The Revolution? here it is!

Handsworth Revolution album review

Jon Futrell in Black Echoes

22 July 1978

Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse : Handsworth Revolution (Island ILPS 9502).

The story goes that this debut album from the pride of Handsworth has been lying around the Island offices awaiting release for well over a month. Meanwhile Steel Pulse have completed another exhausting British tour. That tour should have been the one to promote this album, and albeit in a strange fashion, it did do just that. Anyone who has caught the act on stage can understand the time taken to record Handsworth Revolution. Steel Pulse are the perfectionists of English Reggae. They have played and written much since the band's inception back in 1972. From the pub circuit to supporting last year's Punk onslaught and then a tour with Burning Spear, has formed Steel Pulse into a remarkably accomplished outdfit. They have stamped out a trademark of harmonies and an incredibly cool rhythm section.

At the same time as developing a style and mastering their instruments they have written an impressive repertoire. And they have been resolute in their collective stand. Writing credits go to the band and on stage each member has a spotlight. Seldom is a debut record released where virtually every number is known backwards by the punters. The inclusion of singles Ku Klux Klan and Prodigal Son make the workload lighter to some extent, but there are six more cuts, all remarkably familiar. Handsworth Revolution, Prediction, Sound Check and the remarkable Macka Splaff all help to give the impression of a lost brother, who returns to the fold.

The problem with putting out a debut album after extensive touring and introducing the set to the public prior to release is two fold. Firstly the band cannot go back on the road and play Handsworth Revolution (besides being rumoured to be pissed off performing it, the public will require something new) and secondly, it is in a live format that the numbers are best known. It is the second point that gnaws at Steel Pulse's album. Rarely can a band inject the sponteneity and excitement of a live performance into a studio. Talent to the wall, studios are by their very nature sterile environments.

So have Steel Pulse achieved the almost impossible? Well yes and no. They have produced a record of extreme quality and one that will I guess not be surpassed this year. However in the light of their career and the wait, a live set would have been better. The Cimarons managed a live debut and what a good one that was. The title track sets the affair rolling. And as if anyone doesn't know, Handsworth is the desolate part of Birmingham where all but one of the band comes from. The track establishes their potential stance with grim reality:

I say the people of Handsworth, know that...One hand was the other so they say....Striving forward with ambition....And if it takes ammunition....We rebel in Handsworth Revolution.

David Hinds' clawing voice lends the desperation, while Michael and Fonso (the vicar and and page boy) whisper the answers. Always solid in the back is the heavy drummer man Steve Nesbitt. Bad Man, Soldiers and Sound Check follow, the latter appearing earlier this year on the live Hope and Anchor set. With two very fine singles, Prediction and Macka Splaff, side two is the most uplifting side. All devastating songs, that perfectly display the harmonic and rhythmic feel of the band. Particularly strong is the closer Macka Splaff, the ganja man's anthem.

Handsworth Revolution is one of the Reggae albums of the year. Possibly the English Reggae album. It's just that when a record has been so long in the pipeline and the live performances continually eclipsing the one before, we get highty for more.

Text copyright Black Echoes 1978, used without permission.

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