Thursday, June 30, 2022

An Interview with TOM HAMILTON of Little Triggers: Rock’n’Roll’s Highest Hope

An Interview with TOM HAMILTON of Little Triggers: Rock’n’Roll’s Highest Hope

By Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, 2022
Images from the Internet

Nancy Neon: Tell us about your early group, The 45's.
Tom Hamilton: The 45's were my school band that I started when I was about fourteen. We started out playing at the school disco. We were a rhythm and blues outfit and loved playing loads of Dr. Feelgood songs, the old Rolling Stones' covers, a bit of The Small Faces, and loads of The Beatles as well. We played around pubs and clubs in Carlyle and around the North of England. We played around caravan parks. We played everywhere from night clubs to pubs Then we started getting a bit of a name around the UK from the videos we put online and started. playing all over the UK. We played France and Belgium with Elvis Costello. We played with McFly and The Stranglers. We played with some members of The Damned. We recorded a full album's worth of material and loads of singles. We were offered a deal by Sony/BMG, but we broke up before we could sign anything.

Nancy: Tell us about your Cavern Club residency.
Tom: I play there about twice a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on what's going on. I play load of Beatles' songs and songs by other acts who played there in the ‘60s like The Who, Wilson Pickett, Stevie Wonder, etc. That is the music that I love so it is perfect for me. I have been playing the Cavern for about a year now.

Nancy: How did you meet Wilko Johnson (of Dr. Feelgood), and how did he end up giving you one of his guitars?
Tom: I met Wilko Johnson backstage at a one of his gigs in Kendall. I was 14 or maybe younger and my mum got me backstage to meet him. He let me play his guitar and we had a conversation about music. The 45's opened for him in Glasgow and he joined us onstage in Canvey Island [this is the place where Dr. Feelgood hail from! – NN]. He gifted me with a guitar at a Blues festival in Yorkshire. Fender had just come out with a special Wilko Johnson black Telecaster with a red scratch plate. It was one of his personal ones which I still have. That's pretty cool, I think.

Nancy: Did WJ give you any advice about the pitfalls of being a young rock 'n' roller?
Tom: No, he didn't give me any advice. We just talked about music. I was just in awe having one of my heroes right in front of my face.

Nancy: Tell us about the equipment you use to get that really huge sound with a 2-piece group.
Tom: Live, I use all British-made Vox, Martin, and Orange amps. I have an octave pedal because there's no bass player, just me. So, we have the bass sound coming out of one, sometimes two. That's how I split it. Then I have a cleaner one and a fuzzier one for the guitar bits depending on how I'm feeling or the size of the venue. If the venue is small, I use two amps or if it is really tiny, just one. For recording, I don't use any of my own amps, I use a great ‘70s Marshall combo that belongs to the studio: the Motor Museum in Liverpool, just right around the corner from my house. The Artic Monkeys recorded their first album there. Oasis recorded their first single there. It is a great studio and we know the producer, Al (Groves) very well, so it is a real collaborative effort. As far as our process, we record a load of demos then cherry pick the best bits and try to make good songs out of those.

Nancy: After hearing you sing " Whatcha Gonna Do About It" by The Small Faces, I can see how much of an influence Steve Marriott's voice is for you. Who else influences you as a performer? How about as a guitarist?
Tom: Small Faces are my second favorite band of all time. I love the way The Hives perform with loads of energy. Steve Marriott is the main voice I aspire to; him, Robert Plant, Mike Harrison of Spooky Tooth, Stevie Winwood...I also love Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, but I don't try to sound like them. As a guitar player, it is Hendrix. He is the main one for me really.

Nancy: What inspired you to start writing your own songs?
Tom: I don't know why The 45's switched from being a covers band to writing and playing originals. It just sort of happened. I am influenced by anything that I can steal and get away with. That's my writing process [laughs].

Nancy: Any parting words?
Tom: Thanks for having me and I hope you all enjoy the tunes!


Monday, June 20, 2022

An Interview: JON WEISS: Farther Outta the Nest

An Interview: JON WEISS: Far Outta the Nest

By Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, 2022
Intro © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2022
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

When I think of Jon Weiss, two things immediately come to mind: one is the ‘80s garage revival pop band The Vipers, and the other is as a coordinator/originator of the Cavestomp! series, where both newer garage bands meet with the classics (for example, I remember seeing one that featured both The Lyres and ? and the Mysterians. Jon was the host that night, but Peter Zaremba of The Fleshtones has filled in as well. It was quite a show. When the Vipers’ album, Outta the Nest was initially released, I had interviewed the band (I’ll link it here once it is digitally published). But not being mired in just the past, Jon has been associated with two other projects of late, named Stereo Dinner and the band Little Triggers, both in front and behind the scenes. In June of this year, Nancy Neon, a queen of garage in her own right, interviewed Jon for us. – RBF, 2022.

