Sunday, December 4, 2011

Steel Pulse - Chapter 7

Steel Pulse in 1988. Back Row; Selwyn Brown and Steve Nisbett. Front Row; David Hinds and Phonso Martin.
It's that time of the week again for the next episode, Chapter 7 of my own Steel Pulse story. For a long while I had planned to author a biography of the world's best reggae band, Steel Pulse. It never happened but rather than let my notes gather dust, I am publishing each chapter on my blog, on a weekly basis, to give everyone an insight into this incredible music group. Here's the seventh of thirteen chapters.

STEEL PULSE - A Lifetime of Revolution

Chapter 7: State of Flux

Signed to MCA in 1987, their travelling included Europe and a trip to La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. In a rare break from touring, they recorded and released the blatantly commercial State of Emergency, to a mixed reaction, at the beginning of the following year, 1988. Tyrone Downie and Errol Reid (keyboards) and Derrick Johnson (lead guitar) guested on the album, alongwith Tim Atkins (drum programming) and Carl Atkins (synthesizer programming), whilst Adam Bomb, recording in a nearby studio, dropped by to add his lead guitar to the track Hijacking. Godwin Logie, an old friend from their Karl Pitterson collaboration, co-produced with the band, with Hinds explaining, "We've never been afraid to experiment and try things out. We've gone in new directions this time, to give the album a more worldwide feel. We used synthesizer for the bass this time - that hasn't been established in reggae yet. It gives another dimension to the music. Plus we've mixed and balanced the love songs with the controversial songs. We've tried to keep the music as modern as possible, with different sounds and chord progressions, more than the basic reggae musical structure. We're going for a sound that will appeal to new audiences, especially in America." Grizzly has this view on the album. "It didn't seem commercial to us at the time. Two brothers, jazz musicians from Brixton, Tim and Carl Atkins helped out in the studio. Some of the drums are programed, though we overdubbed it live. In those days you couldn't get me to like drum machines. I didn't like the sound, or the feel, but we're an experimental band and we're willing to try anything. The good thing about Tim is that we were both drummers, which meant we didn't overplay or play very stiff as non-drummers tend to do. It was a learning point for us. I'd never sat round anything like that before and then to see Tim work it, I said wow! After that I went out and bought a machine. In this business you have to keep up with it or you'll get left behind if you don't learn quick enough."

MCA's promotion of the album said, 'Reaching Out, the album's first single, is a calypso-flavoured tune dedicated to the Caribbean Islands. Other tracks cover considerable musical and lyrical ground. The title track, Dead End Circuit and Hijacking deal with global struggles while riding powerful rhythms. Steal A Kiss and Said You Was An Angel are festively romantic tunes. Melting Pot and PUSH pay tribute to activists the world over with an optimistic spirit.' However, David Hinds later admitted, "I was thinking video with Disco Drop Out...we were really thinking commercial and thinking where we could be more exposed as opposed to selling just a few hundred thousand units for each album." The accompanying video for the Reaching Out single, written and sung by Phonso Martin, was directed by Spike Lee, who also included their track, Can't Stand It in his film, 'Do The Right Thing' alongwith cuts from Public Enemy and Al Jarreau. In June 1988 they toured the US and Canada, in 21 shows, as support to INXS on their 'Kick World Tour' without Hinds at the helm after an immigration mix-up left Phonso Martin to share the lead vocals with Selwyn Brown just two days before the tour began. Grizzly thinks back, "Phonso, I don't think ever really wanted to be out front, he was content in the background. Phonso had an amazing voice, a wicked voice. To get him out front, you had a job. He and Selwyn had to do vocals when David wasn't allowed into the States. We were on tour with INXS and it was brilliant. It helped popularize us with the rock crowd. I think it did a lot for us."

Included in the tour line-up for the first-time were Sidney Mills on keyboards and Melvin 'Ciyo' Brown on lead guitar. London-born and raised in Jamaica, Sidney Mills is an adopted New Yorker who played with the Calabash and A-Team bands before joining Steel Pulse. As a producer and arranger, he's been the guiding light behind numerous bands and individual performers and runs his own Living Room studio in New York when not on tour with the band. Pulse, who'd completed their own State of Emergency tour of the States from June to September, supported Robert Palmer in Memphis in August 1988, Bob Dylan the following month and then a month later performed a benefit gig in Washington DC for the Jamaican victims of Hurricane Gilbert and toured Europe. They also contributed to a Pato Banton and Ranking Roger release called Pato & Roger Come Again and to Banton's album, Never Give In.

In 1989 they played the 12th Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay, Jamaica, were then part of their first US Reggae Sunsplash tour alongwith Freddie McGregor and Half Pint, where ex-Wailer Al Anderson guested with them on lead guitar at The Ritz in New York. Their live performance was captured on video in 1990 for Central Music in the UK and supplementing the band's usual line-up was the horn section of James Renford (sax), Al Francis (trumpet) and Steve Morrison (trombone). In August 1990 they played three dates as support to veteran guitarist Carlos Santana, a confirmed Bob Marley fan, before spending the latter part of 1990 recording their next studio album in their hometown of Birmingham at the Dub Factory. David Hinds also took time out to duet with Pato Banton on the title track of the toaster's Wize Up! No Compromise album that year.

Chapter 8: Victims of the System - will follow next week.

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