Steel Pulse at Triangle Theatre, Birmingham

Mark Kamba in Black Beat International

September 1985

David Hinds on stage in Birmingham, Sept 1985.A Steel Pulse affair in England is such a rare occurence that an avid supporter like myself wouldn't think twice about making a 200 mile motorway roundtrip to be a part of the festivity. It was early '84 the last time they graced these shores with a live performance and they've since been up to many things including building up their reputation in the States and taking a prominent role in the 'Land of Africa' famine appeal record released in Jamaica this year. Meanwhile, the most we can get is their back catalogue, which may be enriching...but not half as satisfying as the thrill of them live in the flesh.

It's harder than hard, almost impossible to watch or listen to Pulse without drawing the inevitable comparisons with their London counterparts Aswad. It's not completely fair, but to me the idea is irresistable. Why? Because there are so many intriguing similarities and differences. The two groups sprang up during roughly the same era of the music's development and they are the two title contenders for the reggae crown in England groupwise (but I dare you to say one is better than the other!); and in concert the Steel Pulse sound is on the whole more dependant on subtlety and harmony than Aswad's brainstorming double-barrel approach!

"Greetings to the Birmingham Posse!" was the official salute from the stage as the group arrived looking trim and relaxed to play this Ethiopian benefit in their home town. Flamboyant David Hinds, looking loud in a broadly striped waistcoat and pants was the immediate visual attraction as usual - that towerblock dreadlock stack is shooting up so high now that it could be a segment from a Manhattan skyline! Half of me ws expecting to hear some shots from the forthcoming album but instead, we got the bulk of the LP, Earth Crisis and assorted blasts from the past ... which isn't to say that the selection they served up wasn't anything less than devastating. The resonant title track, with flighty vocoder effects, was a fitting lyric for the time (check out the famine for evidence), while Rollerskates, apparently hot in America, ended in a climactic slow motion sequence which was stunningly effective to see and hear. And Raid I Blues from the Wiseman Doctrine album, driven on by some dynamic percussion by Fonzo Martin had everybody getting down.

But music took a brief backseat when things were interrupted by a verbal machine gun blast by Hinds, on the subject of Live Aid which he preferred to call 'Jive Aid'. "More black acts should have been there," said Hinds. "Geldof said there were no reggae bands of a high enough calibre to make it onto the bill...What about Steel Pulse, Aswad, Third World?" He recited a lyric called Save Black Music which will feature on the new album, Babylon The Bandit and followed with the opening bars of what else but Handsworth burning!

There was more too...Ku Klux Klan brought back memories of the days when Pulse were heavy on theatricals; Soldiers - a militant one drop; Throne of Gold - a charming love song...on drums Steve Nesbitt, a figure of phlegmatic concentration, is such a cool contrast to someone like Drummie (there I go again!) - he holds the rhythm skintight but makes the drums do the talking and the sticks do all the the end there was a tremendous ovation for Birmingham's best reggae combination. Steel Pulse - you are big!

Text copyright Black Beat International 1985, used without permission.

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