Interview with Steel Pulse

Peter Simon in Reggae International


David Hinds

Steel Pulse from Handsworth, Birmingham, was the first of the British reggae bands to make any impact outside of England. When Steel Pulse first put on white sheets and sang of the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan, the whole reggae world pricked up its ears and heard. These days, Steel Pulse ranks with Third World as one of the slickest, most professional touring reggae bands around. Peter Simon caught up with lead Pulse David Hinds one afternoon in New York...

Q: Where are you from? David Hinds: I was born and raised in England, Birmingham.

Q: Is that true of all the memberso f the group? David Hinds: Fonso and Selwyn were born in England as well. Basil and Ronnie were born in Jamaica. Steve was born in Nevis.

Q: What is the story of Steel Pulse? David Hinds: Well the history starts with Basil, who's been playing acoustic guitar probably a few years before. The last year at school, I was about 17 at the time, me and Basil. The rest of the guys, them left school to colleges and work like Ronnie. And Selwyn, went to the same school as those. It was a secondary school. During that stay there, Basil did suggest that we form a group, and I took an interest and learned to play the guitar. I never had any idea that I'd end up as a musician. I thought I was gonna be something like a fireman or a draftsman or even something like a fine artist, 'cause that's what I went on to, a fine arts college. And at the time, me and Basil did go onto a college and were learning to play the guitar, and Ronnie decided to come in on it and was taught on the bass, and Selwyn pick up on keyboards, and we decide to rehearse like once a week on Sundays 'cause it was the only spare time that all of us had.

Steel Pulse on a photo-shoot with The Police.Q: How long ago was this? David Hinds: This was about 1974. We were all learning to play at those times, and we had our first gig as a band, decide to go on stage in a pub in Handsworth area called Crompton. Fonso and Steve weren't with the band as yet. It was Basil's brother and another member of the band. Our first concert was every Friday night at the Crompton, and we was only getting something like equivalent to $40 after playing several hours, but we didn't mind doing that. We had to take the equipment in a small mini-van; I don't think you got any car in America small as the van what we used to carry the equipment in. We used to have to make about 45 trips from our houses with the equipment. We couldn't afford to miss one night because we needed that money to get more equipment and get a better sound. That's how dedicated we was, y'know. Two night club owners were coming down to the pub and watching us. It was like their way of having an audition. And they took us up and decide to make us play in their clubs in the Handsworth area. We were doing cover versions that pertained to what we're still dealing with today.

Q: For example? David Hinds: Like Burning Spear, Do You Remember Ol' Marcus Garvey, Slavery Days, a lot of Marley's music as well, like Jah Live. A lot of people didn't want to know about Rastaman music and things. So we were banned from clubs. They just didn't want to have us at their clubs anymore. We had to be sticking around, waiting for like a month for concerts and things. And then the punk scene come in. And the punks, as you know it, were picking up reggae music, what the system was rejecting. The top punk bands had a tendency to have reggae bands supporting them, and we went down to sort of a monkey-looking club called the Vortex and so we had our first recognised London gig and the audience was all white, 'cause no blacks didn't really come to punk concerts. The punks used to spit, that was their way of showing that they appreciate your music. Throwing beer mugs and beer bottles around the place. That's their way of saying that they're in the groove of your music.

Q: Were you in England during the 1981 riots in Brixton and elsewhere, or were you touring? David Hinds: I was on tour, that's my witness. One expects those kind of things. When I check back its kind of ironic to know that it was a year ago, the same month of April that a riot took place in Bristol over a lot of police harassment once again. The blacks and other groups of people, probably white sympathizers, probably couldn't take no more of that and decided to revolt. The same thing happen in Brixton and to tell you the truth, its possible that it can happen in other places in England as long as those kind of law and things are still manipulative.

Q: In your music, there's a lot of racial commentary and political oppression being discussed, and yet your audiences are mostly white people. I'm wondering how you feel the white people respond; are they basically compassionate and understanding? Do you get any particular response from white people? David Hinds: It varies throughout the country, throughout the United States, it varies. There's a lot of white people on the east side, they'll come to concerts, they'll know what's happening in the songs, they're familiar with the words we're saying and as a result, they want to take part in what we're getting involved in too. Probably on the west side or even down south, the whites, they find out that they like what they come to see because we're not only dealing with...a lot of people have a tendency to come to a Steel Pulse concert out of mere curiosity. A lot of people probably bear in mind what we're saying, but they're not really that responsive to what we're saying. They probably get more involved in the actual musical side of it. But that is OK, because I'm not a politician and really, I want everybody to bear in mind that Steel Pulse are musicians, just speaking the truth.

Q: I compare your music to Third World in Jamaica. Do you see what I mean by that at all? there's a certain, I wouldn't say commercial, but real slick and tight and professional quality to your music, similar to theirs. David Hinds: We know that we're going to come across a lot of people who are gonna want to see if reggae musicians can really play what they do on the records. A lot of people used to have a tendency of saying that it's half studio work, they can't really perform certain things on stage. What Steel Pulse is here to say is that our music is hard.

Text copyright Reggae International 1983, used without permission.

David Hinds on stage - from the book Reggae International.

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