Jon Weiss (photo by Robert Barry Francos)

Nancy Neon: Did Teen Sounds in Italy approach you about reissuing The Vipers' Outta the Nest (album)?
Jon Weiss: Nope, Teen Sounds approached Vipers' co founding member, Paul Martin, who's always led the charge to reissue Outta the Nest!

NANCY: What was the process? Was it remixed or remastered?
JON: Paul oversaw the re-issue from start to finish. This included its remastering, updated liner notes, 4 bonus tracks., revised artwork/additional pictures, and a poster insert, While staying true to the original recording, Paul seamlessly enhanced the listening and viewing experience of the LP without scrubbing away or glossing over its original charm. It really should satisfy and offer something new to die hard fans who have the original pressing while engaging younger fans of garage who have never heard the band before.

NANCY: How did it feel listening to it again?
JON: Life in a rock‘n’roll band is life itself. It's filled with ups and downs, good times, and bad. Except the drugs are better...that's a joke (they're not better). The recordings you make are audio snapshots. They capture and document life without judgment. I feel the same way listening to this record as I do looking at a photo album from 1985, or anytime. That aside, what makes me very happy when listening to it is knowing that there are more than a hand full of people who sincerely love this record! And that's very meaningful and satisfying to me.

NANCY: What is your proudest moment of all your Cavestomp! productions?
JON: Absolutely and without hesitation, brokering the first reunion in 40 plus years for 3 of the original 5 Sonics, ? and the Mysterians, The Monks, The Pretty Things, Creation, New Colony Six, and a few others come close, but nothing comes close to hearing Larry Parypa [The Sonics] play the opening chords to "He's Waiting," with 1,000 other fiends that first time. It took me literally 20 years of gentle persuasion to get them to agree to play and it...was worth the wait. I recorded 3 performances on a 16-track of the live set they did, and between the three, there are stellar versions of each song available. It'll never be available, but nevertheless it is documented,

NANCY: Never say never! If you had one last Cavestomp! blowout, who would be on the bill?
JON: Ronnie Wood and the surviving members of The Birds [The Birds from England and Little Triggers-are my dream bill! – NN], Sam the Sham, Duane Eddy, and assorted snot-nosed upstarts they influenced.

NANCY: How did Stereo Dinner come together?
JON: Stereo Dinner is the ultimate fan/artist engagement where super fans and a favorite artist sit down over a truly memorable multi-course meal and wine, pairing as designed by the artist and the chef team preparing it. It's an opportunity to really get to know the artist when the artist isn't performing, It came together as a solution for what was the historically uninteresting and easily forgotten meet and greets where the artists shakes your hand, takes a photo with you, and autographs some piece of merchandise, Yawn! Next. Can you think of a better way to waste your money than that? Very unsatisfying for all involved unless you are a professional autograph collector looking to flip signed memorabilia for profit.

NANCY: What can we expect from Stereo Dinner in the next year or so?
JON: Not much for now, COVID has taken away the desire to sit down and have an intimate dinner with up to 30 people you don't really know. Hopefully that thinking will relax a little and we will get back to it.

NANCY: I hope so. Dinner with Bootsy Collins certainly sounded delicious and delightful! How did you discover Little Triggers? What niche do you think they fill in today's music scene?
JON: Ah! Little Triggers... I first learned about Tom Hamilton (guitar/vox), leader of LT, in the mid-2000's, when he was in a teen garage band, The 45's. They were good, but when Tom stepped up to sing lead on a song he had written called "It Ain't Over," they were honestly great! The band broke up and I kept an eye out for what Tom would be doing next, and that was Little Triggers!

NANCY: My first reaction was how do they differentiate themselves from bands playing in a similar style, and my friend and “Kandy Says” (podcast) cohost, Ian Wagner summed it up in three words: "Inspiration over imitation." And when I heard a 5-year-old tape of them segueing The Small Faces’ "Whatcha Gonna Do About It" into Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody," I got it! Tom may be a one man Led Zep, but he is so much more. On this chestnut he burns on harmonica, and it is easy to see his song craft is inspired by Steve Marriott as much as it is Robert Plant.
JON: Tom's truly a ferociously talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and performer, all in one. He's a one-stop. He is a garage punk hybrid of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page [I prefer Tom's voice to Plant because his British soul man style is more in the Steve Marriott mode to these ears! – NN] with skills to match, who understands composition as taught by a permanent deep dive into Lennon & McCartney. When you listen to Tom's songs, you may see he is more influenced by The Sonics and The Small Faces than Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. Tom is young, smart, and has great taste in music, and a comprehensive understanding of rock'n'roll history and very importantly lives to kick out the jams, motherfucker! He's an aggressive player to put it mildly. I think he is able to capture the primal power of raw and primitive rock’n’roll, but has the technical skills and song writing talents to create something uniquely his own that's varied, memorable, relevant, and exciting! Artists who can "do it all" usually cannot make it add up to something better than the sum of its part. Tom can. He's a missing lir[nk to the past of great rock'n'roll, and its future.

