Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jake Burns and the Big Wheel: On Fortune Street

Between the end of Stiff Little Fingers' crucial era in 1982 and their resurgence in 1987 , SLF's leader Jake Burns tried his hand at being a heartfelt Irish version of Bruce Springsteen (akin to Welsh band the Alarm circa Strength).

Jake Burns and the Big Wheel - Race You to the Grave

Such a polished yet gutsy sound was a pretty respectable response to the mid-eighties when soullessness became a fashion statement. In fact the trio of singles plus a BBC session and two live tracks compiled on On Fortune Street continues the melodic and musical progress of the band, demonstrating pretty accurately how a fifth Stiff Little Fingers album would've sounded.As proof, here's the later incarnation of S.L.F. doing the Big Wheel's signature song, "She Grew Up".

Jake's never-ending commitment to the fundamentals of punk rock (loud guitars and louder words) brings to mind a recent Frank Turner interview where he posited that, like Catholicism, punk rock "...gets you when you’re young, you probably hate it at some point, but it never goes away. It still informs the way you see the world." May well be true...

{MRML Readers leave us a comment:
What's your take on Jake Burns solo work?
Do you agree that punk rock can warp your thinking forever?}

Download On Fortune Street CD

P.S. Punk Friction? Oh they've posted some Jake Burns too but different versions.


  1. gawd, I am thankful that punk rock had warped my mind forever. It has made me a better husband, father and human being than I woulda been without it.
    But, like alcoholism or any addiction, I think that some are genetically pre-disposed to it.
    Once again, thank gawd!

  2. By this point, my life without the influence of punk is hard to imagine. I think it improved lots of things in my life and probably made a bunch of things harder.

    Yeah the old genetic hard-wiring comes into play as does the fucked-up environments we all survived (that'd be Jr. High in my case).

  3. I struggled enormously with Jakes solo stuff due to the Breathless 12'' I brought from the bargain bin (and still dislike to this day) She Grew Up was much much better though. It would be hard to find any Punk vocalist who's solo stuff was as good or better than that of his band be it Burns,Strummer,Pursey,Shelley ect in my humble opinion. TV Smith came the closest for me overall for maintaining a very high standard of work after The Adverts.

  4. I think the very nature of punk rock negates the "solo" breakout. The entire aestetic is one of a non-ego "gang" (ie- group) united vs the world. There's been some quality stuff from solo projects (Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederickson's solo stuff without the rest of Rancid comes to mind), but without the band dynamic, most solo stuff cannot compare favorably to the group product.

  5. Thanks for this! SLF (78-82) is my favorite classic punk band (yes, even more so than The Clash, Ramones, Pistols,Dammed, et al). Always wondered just how good Burns was as a solo artist, although judging by some of the comments, I may be a bit disappointed. But certainly thankful for the share and looking forward to hearing this.

    Trying to think of an exception to the rule of a punk singer who's solo work was on par with their group output...maybe Johnny Thunders' early material, but that's all I can think of. But that argument could be made for nearly every genre of music...solid group > solo artist. Sure, many have had success going solo, but from an artistic level, the group dynamic typically breeds more creativity.

  6. I think Nazz is right. Both the "pre-disposed to it" and the negating the solo-breakout seem to hold true.

    My first really influential 7" was the Swinging Blue Jeans' "Hippy Hippy Shake", given to me in a box of kids records. It had the intensity I didn't know I'd been needing, but definitely was my launching pad for punk a few years later.

    SLF were one of the Big 3 for me, (Pistols and Clash being the other two...) and I remember a review describing SLF's songs as "social realism", and think that suited them, and Jake especially, as he had none of that "reluctant punk icon" thing that Joe seemed to struggle with. Jake stuck close to his "Nobody's Heroes" lyrics! I only heard Jake's "Breathless" single way back, (the one Longy has posted...) and was completely turned off by it. I got the 'Live & Loud!' and 'See You Up There', straight away, but couldn't get into 'Flags & Emblems' either.

    As to the solo stuff, Billy Idol maybe the exception but he was pretty far from his "punk" roots. Alienating a lot of Gen X fans which had itself, alienated Generation X fans... And the reverse is true for me with Billy Bragg, just diminishing returns after Worker's Playtime with the full band stuff, but live and solo, he still produces the goods.

