The Police & Steel Pulse at the Roundhouse...
It seemed strangely appropriate that a British reggae band should headline at, and virtually sell out, a major rock venue the week before this Sunday's massive Carnival Against the Nazis.
And with this Roundhouse triumph and a single on the verge of the chart, Steel Pulse are the living proof that British reggae finally seems to have arrived in a big way.
The audience was unexpectedly Hard Core punk - many of whom seemed to be there as much for the pose as the actual music (never mind the riddims, luv, just watch yer don't smudge me Black-Star Eyeliner).
Steel Pulse, like many if the home grown roots reggae bands, still suffer from an identity crisis. As someone once said to me at a Black Slate gig ''They sing a Bob Marley song like Bob Marley and a Ken Boothe song like Ken Boothe''.
Still, despite sound problems on stage and a set which seems to be cut prematurely short, there are signs that the forthcoming ''Handsworth Revolution'' album is going to get a lot of more people moving towards the Pulsebeat.
Visually they are imposing - vocalists Fonso Martin and Michael Riley decked out in preacherman togs and David Hinds in stencilled HM Prisoner gear.
And if the band are laid back, even for reggae - and thus not as easy to dance to as others - their great strength is the percussive power they wield. Meaty drummer Steve Nesbitt is at the core of some of the most subtle rhythmic twists and turns I've heard in a long while.
Noticeable by its absence was their excellent one-off single for Anchor, 'Nyah Love', but the encore was the inevitable 'Ku Klux Klan', the white hoods donned by the singers as they returned to the stage remaining as frighteningly powerful a visual ace as the first time I saw the band last year.
The Police opened the evening's proceedings and somehow I don't think A&M have gambled as inspiredly with this aging bunch, who last year backed Cherry Vanilla, as they did with Squeeze.
Classic bandwagoners, their leather jackets and peroxide hobs are just a thin veneer disguising well-played, cliché-ridden Heavy Metal rock.
It's one thing being solid, boys, another altogether being dense.
I've often wondered when, if ever, John Cooper Clarke was going to go down as well with a London crowd as he does in his native Manchester. Even at last month's Buzzcocks Lyceum bash, our one and only Beat Poet, had to fight a stream of abuse and a glass shattered horrifyingly inches in front of him. But at the Roundhouse, he went down the proverbial storm.
Twitching and stamping nervously behind those impenetrable black shades, Johnny recite a testimony that proved poetry isn't only something you stock the shelves with in libraries (or something in the sole possession of Patti Smith, either).
'The Monster From Outer Space', 'Bronzed Adonis' and others are greeted like the hits they deserve to be. ''He makes love like a footballer - he dribbles before he shoots'', was one line that stood out from a newer piece.
Over twenty minutes, he provided an entertaining interlude, although it's not the stuff of which headliners are made.
(c) New Musical Express by Adrian Thrills
Pils no match for Pulse...
Thinking rock fan's favourite English reggae band biggest gig so far, don't blow it, prove acceptable if ultimately unspectacular.
The Police aren't the perfect aid to digesting the finest cut of roast lamb, but you can't sit outside in the sunshine for ever. They look like punkers but play an intelligent power rock with little shots of white reggae like they've spent hours at home with 'Clash City Rockers'. They also sport a better than most appreciation of melody pacing, flashing a sense of humour on 'Be My Girl' in praise of inflatable crumpet. The single, 'Roxanne', remains their best cut, but they bash out some thunderous HM on 'Peanuts' and cover the big production on 'Can't Stand Losing You'. A versatile, together combo, you might say, who'll doubtless move up the bill and quite right too.
Poet John Cooper Clarke reminded me of hours sitting on the floor at student 'dances' listening to skinny neurotics reading dirty verse and failing to understand microphones. I'm not all that sold on CC's barking raps, but he made a lot of people laugh with myriad references to tossing odd and at least he doesn't take himself seriously. He nearly got the best applause of the night too, so good for him and I must be a philistine.
I'd never seen Wreckless Eric before, and from the interview shots and the pic on his album sleeve I'd assumed him to be young and cheery, a lad who enjoyed his Bass and based his image on sloppy charm. How wrong I was. Sullen, feebly aggressive and of apparently indeterminate age, maybe he should try ten minutes on the wagon. Nothing is more tedious than hearing other people tell you how much they can drink, how pissed they were last night etc, and dribbling Light Ale down you shirt doesn't come over a s gesture of rebellion as much as making a mountain out of a molehill. Everybody drinks, but most people can do other things too. Eric's 'set' amazed in that he managed to play at all, and much credit has to go to his sax player who drowned everything else by blowing with extreme verve and determination. Three numbers in I took a leaf from the Wreckless tome and went to the bar, returning a shade too soon to catch 'Whole Wide World'. Last year's drunk, I fear.
Birmingham's answer to Trenchtown rock have been gigging hard for a very long time, and must have been well pissed off to get all the way to a decent sized headline gig only to have the volume limit set by some old buffer at the GLC. Anyone who has ever listened to a Sound System knows that the bass is what it's all about, and the low level of same detracted horribly from the essential oomph. The drumming was a trifle on the pedestrian side too, and plenty of top and not enough bottom put affairs on the wrong foot.
Last time I saw Steel Pulse was at some RAR gig in the middle of nowhere, and they've polished up their act no end since. Sartorially splendid in extremely clean robes, vestments and the most unlikely arrowed prison tackle, they opened nervously bit slotted into gear on 'No Respect For Jah' and the title track from their imminent 'Handsworth Revolution' album. The sound may have been trebly anyway, but Steel Pulse always play up to the vocals and the hand-held percussion and their (highly individual) sound is a good way removed from the definitive roots Jamaican product. 'Callie Man' has always been a favourite, never better performed than here, but songs about reefers are guaranteed to go down well. As encore, 'Ku Klux Klan' brought out the hoods and some dubwise dalliance, further encores demanded but denied by County Hall.
Enthusiasts for the heaviest roots they can find won't reckon Steel Pulse anything very special, but this gig counts as much as a statement of intent as anything. Any reggae act who can put their name in big letters on posters and take on rock audiences and win deserves unqualified congratulation.
(c) Sounds by Eric Fuller