Friday, June 10, 2022

An Interview: Shades of Cool Radio and Beyond from IAN WAGNER

An Interview: Shades of Cool Radio and Beyond from IAN WAGNER

By Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, 2022
mages curtesy of Ian Wagner


Nancy Neon: What made you get into radio, Ian? Did you start with one show and grow? Or did you always intend to build a full fledged 24/7 network?
Ian Wagner: I have always loved the concept of radio, even when I stopped actively listening. I had a local college radio show for several years named Shades of Cool, which was curtailed when the pandemic happened. That jump-started my long-dormant plan to start an Internet station. Shades Radio started and continued as the home of the flagship. Shades series featuring my wife/co-programmer Becky and me. Everything else was built around that over the course of the two years that we have been online.

NANCY: Congratulations to Becky and you and all your DJs for your second anniversary of Shades of Cool Radio Network. Are you planning anything new and different for the coming year?
IAN: The station is constantly evolving, and all the series that we air hopefully will as well, and I hope to add more this year. The station is also a vehicle for a book project that will hopefully be finished in 2023.

NANCY: Tell me about your current line-up.
IAN: The station is on 24/7, always serving up some great music. Currently we have 16 series including:

  • Shades Of Cool on Wednesdays, 7-9 PM EST, featuring Becky and me, playing a diverse range of coolness from all eras;
  • Blitzkrieg Pop every other Thursday, 2-4 PM EST, featuring Danielle Tort, [with a] diverse playlist, detailed discussions.
  • Cookin' in the Soulful Dimension on Thursday 8-9 PM EST, featuring me delivering an hour of the best in sampledelic soul/funk/jazz/library/score grooves;
  • Good Times in Studio 55, on Fridays 9-10 PM EST, featuring Becky and me and an hour of the best in rare vintage disco gems;
  • Mondo Radio a Go- Go, on Fridays 10 PM- 1 AM. EST, with John Rippey and me. Three hours of psychotronic madness from the worlds of movies, TV, and music.
  • Uncle Bob's Record Store-on Saturdays 12 noon to 6 PM EST, featuring Bob Stewart [with] vinyl spins from the vast collection of a vinyl guru., featuring detailed chats on vinyl collecting
  • Kandy Says-on Saturdays, 7-9 PM EST, featuring Kandy Kabot (aka Nancy Neon), [with] 2 hours of great themed sets, and sometimes Kandy recites verse as Urban Boho and Kandy Warhol. Both her selections and her verse define cool;
  •  Flying in the Stereo Dimension on Saturdays, 9-10 PM EST, featuring me, an hour of swirling, reverbed, psychedelic muzak and sunshine pop from the mid-‘60s to the mid-‘70s;
  •  Formless-Saturdays, 10 PM. to 1 AM EST, with Cral Skinner. [which is] three hours of artful ear damage in a diverse field of sound, the genres liquid, but red hot!
  • Afternoon Tea with Lovely Becky-on Sundays, 3-4 PM EST, an hour of mellow vibes to drink your tea by, from the Queen of Cool;
  • Soundtrack Sunday, Sundays, 5 PM 12 midnight EST, featuring Mookie Shapiro, Heather Matthewson, and me [for] seven hours of the best in film and TV scores and soundtracks;
  • The Day After the Sabbath, on Sundays, noon to 1:30 PM EST, featuring Kevin Solomon Stevens, each week a devastating set of hard rock, deep psych, heavy, obscure gems from the ‘60s and the ‘70s;
  • Jazz Sides on Mondays, 7 -9 PM EST, featuring Bob Bowser, each week a chill listen through classic jazz LP sides, with much chat and context provided;
  • Wax Victim on every other Monday, 9 PM to midnight EST, featuring Jason Loftin with a listen to and detailed chat about rare vinyl, painstakingly transcribed and restored from the collection of the host;
  • Gage Against the Machine, on Tuesdays, 7-10 PM EST, featuring Gage Winslow, who delivers a mindbending and unbound set of music every week; and
  • Tiki Tuesday: most beautiful island, exotica, and mod jazz sounds to grace your week.
NANCY: What radio stations did you listen to growing up? Who were your fave DJs and why?
IAN: In Los Angeles, where I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were many great stations, DJs, and formats still active. My folks were music heads, collectors, and musicians. So, the dial was consistently spun from AOR, Classic Rock, to ‘50s/’60s oldies, to New Wave, to college stations and beyond. Rodney Bingenheimer's show on KROQ was an influence on me as anyone living in that area at that time period. I have always preferred DJs that combine relatively unfamiliar music with recontextualized hits and favorites. My goal is to follow that path.

NANCY: I don't know a lot about your background except you were in a band contemporary with my fiancé, Jeff Kabot's band, The SuperKools, and that you seem to be equally as knowledgeable about films as you do about music. Did you ever have a public access show?
IAN: I grew up suffused in art and pop through having parents who were already into everything cool, and took me to movie theaters several times a week, including revival houses. As soon as I could, I began making music and playing in bands, mostly in the '90s and ‘00s. In Los Angeles, I have been on public access stations, but I was performing as a member of groups

 NANCY: Tell me about your brushes with greatness, like meeting [Quentin] Tarantino. What do you think about the way QT uses music in his films, almost like the music is a character of its own? Do you think Kenneth Anger was the first to have such a focus on music?
IAN: Growing up around and in the music/film industries, you just meet famous people and artists as a matter of course. I have many cherished memories of those times including hang outs and chats with many folks I admire, including Quentin. I think that while Quentin is influenced by Scorsese, the greatest of them all in terms of recontextualizing music in the context of films, Quentin has his own gift for uncovering lost gems and utilizing them expertly. Anger was certainly among the very first to use "found" music and familiar music in this way. The Graduate (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) were the first big bang in terms for this style.

NANCY: Who are some of the musical artists that you thought you'd never see, but did?
IAN: I saw Zappa, KISS, The Clash, The Who, and others before the age of ten. A few that come to mind are The Raspberries reunion, and small shows by Prince and Laura Nyro.

NANCY: What are some artists you regret not having seen?
IAN: I wish I had been a few years older so I could have seen Elvis. I think I have seen everyone that I could have possibly seen from the late ‘70s on.

NANCY: If you could cohost a radio show with anyone, who would it be and what format would you have?
IAN: It would be my partner, Becky, doing exactly what we do on the Shades of Cool series. But for fun, I'd pick Bob Dylan, just spinning and discussing whatever came into our minds.

NANCY: What is your proudest moment of having created such a great network?
IAN: Any time that I hear that someone has been moved to check out or buy anything I have spun on the station, and any time I am moved to do the same by something one of my series' hists have spun. That makes it a worthwhile endeavor. Also, Becky's moving musical memorial to her late mother was a proud moment.

NANCY: For people who don't know you, you grew up in Los Angeles, and now live in Greensboro, North Carolina. What kind of culture shock did you experience?
IAN: Intense culture shock, like waking up on the moon! It took years to establish a base of friends and activities here, but Greensboro and the outlying cities definitely have a charm of their own. Certainly, a friendlier and less hectic environment overall, though it does remind me how spoiled I was in Los Angeles, having a choice of a wide range of interesting activities. I had a record store for several years and since then have worked on creative endeavors at home. But my favorite escape is heading to Durham to see classic films at the Carolina Theatre and checking out records in Soul Relief in Greensboro.

NANCY: Any parting comments, Ian?
IAN: If you feel the call, and have an hour or two to spare, please check out Shades Radio Network. It is a small community of likeminded people and openminded music freaks to which everyone is invited to participate in. Hope to see you there! We can be found on Facebook and Instagram as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: Wait and See (1981)

© Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1981/2022
Images from the Internet unless indicated

Bassist Ali McMordie in the forefront

One of the great and little-known aspects about Irving Plaza in New York during the 1980s was that the back door was not only open, but unguarded until a couple of hours before a show. While I didn’t often take advantage just to see free shows by hanging around, settling down for a long wait (and not wanting the management to become aware of the situation, killing the golden goose), I did occasionally use this knowledge to gain access to bands that were playing at the club.

Alan Abramowitz and I went through the back door one late afternoon and caught the Stiff Little Fingers soundcheck. After, we approached the band about the possibility of an interview. The only SLF member who did not have a previous appointed place to be was Ali McMordie, the bass player, and we propositioned him. Ali agreed to the interview, which we did upstairs in the Irving Plaza dressing room.

This interview was published in FFanzeen, No 8, dated 1981.

Stiff Little Fingers: Wait and See

I am not one to extol the virtues of the new music coming out of England right now. When the punk movement died and the Blitz and New Romanticism fashions came in, my interest sort of declined. The better groups still seem to be the older ones, like Buzzcocks and the Jam.

