Command Performance

Steel Pulse at the Top Rank, Brighton - gig review

Chris Brazier in Melody Maker

2 June 1979

David Hinds - from Melody Maker.

Somewhere on the way to Brighton, amid the rolling, English-as-Elgar, cow-speckled beauty of the Surrey and Sussex countryside, we passed a sign announcing the existence of 'Babylon Lane.' An interesting sight in the circumstances, considering that this area's character, like that of the rest of the South-East, has just been confirmed in a blue deeper even that its physical green. Which prompts the question - where does the colour black fit into this scheme beyond a Steel Pulse concert on a Brighton Tuesday?

It's a lamentable fact of the democratic system that considerable pressue must be brought to bear upon rulers before any attempt at redress of injustice is made, and it is the more essential that black voices are prominent within that pressure of protest in order that the full accommodation of ethnic minorities is facilitated by a generally increased recognition of what they have to offer our society.

In the face of these facts, the snobbery which beleaguers current reggae is pathetic - last week's survey of the British reggae scene on Radio One's Rock On programme which (while thankfully stressing the importance of Linton Kwesi Johnson) refused to mention Steel Pulse, who after all are not just infinitely the most successful British reggae artists but also the only home-grown group with a hit to their name, is merely the latest example of this unacceptable face of elitism.

Whether you like Steel Pulse or not, their undoubted accessibility is in many ways invaluable. And I quite like them. At this, the opening concert of their new tour, they played with a command and an enthusiasm that at times even threatened to overcome my perennial lack of accord with the basic reggae beat (I'm still working on it). All eight songs from the imminent Martyrs album were featured, which is understandable, but the pacing was hammy - six out of the last seven numbers, including the three-part encore, were unfamiliar, and I was bored until Ku Klux Klan averted their own-goal defeat.

It's too early to judge the new songs, but I'll say just that Sound System, the single, is terrible, though Unseen Guest sounded to be almost as immediate an opener to both album and gig as was Handsworth Revolution (confirmed as their best song in this context) before. Unseen Guest, asks 'Jah' to 'watch over I' and might invoke the same criticism as did Prediction on the last record, that conventional Rasta dissipates the potential effect of a black English protest music.

Indeed, rightly or wrongly, Steel Pulse's concerns now are international rather than local, their new theme being black martyrs from George Jackson and Steve Biko (a song each) to Paul Bogle and Haile Selassie (though how the Emperor qualifies as a martyr, let alone a god, escapes me). It's all very worthwhile, but I can't help wondering about the wisdom of ignoring a very real current danger - the Tories and their potentially vicious additions to an already racist immigration poilicy, not to mention their ominous enthusiasm for strengthening police powers (you sus?).

When I spoke to Steel Pulse last summer, they, and David Hinds in particular, scorned conventional politics and stubbornly maintained that the black and brown position would be no worse under the Tories than under Labour. I really hope they're right, but the atmosphere is already changing, and I'm very afraid that the sign I saw foreshadows the coming years far more accurately than the deceptive beauty of its surroundings. After all, as you say David, 'Babylon Makes The Rules'.

Singles - Steel Pulse : Sound System

Ian Birch in Melody Maker

2 June 1979

Karl Pitterson's stylish production can't hide the emptiness of the material. Lightweight tedium, unfortunately.

Text copyright Melody Maker 1979, used without permission.

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