Sunday, 20 December 2015

Steel Pulse at the BBC Maida Vale studios.

After a long day spent in London, we headed out to Maida Vale to The BBC Studios;

This is the radio home of BBC classical music, drama and of the studios where bands ranging from The Beatles to Nirvana have played.

One of the smaller studios was where John Peel recorded sessions with up and coming young bands for some 30 years - recording everybody you've ever heard of.


They have proper equipment and everything;

This was a big deal for me - we had tickets to see 'Steel Pulse' being interviewed and playing cut down acoustic versions of tracks from their debut album 'Handsworth Revolution' which is now 38 years old.

The programme comes out on Radio 4 on 4th and 5th January 2016 and on the 'Mastertapes' website where it can be downloaded.

In fact I was getting worked up in the queue because we'd been asked to submit questions and mine wasn't selected.

Worst of all, the producer even sent out a second e-mail giving a list of suggested 'questions' we should send in.

It doesn't bring out the best in me.

Then it started and the band played most of the album - including 'Ku Klux Klan', 'prodigal', 'soundcheck' and 'Handsworth Revolution'.

Actually the presenter did ask my question (as Robyn reminded me later) about the Rock against Racism carnival in 1978.

Back then while 'Punk' gave angry white youth a voice, 'Steel Pulse' represented a British and more militant version of Reggae. The two were always going to come together even if the music was a world apart.

This is Selwyn Brown on keyboards and vocals and on the right David Hinds on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. They are the two survivors of the original band;

They were in good form - describing their early days in Birmingham and the problems black youth had at that time from racism and the Police, how their music represented their political activism and Rastafarian faith.

They talked about their role in 'Rock against Racism' which included playing in front of 150,000 people at the Victoria Park carnival in 1978.....including me.

There was some great music and the band were very willing to play for us - including a rerun which most bands wouldn't have bothered with.

David Hinds talked about the pressures the band had been under from record companies - to go mainstream when political Reggae was replaced by 'dancehall' or 'lovers rock', at a time when white youth was also turning it's back on punk and going over to the 'New Romantics' in the same way.

That was the effect of 'Thatcherism'.

A quick look at their website shows that the band has never lost it's engagement with politics and none of their activism either.

But it must have been tough - there were lean years.

Here's Selwyn Brown talking to fans after the show;

It was a huge pleasure to revisit 1978, a really tempestuous year and a turning point - a time to fight back.

And just as much a pleasure to hear a band still in very good form - unfortunately the BBC's unique lighting system defeated both my camera and Robyn's phone to the extent that we couldn't do justice to the rest of the band.

A very special evening.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)

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