Still Dread Inna Handsworth

Chris May in Black Music & Jazz Review

July 1979 - Vol 2 Issue 4

David Hinds speaking to Chris May.

Ex-Brummie, Chris May takes a northbound sleeper - but manages to wake up in time to talk to Pulse on their (mutual) home patch.

Now I certainly don't want to come on like some bleeding bleeding-heart white liberal, so please don't throw up all over the page when you read the words ALL BLACK BRITONS ARE MARTYRS. Still with us? Good. Cos check it and you'll find that (in the vast majority of cases) it's a natural fact. As the writer-philosopher Walter Rodney put it..."once a person is said to be black by the white world then usually that is the most important thing about him. Fat or thin, intelligent or stupid, criminal or sportman - these things pale into insignificance."

The reason you're reading this blinding little sociological primer - as doubtless you've already guessed - is that Steel Pulse's new album is titled Tribute To The Martyrs. Musically, the album contains few surprises - but lyrically, in terms of the domestic and internationalist subject matter it focusses on, Martyrs is very strong and welcome new meat indeed. Provocative, genuinely militant, more than fulfilling the promise of the band's Ku Klux Klan track of 1978.

So it was with this perspective in mind that I alighted from British Rail's typically spotless rolling stock at Birmingham New Street...passed the Enoch Hi-Fi Showrooms on Constitution Hill (really, Scout's honour)...and arrived at Pulse's newly-acquired three-storey office/rehearsal/storage centre...where, awaiting the arrival of the group, I couldn't help notice manager Pete King's intense interest in J. Paul Getty's modest autobiography The Richest American. However, I only had to wait and hour or two for Pulse themselves to start drifting in, so there wasn't really sufficient time to extrapolate this three-way culture summit further (much less catch the return train to London). There was nothing to do but interview... (Most of the quotes that follow come from guitarist David Hinds, incidentally. And also appropriately. Cos not only is David acutely articulate, he's Pulse's chief lyricist as well).

BM: First off, could you talk about some specific lyric lines on the album? On Jah Pickney there's one that runs 'it's your throat we're after'. Who's 'your' and who's 'we'? SP: 'We' are we the people who're fighting against racism, 'they' is the National Front - and not only the Front but people who are into racism and facism and against human rights generally. The song's subtitle is 'Rock Against Racism' you see.

BM: Is the 'throat' bit meant literally or metaphorically? Or both? SP: It's meant as an expression of strength - but at the same time it can be literally meant as well. Because there's a lost of there was a time in Wolverhampton when some white youths came round in a car and were firing pellet guns at blacks. Pellets hit them in the face and everything. And the only way to stop them was to actually stop the car and smash the windscreen. Cos the whole incident was reported to the police but it seemed they couldn't make head or tail of any of it. Saying that it was too late, the people had got away and all that. Fact is, they weren't really interested. So the community had to deal with the problem, and they were dealt with. When it comes to the Front it's either hit or be hit. So, yes, you can take that line in a literal sense - not that we want it, but it's like when you have both cheeks slapped there's nothing else to offer but a fist.

BM: Some people are saying that the best way to deal with the Front and their ilk is to actually go out and hit them first. What's your view about that? SP: Don't agree. No way. It has to be strictly defensive.

BM: Why? That's what most of the Jews thought in Germany in the 1930s, and look what happened to them. SP: Because of the fact that when you're the one who strikes first it's you that gets called the troublemakers, you who gets the blame. Even if it's justice that's striking first you still end up with the blame. It's hard. Specially when blacks usually get so little support from the police.

BM: Right. Like on another track, Uncle George, you have a line that goes 'you can't trust the fuzz'. You're dealing with George Jackson there, but presumably that's your view of the police here too? SP: Yeah, like often if a black person goes to the police station to complain about being attacked or something, the first thing they get asked is 'where's your passport?' Like you're the criminal. Always. An incident like that happened to a friend of ours. He was in a car, going home, when a policeman jumps out in front and halts him. Next thing he's taken to the station and asked a whole heap of questions - and he'd showed the man his licence when they stopped him originally. And then it gets more sinister. He's being questioned by a PC and then a CID walks in and starts saying things like 'have you ever considered working for the police?' He didn't actually come right out and say what he meant, but what he was going on about was becoming an informer for them. That happens a lot. If they see you in a half decent car they'll stop you and ask what is the registration number, your source of income and all that. It's like people in Handsworth aren't supposed to have money. So if they see you in a car they automatically think it must have been stolen. They don't like to see you in a car, and they never will! It's like you're on the wrong side of the fence.

[Unfortunately, the rest of the article is missing.]

Pulse Rate

Tribute To The Martyrs (album review)

* * * *

David Hinds

Musically, Pulse's second album contains few surprises, being very much in the same global reggae bag as Handsworth Revolution, though technically much improved. Lyrically, however, there's plenty of strong new meat here - as a glance down the track listing indicates. The majority of the tracks were written by guitarist David Hinds, and his righteously angry stand against racism has matured considerably. Far be it for me to stick my honky horn in, but...but it has to be said that David's stance has still a way to go, stuck as it presently is in an essentially black-nationalist bag. That said, I've no doubt that David's lyric philosophy will reach full blossom at some point in the near future. Meanwhile there remains much to enjoy here. For a full background on the socio-political framework within which David is currently writing see the Pulse interview above.

Text copyright NME 1979, used without permission.

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