Words by Steve Zacharanda. Follow him @stevezacharanda
For a brief interlude Handsworth felt like the centre of the world, as the sun shone down on over 20,000 people at the Simmer Down Festival ‘14. Young, old, black, white and everyone in between stood in the sun listening to Reggae legends Steel Pulse perform in Handsworth for the first time in 30 years.
The sound of ‘Drug Squad’ floated across the Handsworth Park field as people drank and smoked to their hearts content, without Babylon in sight. Steel Pulse bounced around the stage like jumping beans in the sun; it was all set up for the epic finish when Birmingham’s global Reggae stars would play ‘Handsworth Revolution’ in Handsworth. A seminal moment in UK Reggae history, no less.
And then it ended.
The plug was pulled.
The music stopped and the grumbling started.
And the thousands of revelers, to their credit, melted peacefully out of the park – the returning heroes having never played ‘Prodigal Son’ or ‘Handsworth Revolution’. We did not get to see their full set. Probably because Steel Pulse were over an hour late on stage, and Simmer Down Festival has a strict curfew (the sound-system fun of the 1970s and 1980s being harder to have to have these days) – but whatever the problem, or whomever was responsible, it was shame of an ending.
Anyway, Simmer Down Festival is free – so we have no right to feel short changed. And with Steel Pulse, Musical Youth and Apache Indian on the set list, alongside a bevy of other local artists, this year’s festival was always going to be the biggest yet. So much bigger, in fact, that the main stage was moved from near the Handsworth Park bandstand to the field. A logistical necessity no doubt, but a move that lost the natural amphitheatre around the bandstand and the beautiful atmosphere it creates.
But these moans are just cursory as the festival itself was fantastic; the vibe at Simmer Down ’14 was wonderful (even during the long silence as we all waited for Steel Pulse’s set to start). And to see so many people enjoying themselves in inner city Birmingham, without a hint of trouble, is something more important than how long the headliners performed. Even the local gangbangers let their mask slip a bit and joined in the fun; the smell of the jerk food stalls wafting across the park, with the constant sound of laughter from old friends reunited, made it a magical afternoon in the sun.
However there was a serious edge to the festival, with the national Time to Change mental health campaign given a good showing there too – even hosting one of the stages. Mental Health awareness is a prominent issue and one tackled by both of Simmer Down Festival ