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There's life in the old punks yet

WHEN JAKE Burns kicked off "Tin Soldiers" with his trademark yelp on Tuesday night, he gave notice that SLF still have plenty of life in their digits. The band didn't even break sweat as they pounded non-stop through "Just fade away" and Jimmy Cliff's "You can get it if you really want", pausing for barely a moment before charging into "Bits of kids", the first "whoah-oh-oh" song of the evening.

After the bell-ringing jangle of "Fly the Flag", cries of "Ulster" began to rise up from the 700-strong Cambridge horde, but Jake wasn't going to be rushed into anything. "I don't need to tell you I come from Belfast" he said. "So here's the first optimistic song I've everwritten about it." The loping dub-style "Last Train from the Wasteland" offered a sense of hope in the darkness, and along with the emphatic new rocker "Hope St" showed the way forward for Stiff Little Fingers.

Bruce Foxton provided his distinctive Jam bass sound and shared the vocal chores, while Steve Grantley (drums) and Ian McCallum (guitar) completed the outfit. Another frantic head-nodder "Barbed Wire Love" (their only love song according to Burns) paved the way for more "whoah-oh-ohing". The hard-core mob greatly appreciated "Wasted life", "Roots Radics", and "Nobody's Hero", but persisted with their yells of "Ulster" as each tune crashed to its breakneck ending. Then at last they stood in awe while Jake played the hallowed, plaintive opening notes of "Alternative Ulster". Rarely does a song express such melancholy and such hope both at the same time, but that is the achievement of this 1978 punk throwaway.

Three minutes later it was all over, and SLF left the stage looking a little drained. Quickly encouraged back, they tore off again with a version of Bob Marley's "Johnny Was", Jake Burns' voice now thoroughly in gear for the frenzied plea of the chorus. Nothing was spared for "Long Way to Paradise" and "Straw Dogs" before the faithful disciples bid them a fond farewell. Anyone who got home and discovered that all their SLF singles had been nicked will be glad to know they can get them again on a new double album called And best of all... Hope St.

This is a band that still seem to enjoy what they do best, namely performing live. Move mountains to catch them at Glasgow. Otherwise, put your record player on repeat, and play "Alternative Ulster" again and again and again.