up on the stage you can see the fear creeping into their eyes but in general we've probably had more fun than they've had as it all goes by in a blur. We said to all of them make sure you bring a friend with a video camera because you won't remember it and in general they've all been great. We did have one guy, the main thing we asked them to learn was Suspect Device and if we have time we'll do some others, and this one particular day we didn't have time to do anything else as we had a couple of people playing so the first guy gets up and it's great and then this next guy gets up and he was quite sure of himself, which is fine, and he launches into it in the wrong key! I had to stop and turn to him "what are you playing?", "Suspect Device", "No you're not, it's not in that key" and he looked at me and said "are you sure?", I said "I wrote the fucking thing I outta know!" Laughter

R13: Given the success of the pledge campaign and the fact that you have a guaranteed number of sales because people have already paid for it. What's the plan for the next one? Did you have songs left over from these sessions?
JB: There are a couple bizarrely, which is typical, you wait ages for a bus and then a load come along at once. Yeah we have not completed songs but songs in preparation, which I hoped I'd have ready for consideration for this but didn't physically have the time to do it. Also in the middle of all this I was packing up to move house, which I scarpered and left my wife to do haha. So it was a rush to even get the twelve that we have but there are a couple of ideas kicking about and I think that now that we are settled in and I'm not planning on getting divorced again anytime soon, or moving continents, hopefully we can crack on and the next one won't be anything like as long and the game plan is to aim for about two years next time. I hadn't realised how many people actually want to see the band and the fact that we literally start on the other side of the world, then we're back here and I think we're over again in August to do Rebellion, then off to Scandanavia , then touring through America in September/October then back for a short UK tour in November and mainland Europe after that, so by the end of that it's Christmas so the year's gone and I obviously need some time at home to write if we're going to record again in a couple of years time. So we're busier than we've ever been, which is incredible given that this is our 37th year, I didn't think we'd be doing this after 37 months!

R13: I didn't think I'd still be watching you after 25 years!
JB: Yeah exactly! I think of our crowd more like a football crowd than an audience, you pick your team and that's it, so it's a bit like we're their team.

R13: I've lost count of the number of times I've seen you now, you were the band that we never thought we'd get to see as just as we got into you, you split up! And since you came back...
JB: Yeah we haven't stopped!

R13: Haha yeah, so it must be over 30 times and I can't remember you ever doing a bad show, so I wondered whether you felt that you ever had?
JB: Haha yeah we have done them! There are a couple where you come off and we've said let's just forget about that one. Everybody does it, you've probably jinxed it now and we'll suck tonight! 9 times out of 10 it's the audience that lifts you. There are nights when technical things go wrong and there's nothing you can do about that, it's just fucking embarrassing but we have done some but luckily I've managed to erase most of them from the memory banks.

R13: Nice to know you're human in that respect!
JB: Oh we are, all too human Laughs