Steel Pulse at Middlesborough - gig review

Phil Sutcliffe in NME

17 June 1978

Teeside is owned by ICI. Close enough for poilitics anyway. The areas lives and breathes Imperial Chemicals (choke, cough). It's the most profitable company in Great Britain I believe, the company which has stared down the beady eye of the 21st century by planning steadily increasing production alongside a four per cent reduction in the workforce every year into the forseeable future. That's right. They are predicting and preparing the time when 'success' in industrial terms will not relate to people at any point. Electronic processes will make and consume, dump the waste and calculate the profits (for no-one).

Such observations in a rock review normally presage a piece about Kraftwerk or the Akron/Cleveland bands. But this was the setting for Steel Pulse and some of that sunshine-drenched ganja-dream reggae music. It struck me that in theory it was impossible for the band and the audience in the Town Hall 'Crypt' to make contact - except maybe on the level of a Bounty-bar holiday in the sun. And yet they are welcomed in the North with the sort of fervour reserved for The Clash or Tom Robinson, stand-up-and-be-counted champions. I can only think that it must be because they have grown up in Handsworth and so have naturally digested the elements of two races' lifestyles.

They began with Prodigal Son. Voices raised in honied melancholy for Africa, then hardening around the resolution for all: 'Your only possession is your culture.' They dedicated one to Smith and Vorster, Soldiers: everything was iry before the soldiers came, 'Give I back I witch doctor, give I back I black ruler.' In Handsworth Revolution they asked 'Does not justice stand for all?' and gave their own answer chanting 'Rev a, rev a, rev a lution' (vroom! stamp on the throttle, don't wait around).

The liquid swaying bodies seem eternal but the songs are for change. It's understood and very appealing.

Steel Pulse produced their expected lovely harmonies, 'live dub' vibrations on percussion, and flowed and flowed around each other like sound dancers. More, they showed they are developing. New moves since I last saw them (February) were coming from the guitars of David Hines and Basil Gaddigom: simple designs and harmonies that echoed out and broke up to the point of dischord, almost reggae cosmic for a few moments; by contrast in Bun Dem jazz chording slick and smooth, reminiscent of Barney Kessel, then in Prediction a flash of Segovian classical style. Their rhythms are becoming more varied and dramatic.

Many pleasures. It was a pity though that their set ended unsatisfactorily. Through the last few songs a nasty hum from the PA preyed on their rapport and humour until they gave in and left the stage. The Crypt's pleas for an encore went unanswered and it seemed that either the band or their crew had lost their sense of proportion in setting a technical imperfection above their relationship with the audience who would have valued even an acoustic singalong or some smiles and handshaking. In a sense they let the machines win after all. But no doubt a lesson will be learnt. In all other respects Steel Pulse put out the beauty and power which suggest they may become a great band.

Text copyright New Musical Express 1978, used without permission.

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