Steel Pulse at Manchester Carnival - gig review

Paul Morley in NME

22 July 1978

Steve Diggle of Buzzcocks jams with David Hinds of Steel Pulse.

The anti-Nazi League in conjuction with Rock Against Racism, not without a little treading on each other's toes, sponsored by trade union groups, planned for three days of music in Moss Side's Alexandra Park...

[Saturday 15th July. Preceded by a rally, speakers and a march]. The marchers begin to arrive at the park at about 2.30: at the back of the stage area are hassles. Buzzcocks, who took two weeks deliberation before deciding to appear, don't want the responsibility of going on last - nor do they wish to go on first before all the marchers arrive. About 5,000 people are already there, occupying the best vantage points The marchers are clearly going to take an hour to arrive. Heated discussion. Exasperation. Richard Boon, Buzzcocks' appealing manager, is clearly dismayed at the mess. The organisation is a shambles, he moans...

The line-up of bands was well chosen: the multi-racial line-up of struggling Exodus, the practical concern with people and reasons of Buzzcocks (playing, let's face it, to draw a crowd), the stylistic diversification of the unknown China Street, and the pure rebellion of Steel Pulse. Rhythms and messages.

Exodus were obviously nervous; there were lots of gaps in their weak reggae. Minimal projection, no depth. They received medium response. Buzzcocks placed the emphasis on entertainment - a people's celebration. Arriving on stage with no fixed set, they played some pop music. They supplied a freedom - fun, without crassness or escapism. They were a triumph, finished with Boredom (oh, the ironies!), and a lot of people then went home.

Compere Ernie Dalton by this time had already pushed estimations of the crowd up towards 30,000. After Buzzcocks there was a certain loss of impetus.

China Street have played more Rock Against Racism gigs than anyone I can think of. A tight, hard-working group, they're patiently and conscientiously moving through all the right growth procedures., Purveyors of the revolutionary white reggae music, they can also switch easily into custom-built fast rock, gutsy and tender, positive and convincing.

The faces change at the front of the stage. Soon, the faces are all black. Steel Pulse take their place at the end of a long hard day. The crowd dwindles around the edges, attention sways. Dense rhythms and thick textures lumber across the park - syrupy salvation. The point of Pulse's visuals is lost, the music soars and scores. Subdued encore: Ku Klux Klan, joined by members of China Street, Exodus and Buzzcocks' Diggle - a muted flashback of the dialectic of black/white that everyone knows was/is the staple of rock and roll. "Black and white unite...Black and white unite...Black and white unite..."

It's all over. Nothing overpowering happened. Everything was respectable. Everyone grooved on fun, not fear. The stand was made. And because politicians will never understand the full significance of rock 'n' roll we needn't worry (yet). "This wasn't politics," said Pete Shelley, "it was fun. But the best kind of fun is with people, and being with people is politics."

Text copyright New Musical Express 1978, used without permission.

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