Steel Pulse

Robin Banks in ZigZag No.76

September 1977

David Hinds of Steel PulseI first saw Steel Pulse the night Elvis Presley died. I was soaking wet from the pouring rain, couldn't afford a drink and my equilibrium was at an all time low. The Vortex seemed like hell on earth, and all I really wanted to do was go home and collapse into bed. But Steel Pulse came on and I stayed. And I would have stayed all week if they had kept on playing. From the first number onwards, all my melancholy was just blown away, and I could feel only elation. I can't think of many bands that could do that for me, especially on the first time of seeing them, but God, I came out of the club just buzzing.

So when I discovered that Steel Pulse were supporting XTC at the Nashville, I couldn't wait to get down there. And all my feelings about them were completely justified. Watching Steel Pulse is like shooting up speed. Instant, exultant, and ultimately physically exhausting. The band comprises seven black guys from Birmingham, and before we go any further, here's the line-up: Basil Gabbidon (lead guitar): David Hinds (rhythm guitar): Steve Nesbitt (drums): Michael Riley (percussions, harmonica and vocals): Selwyn D Brown (organ): Phonso Martin (vocals and tambourine).

The mainstay of many bands is the drummer, and this especially applies to Steel Pulse. Steve Nesbitt lays down such solid, weighty rhythms that it is impossible to imagine the band without him. This guy is so powerful he can only be described as the Jerry Nolan of reggae. When you see him you'll know what I mean. And round him are six other guys, each and every one of them taking an integral part, no one being superfluous even for a moment. With a line-up of seven that's no mean feat.

Steel Pulse manage to maintain a standard of musicianship that is enviable, whilst not only enjoying themselves on stage, but actually appearing to enjoy themselves, something which is fairly unusual. And what is even more important is the fact that they manage to communicate their own enjoyment to the audience with ease. What was the last gig you went to where the atmosphere was one of uncontrived enjoyment, and the faces around you were actually smiling? (Even if it ain't cool, I like to enjoy myself now and again).

The music is reggae with a subtlety and a power I have rarely experienced before, and all the songs are original material written joint effort style by the band. The numbers have titles like, Prodigal Son, Bad Man, Nayah Love, Bu'n Them (Burn Them) and Prediction. But the ace up their collective sleeve is an unforgettable number entitled Ku Klux Klan. David Hinds wrote the words to this, and they are just incredible. "Do unto others as they do to you/In this case hate thy neighbour." These lyrics are sung to a tune that you simply can't get out of your brain, and for me this song is the highlight of the set. "Those cowards only kill who they fear/That's why they hide behind the hoods and cloaks they wear." You have got to hear this song to have any idea how powerful it is. The lyrics on their own can't possibly convey the anger, frustration and exasperation that the words and music combined communicate so effortlessly. Another number that deserves to be singled out is Soundcheck. The only words on this one are "Rock little children rock," and this is all but chanted over a compelling almost hypnotic riff.

But this Monday night at the Nashville there seems to be something missing. No fault lies with the band, the exact same thing had happened to The Slits the night before at the Other Cinema. They had played a mind-boggling set whilst half the audience simply sat there, completely unaffected by what was going on. Ari Up had managed to give Steel Pulse's Nashville gig a plug, and she turned up herself with Tessa and Palmolive (sister Espe too) to give support. But somehow, although the set this night was as vibrant and spellbinding as the Vortex one, Steel Pulse weren't completely happy, and despite loud cheering, clapping and stamping from most of the crowd, they didn't return for an encore. Perhaps they felt the Nashville lacked the intimacy of the Vortex or Clouds (the Brixton venue they played with The Slits) and in a way I have to agree with them.

Anycase, Steel Pulse will be back in London real soon, and they'll be gigging with Generation X during September, so just bear that in mind, because those two bands together mean entertainment on a large scale. Steel Pulse also want to play the Roundhouse, and that would perhaps be the perfect venue, for them. So far, they have only done four London dates, and my biggest regret in life is missing two of them.

Text copyright ZigZag 1977, used without permission.

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