Steel Pulse may have explored various styles of music since they started out in 1975, but when it comes to the message, this UK Grammy Award-winning reggae band has remained close to their roots. The group have continued their commitment to fighting injustice, educating the masses, and promoting positive messages through spiritually uplifting music.
“We just can’t ignore the politics, because every life and soul that’s born on this earth is a political manoeuvre for someone, at some stage”, explains David ‘Dread’ Hinds, the group’s creative leader. “From a spiritual aspect, it’s really an upliftment through facing reality – what’s out there. We deal with positive spirits. It means putting aside the guns, the drugs, and all of the things that are ailments of society – especially the black communities right now”.
Steel Pulse have always taken their causes to heart, even going so far as to file a $1 million class action lawsuit against New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission. The group charged that cabbies refused to pick up blacks and Rastafarians throughout the streets of New York.
Steel Pulse was formed in 1975 in Birmingham, England, specifically the inner city area of Handsworth. The founding members were schoolmates David Hinds (the primary songwriter as well as the lead singer and guitarist), Basil Gabbidon (guitar), and Ronnie ‘Stepper’ McQueen (bass). All of them came from working class West Indian immigrant families, and none had much musical experience. They took some time to improve their technical proficiency, often on Roots inspired material by the Wailers, Burning Spear, and several other prominent Jamaican artists. McQueen suggested the group name, after a racehorse, and they soon fleshed out the lineup with drummer Steve ‘Grizzly’ Nisbett, keyboardist/vocalist Selwyn ‘Bumbo’ Brown, percussionist/vocalist Alphonso ‘Fonso’ Martin, and vocalist Michael Riley.
Steel Pulse initially had difficulty finding live gigs, as club owners were reluctant to give them a platform for their “subversive” Rastafarian politics. Luckily, the punk movement was opening up new avenues for music all over Britain, and also finding a spiritual kinship with protest reggae. Thus, the group wound up as an opening act for punk and new wave bands like the Clash, the Stranglers, Generation X, the Police, and XTC, and built a broad-based audience in the process. In keeping with the spirit of the times, Steel Pulse developed a theatrical stage show that leavened their social commentary with satirical humor; many of the members dressed in costumes that mocked traditional British archetypes (Riley was a vicar, McQueen a bowler-wearing aristocrat, Martin a coach footman, etc.).
Steel Pulse is one of Britain’s greatest reggae bands, in terms of creative and commercial success. They are the only UK reggae group to win a Grammy (in 1985, Babylon The Bandit won the Best Reggae Album category), and their international success earned them further Grammy Nominations for their albums Victims, Rastafari Centennial, Rage & Fury, Living Legacy, and African Holocaust.
Invited guest appearances include Arsenio Hall, ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jay Leno, and ‘Late Night’ with Conan O’Brien. The Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, Branford Marsalis, C. Thomas Howell, and Robert Townsend have all had cameo appearances in Steel Pulse videos. The band have been joined live on stage by artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder to the Stranglers, and have performed live with Bob Marley & the Wailers, Sting, Inxs, Santana, Robert Palmer, Herbie Hancock, and Bob Dylan, amongst others. A collaboration with Spike Lee on the “Do The Right Thing” movie soundtrack in 1989 resulted in Hind’s composition “Can’t Stand It” featuring in the movie.
In 1993, at the request of the Clinton Administration, Steel Pulse became the first reggae band ever to perform during the inaugural festivities at The White House