In 1978 Steel Pulse debuts with the impressive Handsworth Revolution

Steel Pulse May 1978 (

Steel Pulse May 1978 (fltr: Ronnie McQueen, Alphonso Martin, Basil Gabbidon, Steve Nisbett, David Hinds, Michael Riley, Selwyn Brown)


In 1978 the English reggae band Steel Pulse released their classic debut album Handsworth Revolution. A few years later I bought the album and haven’t stopped listening to it.

Steel Pulse

The Wailers‘ 1973 debut on Island Records inspired many. Like it did for Basil Gabbidon and David Hinds, Catch A Fire was a true eye-opener. In 1975 they formed the band Steel Pulse. Early 1976 they made their debut with the release of their single Kibudu – Mansatta – Abuku. That same year they won a talent show, getting them into contact with Dennis Bovell, a member of the English band Matumbi. They were allowed to record a song with Bovell, for which the band picked the newly written song Handsworth Revolution (for more on Dennis Bovell, see the article on Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Bass Culture).

Steel Pulse live 1976 (

Steel Pulse live 1976

Bovell owned a management company, named TJM, where the group signed on, resulting in the September 1977 single Nyah Luv, which the band recorded in London and was produced by Bovell.

The band’s faith in Rastafari limited them in their live gigs, so the band played in punk venues a lot. The (English) punks embraced reggae, particularly for the kindred revolutionary feel. Due to Steel Pulse’s engagement with Rock Against Racism they got into contact with Burning Spear. By performing as his support act they were noticed by Island Records, the label that released much of the day’s reggae, having enlisted acts like Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, Third World en Aswad.

After signing a record deal their first Island release was the anti-racism single Ku Klux Klan, which the band performed live wearing the typical white suits, the racist American organization was and still is known for.

The single was a success for all concerned, so Island invited Karl Pitterson, who had worked with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, to produce Steel Pulse’s debut album. A stroke of genius, it clicked. It made Steel Pulse an even better band than they already were.

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution

Handsworth Revolution

In the first half of July the debut album by Steel Pulse was released: Handsworth Revolution, an impressive collection of reggae songs, that propelled the English reggae to unparalleled levels. Steel Pulse and Pitterson had created a new standard.

The album was hailed by the press. The influential BBC radio DJ John Peel gave a lot of attention to the album in his July 14, 1978, playing several songs off the album. Steel Pulse was in the center of attention and it provided the album with great record sales.

Prior to the album’s release, the band was noticed by their big idol Bob Marley. They were asked to serve as the support act for the Bob Marley & The Wailers Kaya tour in Europe (Stafford, Paris, Ibiza, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Brussels).

Basil Gabbidon:

It was a dream. We’d just finished the album and we had to pay a few thousand to get on the tour. It was absolutely brilliant. I’ve always been a focused person so I didn’t take in the glamour aspect. When we played at Bingley Hall it was amazing. My other memories were the crowd roar in Paris, the lighters in the audience and that the weed was incredibly strong.

David Hinds:

We learned a lot of discipline on that tour that rubbed off – rehearsal, execution on stage, how to tour, stability. That’s when the doors really started to open for us. It has always been one of the most memorable moments of my career. To play as part of that package exposed Steel Pulse to audiences that literally were in awe of our message. Of course, being formally introduced through Bob Marley helped us tremendously. Playing for audiences, especially those in Paris who saw the force of Steel Pulse and the force of Bob Marley play on the same bill, enabled us to sell out shows every time since then.

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution - Ad (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution – Ad

Logo / Cover / Title

The famous Steel Pulse logo, that the band uses ever since the release of the Ku Klux Klan single, is registered to Martin Fuller. He designed a silver pendant for one of the band members. The band was so thrilled about the result, that they made metal badges and used it on their covers. Fuller: “I was very pleased with it at the time, and so were the band. I don’t recall any cash changing hands but I did get a credit on the album!”.

The basic idea for the drawing on the album stems from Basil Gabbidon, who had originally designed it a bit ‘artsier’. Via Island the image went to an organization that had designed covers for Burning Spear, Augusto Pablo and Barrington Levy and many punk bands. The drawing was completed by Andrew Aloof. It represents the fact that nature always wins in the end, also all things we consider to be modern.

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution - Mural (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution – Mural

To commemorate the 40th release day of the Handsworth Revolution album, a mural of the cover was revealed at the Handsworth Wellbeing Center in Birmingham on October 13, 2018.

