Hardening Up Handsworth

Handsworth Revolution - album review

Chris May in Black Music & Jazz Review

Vol 1 # 5 August 1978

Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution: Handsworth Revolution / Sound Check / Soldiers / Prediction / Prodigal Son / Macka Splaff / Ku Klux Klan / Badman. *****

In strictly musical terms I suppose this album merits something between four and four and a half stars - but as an example of the still developing British reggae it is unarguably five-star essential listening. For Pulse's ever hardening-up style is an important lyrical and instrumental milestone in the music, and a hugely idiosyncratic and enjoyable sub-stream within it. The track listing given above is not the actual running order as it will be on the actual release - that is still being determined - so let us take the songs in the order they run on the cassette copy that Island Records, sparing no expense, have rushed over by cab in order for BM&JR to preview the album.

The title track is undoubtedly the highspot of the set. Over a high-stepping, rock-reggae rhythm the band waste no time launching directly into the Birmingham environment out of which they've grown (a lyric penchant which is one of their greatest strengths) - "people of Handsworth I say, let's join hands my brethern, make the way for our children, and their children, make sure that they get life's fair share of equality; doesn't justice stand for all? We find society cowding us crowding us...." In cold print these words may not sound like incitement to revolt but put across here as they are with a tangible street experience of that crowding and hassling, they are something else again. Sound Check by contrast is a lyrically undemanding celebration of Jah and reggae music, dominated by Pulse's unmistakeable multi-cultural instrumental approach. Soldiers, long one of many listener's favourites in the group's live set, contains more fine, articulate lyrics - "it used to be irie, before the soldiers came, it used to be so nice: but our country they did enter and sent us everywhere; we'd got our spears, we'd got our shields, but their guns were better; prepare for a slaughter GIVE I BACK A WITCHDOCTOR!...."

Lyrically, Prediction is the weakest track, dealing rather unconvincingly with the equally unconvincing all-seeing wisdom of Haile Selassie, but it's saved by joyful 'heretical' flamencoesque acoustic guitar lines and riverbed solid rhythm foundation from bass, drums and keyboards. Prodigal Son I don't like; a rather glib Wailers soundalike - for which 'quality' it was presumably chosen for single release. But things get mellow again with Macka Splaff, a characteristic chunk of rolling Pulse rock-reggae in much the same rhythmic vein as Sound Check and with lyrics few of us will have trouble relating to whatever our faith -"Mr Collie Collie Collie man, want some herb to smoke tonight...."Of Ku Klux Klan nothing need surely be said other than to repeat that it remains a shining example of Pulse's lyric concern for the UK, and specifically Birmingham, environment which continues to shape and influence their music. The menacing Badman vies with the title track as the mosty fully successful cut, bringing together all that is best in Pulse's music - lyric concern for the British environment and polyglot, outward looking musical eclecticism, the many influences bonded together by the band's well-hard and praiseworthy groundbreaking stylistic roots 'blasphemy'.

I have only two real gripes about this album - there are barely any examples of the group's rivetting instrudub workouts and none whatsoever of their immaculate accapella vocal breaks, two major ingredients in their style and ones that have played a significant role in their onstage live breakthrough. But it would be churlish to make too much of these weaknesses - this is after all Pulse's first album and as such, and regardless of such, puts the work of many studio hardened JA and UK outfits in the shade. Don't miss it. Tomorrow's sound being evolved today.

Reviews : Singles

Steel Pulse: Prodigal Son/Prodigal Dub. The lyrics maybe strong but this a disappointing choice for Pulse's album-pull single. UInless you're thinking commercially that is. Then it's a very good choice indeed, with Karl Pitterson doing his utmost to make the Brummies sound like Bob and The Wailers.

Reviews : Showtime

Bob Marley & The Wailers, Steel Pulse. The Ahoy, Rotterdam, Holland, Friday July 7, 1978 by Chris May. "Bring on the South Moluccans!" I felt like screaming at the beginning of this gig - and throughout the entirety of Pulse's warm-up set. For there was no mistaking we were in hilarious Holland. The audience remained seated - in typically stoned, dynamic Dutch clog clone fashion - throughout one of the strongest Pulse gigs I've witnessed. The band meanwhile pounded through Prodigal Son, Soldiers, Badman, Sound Check, Ku Klux Klan, Macka Splaff and Black Out (which, being translated, means "I feel awright in I-self"). The audience yawned, sniffed, rubbed their track marks, clapped sporadically in a one-hand Zen fashion reminiscent of Citizen Kane and waited impatiently - always assuming Dutch audiences are capable of such emotion - for Bob to come on and flash him locks. And no sooner than had The Man been introduced, before he'd even come on and flashed said locks, the entire house was standing on their seats and beaming like rabid dogs. And, begorrah, Bob and the group deserved every spit of it. Never before has Wailers music connected with me so powerfully, Bob and his brethren rammed out the most rootsy, raw set I've ever heard them play - and I've heard them play more times than I can remember. In the main they stuck to old material - Concrete Jungle, Rastaman Vibration, Crazy Baldhead, I Shot The Sheriff, No Woman No Cry and Get Up Stand Up - and then closed with equally ballsy renditions of Heathen, Exodus, Running Away and Easy Skanking, all delivered with a blacker black power session that made them well-nigh unrecognisable from the laid-back recorded versions. By the second number even this plump ageing scribe had thrown away his notebook and was dancing magnificently on his seat (plaats 38, RIJ21) much to the amusement of RIJ22, and much to the annoyance of RIK21 (the seats were all riveted together dike-style, so that when plaats 38 bounced so did the remainder of RIJ). In short there was no need for the South Moluccans, tulips, windmills or any other catalyst. 'Cos one good thing about music - when it hits you, you need no Panadol.

Text copyright Black Music & Jazz Review 1978, used without permission.

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