What do you do when you cannot find what you are looking for in a bookstore? Maybe… write one yourself? Well, thats what Roland Link did when he couldn’t find one on his favourite band, Stiff Little Fingers.
Having only just recovered from getting the words of Jake Burns on to this very website FnS person Still Burning decided to go for it (groan) and find out a bit more about the man behind “Kicking Up a Racket – The Story of Stiff Little Fingers 1977 – 1983”.
So Roland… you chose to write a book about SLF… why?
I wrote a book on SLF because as a kid they were my favourite band. I loved bands like the Specials, Clash, Jam etc; but SLF were always the ones for me. As I got older and read books on lots of groups I wanted to read a book on their original career. No one had written one so I made a tentative start.
Want to give readers a brief outline of what the book is about, and what it covers?
Briefly the book’s main focus is on SLF’s original career – 1977-1983. It also looks at the guys’ childhood’s pre-SLF and also briefly covers what they did after the original split, until they reformed in 1987.
How does `writing a book` actually work? From your writing the initial script, to it appearing on bookshelves?
As a kid I’d picked up a few bits and pieces (the odd bootleg, ‘Go For It’ & ‘Out Of Our Skulls’ tour programmes, the odd music paper interview) but when I started my research in earnest the first thing I did was hit the newspaper libraries in London and Oxford.
I trawled through the old music papers (Sounds, NME, Melody Maker, Smash Hits, Zigzag, Record Mirror etc, etc) and the Belfast Sunday News.
I basically got copies of every live review, LP/single review, interview and every bit of gossip about the band I could find. This gave me a workable timeline.
Next I went to Belfast. I didn’t know anyone so I took a chance and rang Terri Hooley at Good Vibrations Records. Terri’s line to me was that, ‘Stiff Little Fingers aren’t in my top 5000th favourite bands (he now denies this!!!) but I’ll help all I can.’
So I went over and spent a week with Terri being introduced to lots and lots of people, such as The Outcasts’ Greg Cowan, Rudi’s Brian Young, Terry Sharpe from the Starjets. All these guys helped with memories, contacts and details about the Belfast punk scene. From there I started contacting the members of SLF and more and more people came out of the wood work.
Suddenly I felt that I really was starting to research and write a book.
How long did it take, from the idea to the finished copy for sale?
About seven years. That was a long time, but the main reason was because I wanted to track down and talk to the six members of the band and both original managers from the time period.
If I couldn’t get ’em all I wasn’t interested. Some took longer to find than others and some it took me a little time to persuade I was serious and was trying to tell the story with balance and honestly; with a few good/funny stories thrown in.
Was it hard to get a publisher? And did you have to convince them to work with you before you got started or after?
I had a few interested and a couple that kept me hanging on saying they were going to publish. When it came down to it they let me down and I wasted time waiting for them.
Belfast’s Appletree Press were suggested to me by Brian Faloon, there were people at the company that were very keen to put the book out. They were great to work with, did everything they said they would and I had a great working relationship with the folk there.
How many copies were printed?
Did you have any financial outlay yourself? (Apart from the massive research time of course)
Obviously all the travel costs, photocopies of music papers, bits and pieces I bought such as old fanzines, bootlegs. When I’d basically finished the manuscript I turned to sorting out the pictures.
I’d been given a fair number by people such as Alastair Graham, who in 1978 was a 15-year-old Belfast punk rocker who also just happened to like photography. Thankfully he combined both loves and took some fantastic photos of the Belfast punk rock scene (See Sean O’Neill and Guy Trelford’s brilliant book ‘It Makes You Want To Spit – An Alternative Ulster 1977-1982’) including shots of SLF.
Siobhan Fahey and Brian Faloon also came up trumps, but I had to buy quite a few. I could have probably got away with not bothering as I had quite a few shots, but I wanted the book to have some great photos in it and I wanted most of them to be unpublished.
Of course the bottom line is professional photographers have a crust to earn from their work; which is how it should be!
The gig listings must have been hard to collate and verify?
Yeah! Again I wanted it complete and I wanted it right. After much research and cross checking in the UK music press I’d got most of the UK dates. The foreign ones were a real problem, places like France and Sweden just didn’t have the same kind of music paper/magazine coverage as Britain had at the time.
In the end it got finished because after discussing my problem in this area with Ali McMordie he trawled his diaries for me and came up with the missing ones.
Any amusing stories about putting the book together? Meeting the people in the band or whatever?
Lots of great moments. Meeting Jim for the first time was a blast. I’d been trying to talk to him for ages, but at the start he was very elusive. Anyway I rang him for what I thought would have to be the final time and for some reason he’d changed his mind and said, ‘Yeah come on over this weekend I’m supporting the Buzzcocks’ Typical Jim, everything last minute.
Prior to us setting off Jim had insisted that my wife, Anna, and I would be staying with him and that he’d pick us up from the airport.
