When the first wave of British punk bands broke in 1976 and 1977, many of them (such as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Adverts) sang of violence in the streets and the repressive policies of the British government and police force. However, Jake Burns and his bandmates in Stiff Little Fingers had a decidedly sharper perspective on such matters -- growing up in Northern Ireland, war in the streets and death by a policeman's bullet were daily facts of life rather than nightmare scenarios, and if Stiff Little Fingers' foursquare punk rock never quite matched the power of their obvious models the Clash, for sheer passion, fury, and belief, few bands before or since could touch them -- at his best, Jake Burns sounded as if he was singing for his life, and in a very real sense he was. The Complete John Peel Sessions pulls together 18 songs recorded at four different BBC sessions for John Peel's radio show between 1978 and 1980; in typical BBC style, the recordings are simple and straightforward, and do an admirable job of capturing the band's abundant live energy onto tape. The band sounds noticeably more polished on the later sessions with drummer Jim Reilly, but still full of fire, and most of the band's best tunes -- "Alternative Ulster," "Suspect Device," "Wasted Life," "Wait and See" -- are on deck and sounding great, along with two takes of their Ulster-centric cover of Bob Marley's "Johnny Was" and a solid run through the Specials' "Doesn't Make It Alright." Inflammable Materials and Nobody's Heroes remain the band's definitive documents and the best place to start, but fans will get a charge out of The Complete John Peel Sessions, and it's not a bad introduction to the urgent energy of the first great Irish punk band.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming