Pils no match for Pulse

Steel Pulse at The Roundhouse - gig review

Eric Fuller in Sounds

29 April 1978

Steel Pulse upstaging Wreckless Eric at the Roundhouse.


Steel Pulse / Wreckless Eric / John Cooper Clarke / The Police

Thinking rock fan's favourite English reggae band play biggest gig so far, don't blow it, prove acceptable if ultimately unspectacular.

The Police aren't the perfect aid to digesting the finest cut of roast lamb, but you can't sit outside in the sunshine for ever. They look like punkers but play an intelligent powerrock with little shots of white reggae like they've spent hours at home with Clash City Rockers. They also sport a better than most appreciation of melody pacing, flashing a sense of humour on Be My Girl in praise of inflatable crumpet. The single, Roxanne, remains their best cut, but they bash out some thunderous HM on Peanuts and cover the big production option on Can't Stand Losing You. A versatile, together combo, you might say, who'll doubtless move up the bill and quite right too.

Poet John Cooper Clarke reminded me of hours sitting on the floor at student dances listening to skinny neurotics reading a dirty verse and failing to understand microphones. I'm not all that sold on CC's barking raps, but he made a lot of people laugh with myriad references to tossing off and at least he doesn't take himself seriously. He nearly got the best applause of the night too, so good for him and I must be a philistine.

I'd never seen Wreckless Eric before, and from the interview shots and the pic on his album sleeve I'd assumed him to be young and cheery, a lad who enjoyed his Bass and based his image on sloppy charm. How wrong I was. Sullen, feebly aggressive and of apparently indetermintae age, maybe he should try ten minutes on the wagon. Nothing is more tedious than hearing other people tell you how much they can drink, how pissed they were last night, etc, and dribbling Light Ale down your shirt doesn't come over as a gesture of rebellion as much as making a mountain out of a molehill. Everybody drinks, but most people can do other things too. Eric's set amazed in that he managed to play at all, and much credit has to go to his sax player who drowned everything else by blowing with extreme verve and determination. Three numbers in I took a leaf from the Wreckless tome and went to the bar, returning a shade too soon to catch Whole Wide World. Last year's drunk, I fear.

Birmingham's answer to Trenchtown rock have been gigging hard for a very long time, and must have been well pissed off to get a decent sized headlining gig only to have a volume limit set by some old buffer at the GLC. Anyone who has ever listened to a Sound System knows that the bass is what it's all about, and the low level of same detracted horribly from the essential oomph. The drumming was a trifle on the pedestrian side too, and plenty of top and not enough bottom put affairs entirely on the wrong foot.

Last time I saw Steel Pulse was at some RAR gig in the middle of nowhere, and they've polished up their act no end since. Sartorially splendid in extremely clean robes, vestments and the most unlikely arrowed prison tackle, they opened nervously but slotted into gear on No Respect For Jah and the title track from their imminent Handsworth Revolution album. The sound may have been trebley anyway, but Steel Pulse always play up to the vocals and the hand-held percussion and their (highly individual) sound is a good way removed from the definitive roots Jamaican product. Callie Man has always been a favourite, never better performed than here, but songs about reefers are guaranteed to go down well. As encore, Ku Klux Klan brought out the hoods and some dubwise dalliance, further encores demanded but denied by County Hall.

Enthusiasts for the heaviest roots they can find won't reckon Steel Pulse anything very special, but this gig counts as much as a statement of intent as anything. Any reggae act who can put their name in big letters on posters and take on rock audiences and win deserves unqualified congratulations.

Text copyright Sounds 1978, used without permission.

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