Perfect Sound Forever


Belfast punk lives
Interview by David DiPietro

Henry Cluney formed Stiff Little Fingers in Belfast, Ireland in 1977. He wrote and played on the first 4 classic SLF albums: Inflammable Material (1979), Nobody's Heroes (1980) and Go for it (1981). He also appeared on the superb live album Hanx! (1980), and the final studio album of the classic era, Now Then... (1982) before the band split in 1983.

Upon reforming in 1987, Henry appeared on the reunion tour, which resulted in the album Live and Loud (1988), as well as the lackluster studio album, Flags and Emblems (1991). He was forced to leave his own band soon after, in a power grab by the last remaining founding member, Jake Burns.

Undaunted, Henry went on to form XSLF, which originally contained classic era SLF drummer, Jim Reilly. XSLF continues today providing longtime fans the chance to experience what Henry considers to be more in the vein of "Classic Fingers," as opposed to the watered-down version of the band that Burns continues to churn out music, of what he says "Tarnishes the original band's legacy." I spoke with Henry recently about both new and old.

PSF: Let's begin by telling us what are the latest activities of XSLF? I know you completed a 27-date European tour late last year. Anything on the horizon for some American dates this year?

HC: We play every weekend basically as the demand for midweek gigs isn't so great. We just recorded two new songs, which are being finished as we speak. I'm off on a solo Canadian Tour in July... Would love to get US gigs for XSLF, but we have no contacts... Helpppp!!!

PSF: Is a new album in the works?

HC: Nothing as yet but knowing us...!

PSF: Classic-SLF era drummer Jim Reilly had to step down from XSLF several years ago, for what I believe you told me were health reasons. How is he doing? Do you know if he has any plans to return to making music?

HC: Not seen Jim for a while. He's doing great, I hear, but think for his own good he has hung up the sticks for good.

PSF: What made you leave Stiff Little Fingers, the band you formed and named, after the Flags and Emblems album in 1991? Is the irony of this, lost on Jake? After all, it was you who turned him onto punk, at a time he gravitated toward Deep Purple.

HC: Important- I DID NOT LEAVE MY BAND. They did the cowardly thing and had the manager (who we'd only known a short while) call me and tell me my services were no longer required. So much for friendship. Every gig I do, I get asked about a reunion. I would do it, but Jake cares more about money. The REAL Stiff Little Fingers ended in '81 after Jim left, I'm afraid.

PSF: You once told me that you thought Bruce Foxton (ex-the Jam) was a really good bassist, and a very nice guy, but that you felt he wasn't really the right bass player for SLF. How did he come to join the group in 1990, and why did you feel he was not necessarily the right choice?

HC: Bruce is still one of my favourite bass players. He joined at a time when we needed a bassist, and thought of him. I think his style didn't gel with the band... Was great playing with him tho!

PSF: One last questions about the regrettable Flags and Emblems era. The only highlight on that album for me, was your tune, "Johnny 7." To me, it was the last tune SLF did that remained true to the original style of the band. Do you have a fondness for the the song, and does XSLF ever play it live?

HC: That's actually a funny one--I hate all my songs... Always have, LOL. I think it is in my make up to do that. Thanks for the highlight comment, but it's me being me.

PSF: It may come as a surprise to some readers, but you are also a big fan of heavy metal. Has this always been the case, or is it a fairly recent development? Also, who are some of your favorite metal bands and guitarists?

HC: Oh yes,love metal. Since I was at school I've loved it. I used to be able to tuck my hair into the back of my jeans back then! Loved Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest... Now added Megadeth, Slayer and any noise merchants... like I've been called!

PSF: Have you ever played, or do you ever want to play in a metal band at some point down the road?

HC: I'd never be good enough. Played in a band in Northern Ireland called Glam Slam. We played covers of my fave music- Glam Rock, Slade, Mud, Alvin Stardust, Sweet, as well as my all-time favourite band, T.Rex. We did pretty heavy versions of that stuff... Loved it!

