STEEL PULSE - ARTICLES
Richard Edwards in Jamming!
Despite their frequent absence from this country - and the public eye - Steel Pulse are still around to prove that punk wasn't the only good thing to emerge from 1977. Originally formed in Handsworth, Birmingham, back in 1972, the only remaining member from that time is David Hinds, the singer, lead guitarist, song writer and spokesman from the band. Steel Pulse had to wait until signing to Island in 1977 before achieving their first real success (despite two previous singles), which coincided with the punk explosion that was to open many doors for reggae music. Ku Klux Klan, from their debut LP Handsworth Revolution was a chart hit; along with lively concerts, they won a crossover audience that is still apparent today. The punk/reggae link was further increased by their obvious support of Rock Against Racism, climaxing with their appearance at the Victoria Park Carnival alongwith X-Ray Spex, The Clash and Tom Robinson.
Since then, things seem to have gone downhill with Tribute To The Martyrs (1979) and Caught You (1980) lacking the spark and originality of Steel Pulse's earlier work. They left Island to start their own label Wise Man Doctrine, releasing their fourth LP, True Democracy, which was to show a slight musical change of direction. The last twelve months have seen them touring Europe, Japan and the Caribbean, including the Sunsplash Festival for the third year running, as well as a change in the line-up, a hostile reception at the Reading Festival, and a new LP. They have recently completed a UK tour to promote this album, Earth Crisis, which continues the musical direction evident on True Democracy. I spoke to David Hinds the morning after their triumphant sell-out gig at London's Venue.
What sort of response did you get when you played in Japan? "The response was incredible! We went there thinking we were breaking into new ground, but they were already into the music. I keep in touch with the reviews we've got when we play abroad. In Japan they've already got their own reggae bands after only hearing the music for about two years, and it even sounded like reggae music. I know there's a lot of pop and rock bands over here who have been trying to do that for years and still don't sound right. Over there I think they have picked up on that reggae vibe." You've played the Jamaican Sunsplash Festival for the last 3 years and you must be very popular over there. But watching it on TV, I felt it lacked something; the atmosphere seemed very muted... "It was like that in certain ways, the people were very reserved at that particular Sunsplash; a lot of them were only there to see Yellowman. there were a lot of tired people who had waited a long time due to delays in getting the bands on. The TV presentation could have been better as well."
Do you think that playing abroad so much will make it harder for you to establish yourselves again in this country? "Yeah, I find that a very tricky situation. Touring the UK I find I have to adjust to the songs, because I find that a lot of people want to hear the old stuff. We're coming here with two LP's on our own label and they still want to hear songs off Handsworth Revolution. We want to go onto the new songs." Is it a case of 'Out of sight out of mind'? "No, because at the Venue I heard there were more people locked outside than there were inside. I was very tired, but it helped me to put more into the show knowing that so many people wanted to see the band." At the Venue you played more songs off your first LP than off your new one! Does this reflect the popularity of your early records as opposed to the new ones? "I think they appreciate the new songs, but when people go to concerts they like to hear exactly what they've heard on the record. Something familiar...they are still into that sort of rule. I myself am a musician and like to hear something different, but deep down inside I like to hear something familiar, something I can groove to. That's the way people are. Its our fault really because we've never been around to promote our last two LP's, but this time I hope they will get familiar with the songs."
In your early days you were at the forefront pf the Punk-Reggae ties, which I felt was important. Do you regret losing that link, particularly with the demise of RAR? "No, not really because we had a certain stance in life and RAR came and faded and we were still there, and I feel that we will forever be there. Take the cover of the new album for instance - there are certain images on there which have resulted in a lot of people asking us to do shows for refugees in various countries, and things. I think we are still on that particular vibe, and people will see that; I don't think we've lost anything. There are certain tracks on the LP which might get people asking us to do shows for Nuclear Disarmarment, but that's the position we are in. The Punk/reggae link was important at the time because reggae had a certain exposure to the public, to people who would have liked it if they had heard it on the radio. Punk showed that there were certain people who had rebel influence who were prepared to promote reggae music and the two went hand in hand for a certain period."
What were your feelings about your disgraceful reception at Reading last year? "I was disgusted with the way the crowd reacted, even though it was only a handful. Afterwards people came up and said that the majority wanted to see us play. I don't think it's worth going out there to do a show even if there's only one person who's going to act like that. I don't want the guys getting hurt for a reason like that, it just ends there. Like the Venue, there were rumours that people were coming to bust up the show. I'm not talking about black or white - Steel Pulse aren't the type of band to attract that kind of warfare you know?" Do you have resevations about playing before rock audiences again in the future? "In England, yea. I wouldn't think twice about playing before a rock audience anywhere else in the world, because Steel Pulse has been to many festivals in Europe and the States and we have never been treated like that. I feel it's the stage where the British rock scene has reached, y'know? They are so self-centred around their own type of music that they haven't got time or understanding for anything else."