  7. I ignored Burns' solo work till last week, so I came to it with different ears. Thankfully this comp frontloads the best songs because "Breathless", while passable, is a bit mushy for my tastes, even now.

    On the subject of solo artist surpassing the (like the Thunders example) I'd heartily agree with TV Smith,especailly since the Adverts 1st album is a hrd mark to beat.

    Billy Bragg (and his modern disciple Frank Turner) would be my examples but their bands (Riff Raff, Million Dead) did not make a huge impact in their time.I'd also make an argument for Art Bergmann (Young Canadians) and, of course I'm one of two people on earth who appreciates the solo album of both Dr. Frank (of the Mr. T Experience)and Ben Weasel (the new one at least).

    A great set of comments by the way, hopefully I covered everybody without turning this into it's own post (which I'm thinking it's gonna become).

  8. Bio
    (your comment showed after I hit 'publish').
    Hippy Hippy Shake" is great formative punk record (of course, I learned it from that Revillos album).
    Yeah SLF we're formative, their total sincerity resonated with me and I think a lot of the early eighties hardcore bands. (Speaking of which that video of the fat, drunken Jake singing with a very lively Naked Raygun depressed the living hell out of me.)
    I tried 'Flags and Emblems' at the time of release and it left me cold.I tried again and would now say it's a more Rock album and about half pretty good and half pretty bad.
    Silly Idol was commerically more successful solo but nothing in his catalog lays a finger on that first Gen X album.
    As I've constantly said 'round here, the less people (Natalie Merchant and Kirsty McColl possibly accepted) around Bragg the better.

  9. I never had much time for Jake's Big Wheel project, but Jake's voice, much like Strummer's, was always an absolute pleasure to hear. The two of them had voices capable of transcending even the most mundane material. Thanks for the post!

  10. I've been enjoying this record (it really helps that I'm old now) for Burns' voice, his lyrics and his guitar work (at the time this came out everyone had mixed their guitars down to a whimper so the synths could blare).

  11. Well, not knowing what the pre SLF sound was like, that may be what's the most problematic about this kind of discussion, but here's my 2 bits... I'm thinking Bragg and Strummer had a previous bands and 'sound', then added 'punk'. With the second, third waves, punk was the sound and you went from there. And by the time "On Fortune Street" came out, you are in that 10th anniversary territory of the punk bands looking back in nostalgia, re-forming, re-releasing and generally spoiling us with their back-catalogue. SLF seems to have come together at the right time and didn't suffer for it when they reformed.

    And is yr version of 'On Fortune Street' different from Longy's, Jeffen?

  12. Well since the pre-SLF band was named "Highway Star" (after the Deep Purple song) and Jake's stated love of Thin Lizzy we can get an idea that they were a capital-R rock band (or at least wannabes').

    Yup Long's eneds on track sixteen (might be a vinyl verion?)and this one has an extra track ("Real Girls" and an interview with Jake.

  13. One thing to keep in mind re: SLF was their involvement with journalist Gordon Ogilve, who steered Jake and co as a Svengali on the Punk route a la McClaren/Riviera did for the Pistols and Clash. Ogilve even gets major songwriting credits on many SLF tunes. How much lyrically Jake was "the potters clay" is somewhat up for debate.
    That being said... can't beat Inflammable Material / Nobody's Heroes and singles like Straw Dogs for Punk Awesomeness. Was lucky enuff to see em back in the day 'round 82 or so with Ali along with some later shows with Bruce Foxton. Jake could sure choose bass players!

  14. I'm real unclear on what Ogilvie did to get credit on almost EVERY song (check out those credits I'm not exaggerating). I know he was a Marxixt journalist who encouraged them to write about their own experiences and that he uses the word 'we' a lot in the liner notes to "All the Best". Anyone read "Song By Song" or anything else that can help us understand what the hell he did to merit all those co-writing credits?

  15. Haven't read "Song By Song", or heard any of the reissues with the interviews, so I'm completely in the dark, but Ali's bass really does stand out on 'The Radio One Sessions'. (Thanks, Jeffen!)

  16. This fills in some gaps in the SLF history for me. All in all not a bad album, a few uncomfortable moments, but that's what skip is for. Thanks for this post!

  17. Hi,
    Any chance of reposting this Big Wheel stuff.


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