About a year ago, a friend came to me telling of a great new song he’d heard called “At the Edge,” by some group called Stiff Little Fingers (named after a song by the Vibrators).  When I saw a copy of SLF’s Nobody’s Heroes in a cut-out bin, the album on which the song appeared, I figured what-the-hell. And I’m damned glad I did.

Stiff Little Fingers has been around quite a while now –since the mid-punk days of late ’77. Their first album, Inflammable Material, is a social comment, as well as a musical one. A rare, successful cross between the power of the music of the Ramones and the biting lyrics of the Pistols.

The band’s four members – Jake Burns, guitar and lead vocals; Henry Cluney, guitar and vocals; Ali McMordie, bass guitar; and Jim Reilly, drums, replacing Brian Faloon after the first album – hail from strife-ridden Belfast, and have since moved to London to help their careers (Henry, however, chose to remain a resident of Belfast) – which has been going full-guns since Nobody’s Heroes was released. From the time I first started listening, two more albums have followed: the live Hanx (Irish slang for “thanks”), and the recently released Go For It.

I caught up to the band when they appeared in New York City on a cross-American/Canadian tour. The following interview was done upstairs at Club 57/Irving Plaza, on June 20, 1981, with bassist Ali.

FFanzeen: Where do you head from here?
Ali(stair) McMordie: I wish I knew. I don’t know the exact dates, still. It’s always the same any time we come over here because to organize anything in the States, you actually have to be
in the States. You can’t do it on the phone because it just takes too long and nobody bothers calling you back. We sent our manager over two days earlier than us to do that, specifically. We’re going to both coasts and Canada. Last tour we just did the two coasts.

FFanzeen: When the group first started, I read that you rented out your own gigs, and then sold tickets on the sly.
Ali: Yeah, because any time we booked a club, there were some places that were really cheap, like $20 for a night. The club made its money on the bar, and of course, you weren’t allowed to sell tickets because that would mean you’d be making quite a bit of money. So, we’d sell them for 60p; that’s less than $2 anyway. We sold them at the carpark outside so the management couldn’t see us. We used to give them to record shops to give to people or to sell. We never got our money back anyway, so after a while we Just let people come in for nothing to try and fill up the place. It was pretty hard in Belfast, finding clubs; there weren’t that many. There were only about two clubs left in those days.

FFanzeen: There’s a large music scene growing out of Belfast now.
Ali: There’s a lot of bands there, right.

FFanzeen: The Undertones, Protex –
Ali: Protex, yeah. They’re based in London, right now. They did okay over here. Not as far as records go, though.

FFanzeen: They played a lot of gigs here.
Ali: Back in Belfast, we played our first gig of the tour. You’ve heard of the recession over in England, nobody’s got any money? It’s crazy. Out of all the towns, they’re hardest hit in England, up north there, Belfast being in it as well. But we really enjoyed being back there; part of the fact that it’s our home town, they don’t bother much about worrying about the recession because they’ve got so much else to worry about.

[Ali leaves to get cigarettes, then returns]

FFanzeen: According to the souvenir books at your concerts, the band has, “always done things the hard way.” How true is that when your first single [independently released “Suspect Device” b/w “Wasted Life,” on Rigid Digits Records – RBF, 1981] sold over 30,000 copies?
Ali: The first sold about 60,000 so far. I know what they mean about making it the hard way. I think we were very lucky to start off with. We brought the first single out, and the two guys managing us, Gordon Ogilvie and Colin McClelland, took the single an sent it off to (London DJ) John Peel, and thanks to him, basically, people heard the single and picked up on the band. And from then on it was pretty plain sailing. We were sucked into the big music business, where so many things are hyped. Over here, it’s not how good a band is, it’s how much money their management has. Over in England, it’s not quite that bad. I was talking about this earlier when we first came to London, we didn’t really know our way about. We didn’t know anyone over there. It was quite a big move from Belfast, across the sea. We joined Rough Trade and that gave us a kind of breathing space where we could sit back and look at things objectively, detached. We could see that record companies weren’t as they were cracked up to be. Our first experience with record companies was Island Record, and from that we said, “Fuck this, we don’t want any part of it.” So, we put the record out with Rough Trade and a couple of singles, and just took our time with lots of offers from record companies, but we waited until we could get a deal where we could virtually tell them what we wanted instead of it being the other way around. And Chrysalis did it. In the U.K., we got complete control. We didn’t get any advance or anything because that’s not important, it’s only money. We deal with the record company and we’re in the black. Which is good. Most bands work heavily in the red, like the Clash. They’re so much in debt that they’ll be tied to CBS for as long as CBS wants ‘em. You have no control of your lives, virtually. It gets to that stage. New York pays a lot of money. For the gig we’re doin’ here – I don’t know what it is, exactly – but they’re giving us all the money and we could easily just do a lot of gigs here and then piss off and make a profit. Instead, we’re just using the money to go to other places around the States and up to Canada. Most of the clubs here seem to jump at anything.

