Bebop de locks

Steel Pulse & Bob Marley in Rotterdam - gig review

Eric Fuller in Sounds

15 July 1978

Wherein we step forward Rotterdam Hilton style, in the latest and ultimately successful bid to check this Euro-touring bill in its entirety. After a night of rocking to sounds and blues and the modest journey Dutchwards, I-man as good as falls asleep at the soundcheck, but not before observing the Ahoy, our chosen venue, as a sports stadium of suitably anonymous fashion, a cycle track curling round the stage and stalls. The much vaunted freedom of the herbs in this land is then investigated back a stage, and tout suite the respectful and subdued Hollandaise are waiving lighters in the air and voicing up loudly in anticipation of Steel Pulse, the same Birmingham rockers whose career we have followed since early London appearances a year or so back.

I don't know about Steel Pulse. The stage costumes, the prisoner, the priest and the liveried footman all in line, Selwyn Brown decked out guerilla style behind his keyboards and Basil Gabbidon resplendent in African robes on lead guitar, all seem to me self conscious and vaguely uncomfortable. True they look individual, but Steel Pulse have no dread about themselves (as performers, at least) and the music leaves me consequently unimpressed - and that's how I felt the first time I saw them. As professional entertainers they perform admirably, with good sound and no little musical invention. They opened with their latest Island Records single Prodigal Son, a fair tune but far more suited to live life as an album track, followed by Soldiers and Bad Man, presumably culled from the long (too long now, in terms of maintaining excitement) awaited Handsworth Revolution album debut. Sound Check preceded Ku Klux Klan, by far and away their best tune and a minor classic on 12", Macka Splaff (also on the Electric Circus Virgin set) and Blackout closing the set to warm applause.

I should not be so crass as to say that all good reggae musicians have to produce wild dub and have locks down to their waists in order to succeed, but fresh attention to the rhythmic base of drum and bass and less interference with same to highlight the vocal trickery would much improve my enjoyment of this band. More to the point, they should fight the Karl Pitterson blandola style their record company at least approve if not encourage and slap Babylon in the teeth in rhythmic as well as vocal fashion.

If anyone personifies the musical dignity and immediacy I don't feel from the vast majority of Steel Pulse music, it is the Wailers rhythm section, the illustrious Barratt Brothers. The excellence of their personal performances demands strict superlatives, especially when confronted in relative comfort in a gang of placid Dutchmen smoking spliffs. The music played during the interval consisted of scratched sub standard soft metal nonsense, but the appearance of Bob Marley to the considerable delight of tthe crowd initiated what the trade discreetly refer to as a 'good gig'. Circumstances such as the romance of foreign lands may well have contributed to my personal enjoyment in way of comparison with Stafford, but the pleasing choice of songs and vibrancy of enthusiasm from the stage are no mere invention.

My admiration of the keyboard playing of Tyrone Downie has never been greater, decisive and well 60s in spirit, though in direct inverse proportion to my horror of Junior Marvin, most kindly referred to as a 'showman'. Of course he can play a mean lick, but my soul shrinks in disgust at guitarists (especially reggae ones) falling to their knees stagefront raising their eyes in bliss at their own genius, albeit to much applause. I just don't need it. Otherwise, Al Anderson contributed some solos in the vein characterised by others on Catch A Fire, much preferable in delivery and content.

Under flags depicting Garvey and Selassie-I, Rastaman Vibration offered positive beginnings, followed by Heathen, Them Belly Full, a welcome Concrete Jungle, Rebel Music, and War. Kinky Reggae came before Crisis, Running Away came after it, then they did Crazy Baldhead, I Shot the Sherrif, No Woman No Cry, and two encores incorporating Is This Love, Jamming, Easy Skanking and Get Up, Stand Up. Catching me through dubious nostalgia, a bad mood and desperation to hear some half way solid music as they did, I revelled in it.

Text copyright Sounds 1978, used without permission.

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