The choice to use a gatefold cover was made by seeing the examples of Third World and prog rock albums by Pink Floyd, amongst others. The band saw it as a perfect chance to print their lyrics.

According to legend, the title Handsworth Revolution didn’t go down too well with Island boss Blackwell. It’s dedicated to the people of Handsworth, a slum in Birmingham, where the group members hailed from.

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution - Back cover drawing (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution – Back cover drawing


I bought the album late 1981/early 1982 and absolutely adored it. I can’t remember precisely, but I heard the album first at the homes of some reggae fans, who had already introduced me to artists and bands like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Aswad and Eek-A-Mouse.

I still listen to the album quite frequently. The album is astonishingly good, especially considering it’s a debut album. In fact, it’s the definite statement of still very young reggae band. The album’s message truly is revolutionary. Rebel against inequality, discrimination and injustice.

The message is sincere and profound, placed upon languid roots reggae rhythms. Even though the music hails from England, the album is a full blown reggae album with a far reaching influence, especially on the English reggae. In fact, reggae from England can be just as good and significant as the reggae from Jamaica.

Handsworth Revolution doesn’t contain one bad or lesser song, the album sounds fantastic and the band is tight. A true classic in its genre, so the album comes highly recommended!

Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution - The singles (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution – The singles


Three singles were culled from the album:

  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Prodigal Son
  • Prediction
Steel Pulse - Handsworth Revolution - Gatefold (

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution – Gatefold


All songs written by David Hinds, unless stated otherwise.

  • Handsworth Revolution
  • Bad Man
  • Soldiers
  • Sound Check
  • Prodigal Son (Steel Pulse)
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Prediction
  • Macka Splaff (Steel Pulse)

On March 23, 2015, the Deluxe Edition of the album was released. It contained no less than 22 extra recordings, including outtakes, dub versions and live recordings from the John Peel BBC radio shows.

Steel Pulse 1978 (

Steel Pulse 1978


  • David Hinds – vocals, guitar
  • Alphonso Martin – vocals, percussion
  • Michael Riley – vocals, percussion
  • Basil Gabbidon – vocals, guitar
  • Ronnie McQueen – bass, percussion
  • Selwyn Brown – keyboards, vocals, percussion
  • Steve Nisbett – drums
Steel Pulse - Sound System: The Island Anthology (

Steel Pulse – Sound System: The Island Anthology

After Handsworth Revolution

By the end of 1978 Michael Riley left the band under hostile circumstances. Riley accused the band of discrimination against him and his French girlfriend. David Hinds: “He was trying to cramp us by saying we were a prejudiced band and that we were inciting racial hatred”. Basil Gabbidon: “At the time, it ruined the band in Britain. It affected us terribly. People believed what they read, they believed the hype. I don’t think it’s been forgotten to this day.”. The result was that it quickly turned the English market to a no-go zone for Steel Pulse.

The following albums Tribute To The Martyrs (1979) and Caught You (1980) ware less successful. Despite a tour supporting Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse’s success was fading, especially in England. Punk, and with it reggae, was going out of fashion and the ska revival had seized the reggae momentum. Island ended the deal with the band.

Steel Pulse signed a deal with Elektra and released the highly successful True Democracy in 1982. Just moments before its release co-founder Gabbidon left the band. In 1984 the band released Earth Crisis, in 1985 followed by Babylon The Bandit, earning the band a Grammy.

Next, the band moved to MCA Records releasing State Of Emergency in 1988 and Victims in 1991. In 1992 the first Steel Pulse live album, Rastafari Centennial, was released. By that time the band only consisted of three core members. In 1994 Vex was released.

In 1996 the compilation Rastanthology was released, one year later followed by Rage & Fury, earning the band their second Grammy. In 1997 double album Sound System: The Island Anthology was released, collecting the band’s first 3 albums, complemented with rare material. A fine overview of early Steel Pulse.

In 2004 the band releasedAfrican Holocaust, a return to the militant stance of their early years. In 2019 their (for now) last album was released: Mass Manipulation. In 2023 Steel Pulse cooperated on a reggae version of David Bowie’s Five Years. To this day, the band still regularly plays live.

In closing

With Handsworth Revolution Steel Pulse immediately released their best album, a classic in the (English) reggae. What’s your opinion? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: In 1978 Steel Pulse debuts with the impressive Handsworth Revolution. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!