FFanzeen: As long as you’re from England, you can get plenty of gigs here.
Ali: Japan’s just like that. I haven’t been there yet.

FFanzeen: Your booklet also called you “exploiters of Northern Ireland’s troubles.” They seem to rip into you as much as compliment you.
Ali: That’s pretty close to the truth, though. They’re not saying we’re cynical exploiters, they’re saying that’s what we’ve been called.

FFanzeen: Well, why have you been called that?
Ali: I don’t know; we’re not cynical. I don’t see how we can exploit Northern Ireland since we come from there. On the first album, there actually is only about four songs on there about Northern Ireland. The rest of them could apply to any place. There are as many songs about the troubles as there were about the fact that there was a fuck-all attitude in Belfast. That’s why the band came about, because it was a hobby, something to do on a Saturday afternoon. And a place like that, you look for your own entertainment or you really have to go out and search for it. Here (in New York), you go two blocks and there is something there. It’s completely different. We were the top acclaim as rebel heroes, yet with the first album, the reviews that
Inflammable Material got in the British press, they were very good. They were all five-star reviews of over the top, which meant it got a lot of publicity and all that, and that’s something that’s hard to live up to. One of the main reasons why that was so, is because at the time, people were getting fed up. It was just about the time of the demise of the original punk bands, and people were looking for something new. We came along and they said, “At last, a real punk band.” We took no claims to what kind of band we are. We just play rock’n’roll.

FFanzeen: Yeah, but you’ve been around just as long as they have [1977].
Ali: Yeah, but most of the time we spent rehearsing in Ireland. We just had a couple of gigs here and there. We were always pretty much apart from the rest of the music scene. The Sex Pistols, Gen X, they all hung around and knew each other. We came over and didn’t know anybody.

FFanzeen: Did you find the move to London difficult to adjust to?
Ali: Not now; I did then. There’s a couple of songs written about it, like “Gotta Getaway,” when we first came over from Belfast. The very first time was with Island Records, and they fucked us about, so we just got fed up and decided to move out on our own with no money and no support. Rough Trade was interested, but that was all. There were five of us stuck in one dark hotel room in West End Grove in West End, London, with no money, so we had to live off Gordon. Imagine five of us – four guys in the band and one guy who was working with us – and the arguments that went down. We couldn’t get out anywhere because there was no money and we didn’t know anyone. There’s no way I’d like to see that again. In that way, it’s been hard. We’ve been lucky, though, because it’s so much harder for other bands. There’s so much competition. All it really takes is a lucky break or lots of money. And no one’s got money now. Especially over there. It’s a shame because there’s so many people I know who’re great musicians. Good bands. They haven’t done that well. Even recorded bands; Sector 27 – I think they’re excellent. That band’s really good, and I loved TRB
[Tom Robinson Band] – but they’re not doing all that well.

FFanzeen: It says here that you consider your new album as “punk.” Do you really think that is accurate?
Ali: Call it what you want. It’s punk in that – well, what does the word “punk” mean? It’s an attitude. Jake said that he said that punk is more an attitude than a style of music. You know the Ruts? A lot of their music is more heavy-metal-oriented than punk, but because of their attitude and their lyrics, and so on, they’re considered a punk band.

FFanzeen: In the fanzine Damaged Goods, they commented that this past album is different from your previous albums, but I found it very similar to the others, which is a quality I liked about it.
Ali: I don’t think it changed that much. There are a few things on the new album that are pretty different. “Gate 49” is done tongue-in-cheek in rockabilly style. It’s good fun playing that. There was an instrumental
[“Go For It”]. It’s the second time we’ve done that. First time was “Bloody Dub” from Nobody’s Heroes. That didn’t work very well. I think the “Go For It“ instrumental is a lot better. That was written in the studio. There were supposed to be lyrics, but we decided not to spoil it. The thing I like about the new album is – well, what I like and don’t like – is that it was done in two weeks, in February and March, and none of the songs were written before January. It’s just suddenly all these ideas came together. Listening to it now, there’s a lot of things we could have done – all these ideas and arrangements and so on – but maybe if we spent a month doing it we could have lost that initial roughness and impact. I think it’s a rougher album than Nobody’s Heroes. Who knows, we might put an album out in six years’ time that will be like Inflammable Material. Kickin’ up a racket. It’s the sort of thing we regret three years ago. It’s just different. We’re just playing songs that we like. There’s no way we could be calculating about it. It’s impossible to figure out what people will like. We just do what we do and hope people will like us. The new songs have been doing okay so far. We were worried about it because where we come from, things are so different. But fans that we’ve got, most of them are die-hard fans, and they’ll always be there. The people who have come and gone are those who come in and then go away because all they want to hear is “1-2-3-4” Ramones stereotypes. Don’t want to get in a rut, now; it would get boring for everybody, including us. That’s the first album over and over again.

FFanzeen: It’s a bit passe now.
Ali: I don’t like to listen to it now. I think the songs off the first album we do live, they’re a lot better than the album. But the thing is that it was perfect at the time; that’s the way we felt. It was done really roughly. It’ll be the same with every album – it’s the way we were, at the time. Times change, so we still do the songs live, because they mean a lot to us.

FFanzeen: Are you really heavily influenced by Marc Bolan [d. 1977], or is it just Henry [see album covers]?
Ali: No, just Henry. Henry is in love with Marc Bolan. Necrophilia.

FFanzeen: What about you?
Ali: We used to argue about it. Everyone’s tastes are completely different. We can’t bother arguing because it’s pointless now. The first band that really sort of influenced me was the Velvet Underground. I got back and discovered all these great Velvet Underground records. From there, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, things like that. Patti Smith, I think she’s great. The main bands are American, but they’re not mainstream American. I’d even listen to some jazz-rock. I like a lot of reggae. If any music influences, for me anyway, it’s reggae. That’s one thing that we all like.

FFanzeen: Why do you think reggae is such a big influence in England right now?
Ali: Mainly Bob Marley (d. 1981). Reggae has always been associated with punk, since punk came along in ’77. I don’t know why it all came about, really. I think they were supposed to share the same ideas, the same philosophy. I think it’s that the rhythms of reggae are important, because it’s better dancing to reggae than dancing to disco. Reggae has such a great beat, a distinctive rhythm.
[In a Jamaican accent:] Dat’s wot it’s all about, mon.

FFanzeen: Is that the point of the song, “Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae” [on the Go For It album]?
Ali: Have you heard the original? You should play the original. Its far better, obviously. We did it so different. The original is about half the speed. It’s a brilliant single; Bunny Wailer (d. 2021) brought it out. It’s on Island Records. If you ever get the chance to hear it, it’s probably really hard to get over here. It’s pretty hard getting it in England, but it’s a great song. That’s if you like reggae. It’s like “Johnny Was.” That’s another great thing about reggae: you’ve got a lot of space, a lot of freedom to be spontaneous. It’s different every night.

FFanzeen: As the bass player, don’t you ever get tired of playing the same rhythm for extended periods of time [on Inflammable Material, “Johnny Was” runs for 8:05, and on the live album Hanx, 10:15 – RBF, 1981]?
Ali: It’s not all the same. There are differences, but it’s very subtle. As the bass player, I reckon there’s one difference in the song. Listen to it tonight. It’s a lot shorter now, it’s only five or six minutes instead of ten. That went on a bit long. Listen to the reggae break and you can hear the changes – I hope
[laughs]. Whenever I get home and listen to reggae or watch a band, the main thing I get into is the rhythm. It doesn’t matter if it’s virtually the same for five-ten minutes. The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” had this rhythm going all the way through it – sort of mesmeric.

FFanzeen: Same thing with Fred Smith’s bass line in Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel.”
Ali: I have that. On the original Ork label. In Belfast, it took about six months to get it.

FFanzeen: A friend of mine asked to ask you this: there is supposedly a video game called “Go For It,” which has a boy climbing up the side of a building. Have you seen it?
Ali: A video game? No, [ours] has nothing to do with that. I’ve never seen it. I’ll tell Gordon (Ogilvie). That’s the sort of thing he’d be really choked about. Most people think the guy (on the cover) is falling off the top, but –

FFanzeen: – He’s climbing up.
Ali: Originally, it was just that
[covering up the right side of the album cover that has the character’s arm and leg – RBF, 1981], which looks like he’s falling so the guy who was doing it works in the creative department at Chrysalis in London added a knee and leg and arm reaching up.

FFanzeen: Here’s an original question: What do you think about the whole punk movement, then and now?
Ali: The music then had a bit of energy to it. I suppose, looking back now, I’m a lot more cynical than when the whole thing started. At the same time, I believe in what we’re doing. I couldn’t get cynical about that. It’s funny looking back at those early punk bands and to realize how shallow a lot of them were. I think at any start in music, whatever point it is, it’s the second wave of bands – heavy metal came along; Cream were pioneers, really, but they didn’t last. It was Led Zeppelin who took over.

