In 1978, when Stiff Little Fingers released their debut single Suspect Device, they were audibly pissed off. Pissed off was the default setting for most UK punk bands at that time, but Stiff Little Fingers’ mood was better justified than most of their contemporaries since they were formed in Belfast at the height of the Troubles. Suspect Device confronts the violence, politics and impact of the conflict on those, like the band, who grew up with it. It’s a blistering, breath-taking, cathartic performance with frontman Jake Burns barking out his scathing, defiant lyrics like a furious dog to a backdrop of thrashing, buzz saw guitars.
Suspect Device rails against the politicians and paramilitaries violently pushing their own agendas while the people of Northern Ireland suffer the consequences:
Their solutions are our problems
They put up the wall
On each side, time and prime us
Make sure we get fuck all
Burns takes on the role of spokesman for a generation who grew up impacted by the bombings, shootings, barricades and peace lines. The anger and defiance builds throughout the song until, by the end Burns has become the suspect device himself:
I’m a suspect device the Army can’t defuse
You’re a suspect device they know they can’t refuse
We’re gonna blow up in their face!
Suspect Device was self-released on tape by the band, packaged as a cassette bomb – a move which got it mistaken for a real bomb by one record company, who had to request a second copy having panicked and thrown the first in a bucket of water.
Legendary BBC DJ John Peel received a copy and played it repeatedly on his show, leading to a deal with Rough Trade. Much of the material on their first album, Inflammable Material also deals with living life under the shadow of the Troubles, but it’s the furious onslaught of Suspect Device that does it best.