PSF: You and I both agree that Nobody's Heroes (1980), and Go For it (1981) are the 2 best SLF albums. Do you have a fondness for one over the other, or is it just a matter of what day it is?

HC: Probably. LOL. I do love Inflammable Material too--those first four albums---including Hanx--are the only music Stiff Little Fingers ever released. Any band since--including ones I was in--was Stiff Little Fingers in name only.

PSF: Speaking of Inflammable Material: was "Suspect Device" influenced at all by Montrose's "Space Station #5"?

HC: "Suspect Device" IS "Space Station #5." Shhhhhh. LOL!

PSF: What prompted SLF to cover the Specials "Doesn't Make It All Right" on Nobody's Heroes so soon after the original version came out? I assume it was the anti-racist angle that was also a big part of SLF?

HC: Jake really liked it. I'm not a ska fan but must say, I enjoy playing that song a lot.

PSF: You once told me, I believe, that you have never had alcohol in your life and do not drink. I am sure any SLF fan would want to know why this is/was?

HC: Never have. I have no problem with people drinking...I hate people who preach about it!! Never been my thing for religious and personal reasons is all... Nothing strange, LOL.

PSF: The Now Then... album in 1983 has divided fans since it came out. I really liked it then and I still do. Jake has gone on record as saying NT... was the best album SLF had done up to that point, but I know you do not feel that way?

HC: It's got some good songs, but it's not SLF. Too much trying new stuff and not enough edge.

PSF: You once also told me you did not like the drummer who took over for Jim, Dolphin Taylor?

HC: We just didn't hit it off, but over time we got closer, until he talked Jake into not needing me.

PSF: You divide your time between the U.K. and the U.S. Is (original SLF drummer) Brian Faloon still your next door neighbor in Minnesota? If so, I assume that you both still speak quite a bit. Any chance of you and he playing another one off-gig together sometime?

HC: Would love to. It was great fun playing together for the first time since '78. The crowd loved it, so I would imagine a lot of other people would too.

PSF: I believe you once told me that Rory Gallagher was your first rock concert ever, in 1973. Could you tell us about the experience of him working with you on the 1991 Flags and Emblems album? How did this come about?

HC: I had actually gone back to Belfast when Rory recorded his bit. Just came about. Almost as a "no chance but we might as well find out." He brought a van load of gear. And for payment all he wanted was a pint! Great man.

PSF: I've noticed you have been playing a Fender Telecaster live a lot lately. Has this replaced the Les Paul as your main electric warrior? I assume you still have the Les Paul you used on the classic Fingers' albums? Also, for tech geeks possibly on here, what effects and amplification you currently use to get that classic SLF sound?

HC: I don't. Sold that in '83. I can't use a Les Paul anymore. I broke my back in a car accident and they are way too heavy for me now. Believe it or not, I don't own an amplifier--just use whatever the support band brings. We fly to gigs from Belfast, so bringing gear is murderously expensive. Maybe the sound really is all in the fingers-excuse the pun.

PSF: As mentioned, you divide your time between Europe and America. What are your opinions on the recent Trump indictments? What is your position on dealing with the amount of mainly gun violence that has been increasing in the U.S.? Though politics/parties are different, do you see any correlation here, with the violence, racism, and political extremism you experienced in Northern Ireland in the late '70's and early '80's?

HC: I think Trump is the worst president the US ever had. I hope he gets locked up for his crimes. I'm not a citizen, so can't vote, but that guy really makes my blood boil. A few songs on Northstar (latest XSLF album) deal with the madness of guns, and the sheer evil of the NRA.

Looking forward to getting out playing again. Solo is great so if anyone any help for US gigs...!! XSLF--keeping the music real... The way it was. The Belfast Band.

See Henry Cluney's official site

Also see our previous interview with Henry Cluney

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