Do you think that Aswad's recent success will help you and British Reggae to gain wider popularity? "It can't do anything but help. When we go to other countries we go there with a British reggae attitude. When they see us, and like the band, they will want to see other British reggae bands; we are pushing Misty, Aswad and other reggae bands in our own area. It could enlighten reggae in this country as well." (I'm not sure that I said Steel Pulse were bigger than Aswad...!RE). There seems to be a much more soulful influence on your new LP; the horn playing reminded me of Earth Wind and Fire, would you agree? "It's funny you should say that, because they have to that sound, I don't mind people comparing, it's almost accidental. When you're making music nowadays you are always hearing something that will relate to what you're doing. Earth Wind and Fire have a tendency to use a lot of horns, but they roll off the bottom, its not such a sharp sound. You'll find that reggae goes through certain phases, sometimes a certain bass sound and various mixes tend to weigh the sound down...different instruments play different roles, its just the phase it goes through." Were the horn players used on the recent tour? "On tour we are just using the six of us. The sax player just came along when we were making the new LP, he played this brand new saxaphone for about 45 minutes. We chose the best track and he left without hearing it. Six months later I told him we were bringing the LP out and he still hadn't heard the song he had played on, so I said 'Come on stage tonight.' He couldn't even remember what key it was in, so I just introduced him as the person who played on the LP."
The last time I spoke to Seel Pulse, I said that I felt Rasta was a rather negative faith obsessed with the past, with little concern for the future. Stevie and Phonso assured me I was wrong yet on the new LP you attack such things as contraception, test tube babies, abortion and new technology which in many cases play a necessary part in today's society. "I'm a believer that, to know where you're going, you've got to know where you're coming from. For example, the people now suffering because of the nuclear tests thirty years ago; contraceptive pills and fertility drugs were said to be beneficial to man, to control the population or help those who can't have children. What are the results? Thalidomide and breast cancer!" Do you believe that test tube babies and contraception have no part to play in todays's society? "What I'm saying is that everything that man has created on that level has always backfired, if not now then in twenty years time. That's how I see the future. We were told contraceptive pills would help us, now its a risk, like cigarettes! Like certain things they put in the food to preserve it, things that you eat that can limit your life span. Its as if they have got control of your life by what you eat and use to live. Its for you to see these things because of what has happened in the past." So you see it as breaking the laws of nature? "Yea, I do see it as that, for example the recent mixing of a goat and a sheep. Soon man will start cloning himself with animals that have the right genes and chromosones. That is how man begins to think and this is what we are talking about when we write songs."
Don't you think that the use of modern digital recording on Earth Crisis is part of the new technology that you seem to be attacking? "Its not a contradiction, its like saying that I'm a Rasta and I'm playing the bongo drum, the first ever form of communication. Now this isn't Africa and I'm playing an electric guitar. I'm in a commercial business and I have to sell a lot of records to reach a lot of people. In a business like this, where people are constantly moving onto new instruments, the fight to become successful is a lot harder. I believe in adapting to that kind of thing, in ten years you'll be lucky to find a studio that isn't using digital recording. I mean there's nothing wrong with the telephone...it's when man starts to interfere with the existence of man, the laws of nature."
At the Venue you were mocking gays, do you think they break the laws of nature? "The bible tells us that things like that can't really go on, like Sodom and Gomorrah - that type of thing destroyed the land. We don't want that type of thing happening. I believe its a crime to be homosexual. In some countries you won't find the expression 'gays'. Certain races of people adapt to certain things; people say its in the hormones but look how many rock stars turn homosexual." Is it worth oppressing people like that when there's so much more important things in the world to worry about? "Well to me they go hand in hand. It must have been important for God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for that reason. It might look unimportant but it stems from a system of people who do that type of thing, like the Romans - a lot of their philosophy has spilled over into western society."
And on that controversial point our conversation came to an end. I've been a long-term fan of Steel Pulse and had high hopes they would achieve the success that all their hard work deserves. Now I feel sad to see them echoing the sentiments of both Thatcher and the Moral Majority, they seem to be putting up barriers when they could so easily be breaking them down. Maybe time will tell...
If a man lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; They shall surely be put to death: Their blood shall be upon them - Levicticus. Chapter 20. Verse 13
Text copyright Jamming! 1984, used without permission.
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