X-SLF. As the name suggests, ex members of Stiff Little Fingers, drop by Aberdare. With little bit of help from some local legends.
When is a tribute act not a tribute act? When the band features members of the original band – that does it in my book.
It’s a subject that has prompted me to do much reflecting of late. When you eat, sleep and breathe music, trivia like this can keep you up at night. I think a navel gazing blog post might be in order. Watch this space.
For now, I’m going to stick to reviewing this gig.
Back to our old stomping ground. Jacs live music venue in Aberdare. A lot of time and effort has gone into making this a venue that would not be out of place in a city. The facilities are spot on, the staff are friendly and, whilst a lot of the bands they put on are not my cup of tea, I cannot fault the work they have done to attract some household names to the valleys. Space, Bad Manners and China Crisis to name but three. It is still the valleys though, it can be hard work getting punters out. I know, I’ve tried it.
One band that know all too well the fickleness of live music in the valleys is Dropping Like Flies. Although they have only been around in this format for a tomato season, Brewer and Simon, the rhythm section, have been abusing welsh audiences for more than three decades now. Briefly as Rape of Lucricia, then Funeral in Berlin, then for 30 years as 100,000 Bodybags. (You can read their story here.).
From the ashes of Welsh punk rock band 100,000 Bodybags comes a new band heavier and more determined to piss you off than ever before.
The line up includes Brian Meade. With his flying V and Metallica t-shirt, he looks like he probably started out life in a metal band, but it turns out not.
SIMON: No, he was an old school friend of mine and in 2020 when we were looking for a guitarist, I noticed him posting pics of his gear online. He’s never played with a band or anywhere outside his bedroom until he joined us. His first gig was on the acoustic stage at Landed Festival Last year (see review)
And tonight they are blooding a new guitarist.
It’s our great pleasure to introduce everyone to our newest member, 2nd guitarist Carl Southcott. We’ve known Carl for a LONG time and used to play together in This System Kills for a while and played several gigs together while he was fronting his own band The Guntys. Carl is currently the guitarist in Drunken Marksman and will split his time between the two bands. Carl is adding something really different and exciting to our live sound, which we can’t wait for you to hear for the first time at the XSLF (Stiff Little Fingers) | Live @ Jacs Aberdare gig this Friday evening.
They are every bit as uncompromising as the Bodybags were, treading that fine line between metal and punk. The also manage to combine serious, intense, in your face music, with darkly comic interludes between songs. Brian comes in for appalling grief when he has to change guitar lead just after Simon had done and introduction building up to one of their most popular tunes. For half an hour they assault the senses and sensibilities of the audience before getting thrown off by the sound engineer.
In normal circumstances, Aberdare’s Fatal Blow would be a shock to the senses, but they come over as ‘ambient punk’ after Dropping Like Flies. Once the senses are given a chance to readjust, The Blow put in a solid shift. They brand themselves as antifascist oi, but they are far more than that. The lyrics touch on the far right, obviously, but also things like homelessness and poverty. And whilst they look the part for a skinhead band, their music is far more sophisticated than your average Oi band. They even throw in a few covers from the lies of Tom Robinson Band (Up against the Wall), the Ruts (Society) and Syramip (Skinhead Girl). These are lapped up by the old timers waiting to see X-SLF.
Between bands we head out to the beer garden for fresh air. I stand with the Flies, chatting about old school punk. Somehow Slaughter and the Dogs come up in conversation and we have a laugh about the lyrics to ‘Where Have all the Boot Boys Gone’. “Wearing boots and short haircuts, we will kick you in the guts.” I remember most of it, but Brewer impressively remembers it all.
We eventually head back in to catch the band and get comfortable.
X-SLF, was formed by Henry Cluney & Jim Reilly. Cluney was in the original line up of Stiff Little Fingers (1977–1982 then 1987–1993). Whilst Reilley wasn’t in the original lineup, he was in the original incarnation of the band (79 – 81) before they split in 1982
HENRY: Xslf started in 2013 when I met Jim again after years of not seeing him. I had been doing solo shows for a few years prior and Jim put the idea forward to form a band. We only wanted to play music we were actually involved in and that meant the first three albums. Anything else would have made us a very strange tribute act indeed! Since then we have been writing and recording original music which is being well recieved. Ave Tsarion is our bass player and a big part of the setup including writing music. Some people will never give us a chance because of their own silly bias but so what… We do it because we love it. Thanks to all our fans no matter where you are and we’ll see you out on the road somewhere.
Unfortunately Jim has had to step down for health reasons on the advice of his doctor. His health is more important than gigs and we really wish him back to full fitness soon. On drums we now have Glenn Kingsmore. Glenn is the drummer for legendary Belfast band The Defects.
That early line up played massive part in the soundtrack of my formative years. I went to see them whenever I could and lapped up their early material. The first two albums, ‘Inflammable Material’ and ‘Nobody’s Heroes’ were classic punk and, unlike many of the albums released from that era, have well and truly stood the test of time.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that Jake Burns reformed SLF back in 1987 and they are still going strong. They are playing just up the road at Merthyr Rising next month. I don’t want to say too much about that, and as I type I am planning a separate post about all that sort of thing, but I want to concentrate on tonight’s gig for this post.
Tonight is my first time of catching X-SLF live. I’m pretty sure they will play a lot of stuff off those two classic albums, but I’m not sure what else. They kick off with ‘Suspect Device’. A bold move that kicks life into the crowd. I’m just staring thinking – “well this is a bit good” and at the same time, “How the fuck are they going to follow this? This was SLF’s calling card. Their ‘Stairway to Heaven'”. A less confident band would have kept it for an encore, but they know they can top this, because they have a shed load of other incendiary tunes in reserve.
Bang, bang, bang. ‘Alternative Ulster’, ‘Gotta Get Away’, ‘Wasted Life’. They just keep coming. I would normally be critical of any band that rested on it’s laurels and just did their early material, but this band were very special to a young me and those first two albums contained more classics than most bands can knock out over twenty albums.
They come to do ‘Barbed Wire Love’ and ask if anyone knows the lyrics and wants to sing. (This is the bit where you realise why I included the boring anecdote about Brewer remembering the words to ‘Where have all the Boot Boys Gone’.) Up Jumps Brewer and grabs the mic with gusto. They play the intro, then bang on cue, Brewer is in, word perfect from start to finish. Truly a thing of beauty and worth the entry fee alone. (if you are reading this Brewer, I still think you’re a knob.)
We get the title track from the second album, we get covers of Bob Marley (Johnny Was) and the Specials (Doesn’t Make it Aright) and T Rex (Solid Gold Easy Action). I look to Brewer and wonder out loud what they have left for the box for an encore. Then simultaneously we smile and say together – “Tin Soldiers”. And then … “He joined up to get a job and show he wasn’t scared, swapped boy scout hat for army cap”.
I’m not going to get into comparing SLF and X-SLF. But I’m pretty sure when SLF (Which also only contains two of the original line up) play near you, their set list won’t be as epic as this tonight. And you won’t get to see them in a venue as intimate as this.
It goes against the grain for ‘anti-retro’ me to say this, but they were fucking brilliant and I lapped it up. I had a whale of a time. And I think the band did too.