Steel Pulse at The Rainbow Theatre - gig review

John Orme in Melody Maker

30 September 1978

The name itself is evocative, suggesting music of tempered resilience with a hard, relentless rhythmic edge, and with that image firmly established, Steel Pulse's most prestigious concert so far, at the Rainbow last Tuesday, seemed ideal for a first live encounter with the band.

My sense of mild disappointment at the end of the evening probably had much to do with my own preoccupations - I had anticipated something of the rousing fervour of a Marley gig, and that is too much weight to carry for a band that is still young and learning; but Steel Pulse without lead singer Michael Riley, who was reportedly coping with tonsilitis, was a hard-working though hardly joyous affair.

Handsworth Revolution hit home hard early on, with Fonso's lead vocals making the melody over the band's solid if unadventurous harmonies, and Basil Gabbidon's guitar took me back to Al Anderson's work with Marley. The song is important both as a statement of the band's style and a declaration of their urban roots and views, and as such provided a peak in the evening that the rest of the music had to work hard to attain.

Steel Pulse's music is often described as 'laid-back,' a surprising term when compared with the ringing promise of the band's name, but an apt summary of their music at the Rainbow. The all-important rhythm department - drummer Steve Nesbitt and bass player Ronnie McQueen with David Hinds' rhythm guitar - have a sympathetic understanding of each other's role and approach, but the combination was a competent merger rather than a demanding unit that forced the beat to my feet.

Singer/guitarist Hinds did much to make up for the important loss of front-man Riley, but the lack of an experienced central focus to communicate directly with the audience made itself felt as the music of Steel Pulse blending uniformly from one song to another - new numbers like Steve Biko and George Jackson came and went without making any urgent demands upon my ears.

The encore, Ku Klux Klan, provided a welcome dose of body music, and the percussion introduction was a neat forerunner to the full weight of the band. Quite how many of the band's lyrics were of profound importance to the London audience I don't know, but choruses of 'Jah Jah watch over I' and 'I love Jah, I Praise Jah forget-me-not' attested to the very real reggae roots of this interesting band.

Text copyright Melody Maker 1978, used without permission.

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