FFanzeen: Unfortunately.
Ali: The Sex Pistols, the Damned – the Damned are still going, but that’s to be reckoned with. They’re like a comedy routine. With the Sex Pistols gone, it’s just up to us to keep the plan flying. Punk doesn’t have to be a noise. We’ve met a lot of very nice people – but now, there’s beach punks. These guys come along, they’re wealthy with rich parents and they can afford to have a beach of their own.

FFanzeen: You know, with all the first wave bands changing and all, one of the things I like about your band, as I said, is that you’ve been consistent. Not like in the Clash who have gotten “glossy,” or the Ramones who have gone the way of Phil Spector.
Ali: I like what the Clash are doing now. I like the ideas that they’re trying to do, and they are trying to break away. They’re trying to make it in America. It really was a conscious decision. They’re doing it quite good enough. Their reggae songs are not true reggae songs. You’d really have to come from Jamaica to do real reggae. It’s just really an influence, a rhythm.

FFanzeen: Sort of like the difference between the Police’s white reggae as opposed to the real Black reggae.
Ali: I remember when I first heard them, I really didn’t think of any reggae connection. Then so many people started saying about their second record,
Reggatta de Blanc, “White Reggae,” everybody started calling it that. But it really didn’t seem that reggae-oriented as far as I could see. I haven’t seen them live, but I think I’d get bored. I like some of their songs, but (Sting’s) voice does grate on the nerves.

FFanzeen: I think he’s a better actor [laughs] [I saw the Police at the Diplomat Hotel when “Roxanne” was a hit, and was incredibly bored; I totally agree with Ali about Sting’s vocals – RBF, 2022.] What do you think of the style of some of the other bands, like Adam and the Ants, and Echo and the Bunnymen?
Ali: I saw Echo and the Bunnymen, and I thought they were pretty good. Adam and the Ants; I like a couple of their singles. I never thought they’d become as big as they did; but that’s fashion. The Pirate. Malcolm McLaren (d. 2010) did it with Bow Wow Wow. He (even) told Adam how to dress. I think Bow Wow Wow are better, musically. They’re a very strange band if you listen to them. The bass player’s incredibly fast. There’s just one drummer and he can do it live. I understand from people that he can get that sound live, where Adam and the Ants takes two drummers. It’s been done before, with Gary Glitter and the Glitter Band. 

FFanzeen: Stiff Little Fingers’ lyrics are pretty political. Have you had any trouble getting airplay because of them?
Ali: Whenever we play the U.K., our most requested song is “Alternative Ulster.” It was the second single we did. It was on Rough Trade and Rough Digits, in collaboration. It was banned at BBC. We sent it to them three times. It was up for playlists three times, but they said no. We had to change the lyrics. Whenever you send a single in, you have to send a single and you have to send a sheet wit the lyrics on it. One of the lines is “RUC dogs of repression are barking at your feet.”

FFanzeen: What’s the RUC?
Ali: Royal Ulster Constabulary; Irish cops. Instead, on the sheet with the lyrics on it, we had, “All you see are dogs of repression,” which is practically the same, but because anything – anything close to home that might be in any big way politically-oriented – there’s a complete clampdown from the BBC. It’s ridiculous. I think that’s our most catchy single. It’s got a good bass line, a nice guitar riff on it, but just because of the lyrics, they don’t want to know. That’s censorship, you know? The BBC and the media over there got pretty radical – they get more radical the further away from England. If there’s anything close to home, right on their doorstep, you only hear what they want you to hear. It’s worse over here, though. It’s like, if the Mafia pulled out – if they stopped business right now – the whole U.S. would collapse. And everybody knows it’s going on, but there’s never any mention of it, because Reagan (d. 2004) eats jellybeans. I mean, there’s got to be somebody above the president.

Ali is on the far right

As the interview was winding down, Ali commented that he was feeling peckish. I asked him if he had ever eaten sushi. He answered in the negative, but had been curious, so Alan and I invited him to join us. We walked over to one of the better local sushi houses at the time, Shima, the place where I was first introduced to sushi by Dawn Eden Goldstein, which used to be on Washington Street near the old The Bottom Line club (at the time, there was no proliferation of sushi bars, not even in New York). It was an enjoyable dinner, and lively conversation about music and politics. After the dinner, we all headed back to Irving Plaza. Alan and I were able to walk in again, thanks to Ali. Thanks, Ali.

I managed to see Stiff Little Fingers play twice, once at the aforementioned Irving Plaza, and once at a sweat-filled, pogo-bouncing night at the Peppermint Lounge. I came out as drenched as if I had stood under an upturned bucket of water. Both times there was a strong energy level from the band and the audience equally. They were great nights.

Stiff Little Fingers broke up some time in the 1980s, and reformed without Ali (his choice), who eventually rejoined, and they are still playing out today.