Monday, September 13, 2010

Pulse's Grammy

The Grammy awarded to Steel Pulse in 1986 for Babylon The Bandit
I loved this story that came out recently. Steel Pulse, the best reggae band on the planet bar none, collected a music Grammy award for Best Reggae Album for their 1986 release Babylon The Bandit. To be honest they should've won it way before then, but that's another story. In a recent clear-out of the band's offices, Selwyn Brown, the group's longtime keyboards player, found his Grammy award tucked away out of sight and was dusted-down for this photo. It prompted me to dig out the section of the band's biography that I penned a few years ago that mentions their Grammy success.

Whilst on a seven month tour of the United States in 1985 the band were augmented by Tyrone Downie of The Wailers on keyboards. At their Hollywood Palace gig in Los Angeles they were joined on stage by Stevie Wonder for a fifteen-minute jam session. That year saw a strained relationship with Elektra after the record company refused to print lyrics on the sleeve of their sixth album release, Babylon The Bandit. The band insisted and paid for the extra themselves but the fall-out was terminal and their contract was torn up with bad feelings on both sides. In a perverse twist to the story, the album earned the band their first Grammy music award for Best Reggae Album, despite a mixed reception from the public at large and the music press. Pulse's frontman David Hinds remembers, " all honesty, when Babylon The Bandit won the Grammy, deep down inside I knew that the album before, Earth Crisis, should have been the album that won the Grammy...Babylon The Bandit is not one of our strongest albums...The album had flaws in its overall delivery. A track like School Boys Crush, if that's not bubble-gum, I don't know what is."

The album wasn't a favourite of the critics either. Donald McRae from New Musical Express commented, 'The Save Black Music, Not Kings James Version and Babylon The Bandit song titles suggest that Steel Pulse have retained their edge...But it contains the first hint of dullness....The real disappointment is that the admirable sentiments and the more militant assertions are blunted by musical mediocity...The robotic vocal used near the end of Save Black Music is an especially absurd embrace of the hi-tech trickery used to smooth out reggae and funk's purer sounds....The Love Walks Out single is mild enough to enjoy extensive Radio One airplay while the abysmal School Boy's Crush and Sugar Daddy hardly deserve a mention. But, in the deepest irony of all, the Babylon The Bandit conclusion is made meaningless by their reliance on DMX/Emulator/Fairlight gadgetry and by their apparent admiration for a very Babylonian rock guitar sound. Steel Pulse have lost their way...'

Bassist Alvin Ewen and Carlton Bryan (lead) again took up the guitar duties for the Babylon The Bandit album and on tour. Former drummer Grizzly Nisbett recalls, "Jimmy Haynes was in charge again. Every time we go into the studio we want a different flavour or an extension of the last flavour you'd heard and we worked well with Jimmy. Different producers give you different flavours, different moods, different minds. We experimented more with electronics, computers and things like that. For me, I prefer the feel of the earlier albums, that's where my head is. At the time our shows were geared towards the American market, so when we went into the studio we continued those live shows into the recording sessions. With the Grammy, it was nice to gain recognition for reggae music and reggae musicians. We were surprised and pleased." Godwin Logie mixed the album and Neville Garrick was again responsible for the album cover concept. To coincide with the album's release in February 1986, Pulse toured Britain and I saw them play at Oxford Polytechnic. Jimmy Haynes and Ronald Butler (lead) and Errol Reid (keyboards) joined the band that same year as they toured Europe (including Amsterdam in May when Aswad were their special guests) and the US including a first visit to Hawaii. The band were awarded their Grammy at the 29th Awards ceremony in February 1987, having fended off the attentions of Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, Linton Kwesi Johnson and the Itals.



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