100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #70 Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution

Released : 1978

Much has been made of the early close relationship between punk and reggae – both outsider musics with a fierce counter-cultural philosophy – but for Steel Pulse the link was more practical. Forming in 1975 after being inspired by Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire, as Rastafarians the quintet found it difficult to get gigs in their home city of Birmingham, however due (In part) to the openness of punk savvy venues like Manchester’s Electric Circus they were able to gradually build an audience.

An unintended side effect was the partial alienation of the black youth to whom they were directly speaking, despite the fact that their message was far more radical than anything punk had to say. Part of the manifesto was visual; on stage each band member dressed theatrically and in a clear message of defiance to their racist detractors they would sometimes perform the song KKK whilst dressed in lynching hoods.

Handsworth Revolution was the title track of their debut album, recorded with ex-Wailers engineer Karl Pitterson and released – as a token of reggae’s emergence into the quasi-mainstream – on the Island label. “Babylon is falling” cried singer David Hinds on it, urging people to reject the political status quo. “Revolution means a whole upset in the system,” he told Sounds by way of further explanation “turning it upside down, shaking up what you want. That’s what I mean by revolution.” You didn’t have to be a punk to understand that.

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