Handsworth disillusion

Steel Pulse at Manchester (gig review)

Ian Wood in Sounds

14 October 1978

Steel Pulse on-stage in Manchester.

Steel Pulse / China Street

Two bands at the watershed. For Steel Pulse the question being whether they can evolve from a solid club and festival draw to find a niche on the concert circuit. For China Street the more basic question of survival full stop, and only a few days before this tour their visually irreplaceable pianist Chris Sugden broke his hand. Fortunately, 60 phone calls later, Fred Reedes, one time Steve Gibbons associate, volunteered for the difficult job of copping somebody else's licks on unknown material.

Despite all that it was an interesting set, Reedes coming over more strongly on their more R&B orientated material. The more hollow sound - symptomatic of an ongoing no soundcheck situation - gave China Street an abrasive quality they don't usually possess, the effect on their more 'political' numbers (SS, Section 25 and Monumental Frustration) being to accentuate the band's generally masked paranoia.

But Dissociate - already earmarked as their next single - was just right, and the band's fundamental honesty came through best on the Smile Jamaica: 'We love your music/Not so sure about the hype'. The only anthem China Street had was Rock Against Racism and as an idea that's just not common sense.

Which is more than one can say for Steel Pulse. Because this was without doubt a dud evening I wouldn't wish to comment at length. For starters, a lengthy wait between sets is OK in a club but not so hot in a half full hall in which the management have the insensitivity to show Pearl & Dean adverts on the safety curtain - including the notorious Tory 'Dole Queue' adverts. Had any rude boys been around there could have been a riot.

The sound just wasn't right either: the vocals and percussion effects the Pulse used to excess came over OK, but there was no way enough bottom for a reggae act. This exacerbates a fairly listless performance. The impact of their more specific lyrical statements came through regardless - George Jackson, National Front and Biko! and of course, Ku Klux Klan - but most of the remainder came over like a collection of limp cliches both lyrically and melodically and only part of this was due to the atmosphere. Critics have suggested the weakness of the Handsworth Revolution set is the sugary mix: the impression given by the same material here was that they were merely going through the motions. Certainly continual quotation of Jah and Babylon isn't going to strike the anticipated Pavlovian reaction in a seated white audience.

The Pulse either have the option of becoming the most influential black band in the UK or of advancing further as Marley substitutes in the instant panacea league. It's a guns-or-butter decision which on the strength of this particular gig is going to have to made fairly soon.

Text copyright Sounds 1978, used without permission.

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