Only problem was the day he came to pick us up from airport the clutch had gone in his car and he couldn’t stop as he’d never get started again, so he just kept driving slowly round and round.
Of course I’m looking for Jim, expecting him to be stood at arrivals and he’s not there – out of the terminal we went and waited, eventually he came round again threw open the passenger door and shouted ‘Get in’. Anna and I are running along side and throw our bags and ourselves in. When I asked why he hadn’t stopped he explained, OK.
Then I thought about it and couldn’t understand how he knew who I was, his reply was he knew I was Roland because I was the only rock ‘n’ roll looking person stood there! Fantastic guy and someone I’m now really pleased to call a genuine friend. I’ll never hear Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ again without thinking of Jim!
With a little bit of hindsight, anything you (unintentionally or otherwise) missed out that you’d rather have put in?
Every time I see Ali he manages to tell me another, different story. I was joking with him last time we met that it was now too late to drop ’em in. His reply was that there’s always volume two!
I did leave bits and pieces out, but that was for very good reasons and I certainly wouldn’t change those decisions.
What was the hardest period of the book to write and why?
The hardest part to write was about the guys’ early years in Belfast, basically because the information was initially scant. Trying to find out about Highway Star shows for example was very difficult because obviously they were never reviewed or documented. As I found more and more people who were on the scene at the time I was able to plug holes.
Also the US dates were a real problem until I found SLF’s US roadie Paul Roper. Paul was great and really took a lot of time out to help me.
Your knowledge of SLF must have been pretty good to start with, did anything really surprise you about the band, either its members or management, as you got to know them better, and as you delved into the SLF history books?
My knowledge was that of a lifelong fan of the music, rather than a fanatic about the members’ personal lives etc. I was never interested in that side of things.
What I tried to do with the book was tell the SLF story not individuals’ stories. Cold hard facts mixed with on the roads anecdotes, reviews, old interviews, new interviews, funny stories and peoples’ memories.
Nothing really surprised me and although I think many of us think we know people whose work we admire I did find the members/managers to be pretty much as I expected them to be. Ultimately everyone came on board and helped me out enormously and without their input it wouldn’t have been the book it is. I’m very grateful to them all.
Do we have more work from Roland Link on SLF to come?
Yeah. I’m working on a photo/memorabilia book from the same time period, tentatively called ‘What You See … Is What You Get’. After that I’ll take up golf!
Are you pleased to see Ali back on bass?
I’m very pleased to see Ali back. I think his style fits the band better than Bruce Foxton’s, he’s an original member, which for me is great and he’s a lovely guy.
On a personal note…
Your favourite gig(s) that you’ve attended?
First time I saw the band in Birmingham was fantastic, but to be honest every time I go along I have a great night. I still think Jake Burns is a really great songwriter and singer. I love his passion, honesty, intelligence and delivery.
Any covers you’d wished they had err covered?
Not really, I think they’ve got enough great songs of there own. I wish they’d play ‘The Price of Admission’ live.
Your Top Three SLF Songs… and album?
My favourites change, depending on the mood I’m in.
I’ll always say ‘Alternative Ulster’. The intro still gets me and the song sounds just as great as when I first heard it as a kid.
I actually traded a bottle of my Dad’s Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry (he never found out) with a kid that was a bit of a Del Boy character for a bunch of punk rock singles and ‘Alternative Ulster’ was in there.
I remember playing ’78 RPM’ for about three days solid (it was one of the early pressings of the single which had it marked as the A-side) and then I flipped it over and found ‘Alternative Ulster’ and that was it, never looked back.
‘Just Fade Away’. Great guitar pop song. For me everything works on this song.
‘Is That What You Fought The War For?’ just a fantastic, intelligent song that pulses with melody and suss.
I had a real thing about ‘Back To Front’ as well not long ago and I should also stress I like lots of the later stuff as well. ‘Each Dollar A Bullet’, ‘Last Train From The Waste Land’. ‘I Could Be Happy Yesterday’, ‘Guitar And Drum’ and loads more are, for me, as strong as any of the earlier material.
Five desert island tracks?
Impossible to answer really, but here we go –
White Man in Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
Jah War – The Ruts
Alternative Ulster – SLF
’59 Sound – The Gaslight Anthem
And finally, your favourite flavour of crisps?
Salt & Vinegar
Best to you and all your readers and for those that buy ‘Kicking Up A Racket’ I hope they enjoy the read.
Drop me a line at www.kickinguparacket.com
Thanks a lot for this interview Roland, I can honestly its been one of my most enjoyable so far with FnS. You can contact Roland directly and buy the book by visiting the website above. I really hope that this book sells out and deserves to be reprinted, such is the amount of work thats obviously gone into it, apart from the fact is superb read and therefore a must have for all Fingers fans of course. Still Burning
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