Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|May 9, 2022|6 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Rebel Reggae with a pulse of steel.

I write in praise this week of a bunch of hard-working entrepreneurs, with African roots, who grabbed prejudice and hatred by the throat and throttled the life out of them.

The group had little going for them in wet, dreary, streets of rejection, few jobs, and doors shut in their faces; they poured their anger and passion into producing some of the most powerful reggae music on the planet. Rolling, melodic, music with a rebel heart and smart social commentary.

I took their music with me all over Africa – whenever I played one of  their albums at a party– it rocked!

I am talking about the great British reggae band Steel Pulse who wield their music like an AK47.

It is exactly 35 years, this month, since I first saw them live (Yes, I haven’t always been this old. I too had long hair and radical flowing ideals ! ) in Birmingham the sprawling landlocked industrial metropolis we all grew up in.  As I write, the band is still on the road making money from their music with its  front-line message. I am listening to them a lot lately; dancing around the kitchen, much to the amusement of my teenage son, but I don’t care.

The band members were the children of immigrants, invited by the government to help rebuild and work the factories of a shattered post-war Britain.

Thousands came from Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados in the hope of a better life in what their parents used to call the “mother country.” It was a welcome that turned out to be, as my grandmother would have said, as cold as charity.

As the economy nosedived in the 1970s, the thousands of immigrants became scapegoats for Britain’s problems.

Racist gangs of neo-Nazis crawled along the streets of Hockley, Lozells and Handsworth – where Steel Pulse was born –looking for black people to beat up, houses to firebomb and women and children to terrify.

This is the dangerous world the members of Steel Pulse grew up in to sing songs of defiance. One of their biggest hits was Handsworth Revolution – based on the idea of their immigrant community standing united and fighting against injustice. Drugs Squad – an indictment against police picking on young men because of their colour. The Day the Soldiers Came – about violent colonial destruction of African culture.

When the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke flew from the US to Britain to encourage the country’s racists – Steel Pulse live up to their reputation as sharp social commentators with a priceless track called Ku Klux Klan. It is a biting song with a rare mix of humour, menace  and anger- it envisages meeting the Klan, in white bed sheets and hoods, walking through the grey streets of Birmingham.

Priceless. If you do nothing else today, Google it and listen to  work that was ahead of its time: it captures the world of Black Lives Matter nearly half a  century before the issue became a hashtag.

This song – along with most of the others – was the work of lead singer David Hines who has the soaring voice of an angel and the attitude of a guerrilla fighter.

Flashback to that Birmingham night in 1985 with Steel Pulse grinding out the reggae on stage. Hinds was in his pomp with his dreadlocks bound high into a column on top of his head .

The concert was a few days after the Live Aid concert at Wembley, in London, where some of the world’s biggest pop stars played for free to raise money for the hungry of the famine in Ethiopia.

Most people, including me,  were very reverential towards the of philanthropic efforts of pop stars in Sir Bob Geldof’s mercy mission for Africa.

That was until Hinds spoke from the stage on that night. He said Steel Pulse had also offered their services for free to help their African brethren.

“They told us the reggae bands of Britain  were not big enough!”

“Live Aid?” he said scornfully.

“Should have called it Jive Aid!”

There was a throaty howl of affirmation from the crowd.

Many people, including me , hadn’t given this a thought until Hinds and his words  of howl  of outrage from the stage that were spot on. Like I said, in this age of Black Lives Matter, a group decades ahead of their time.


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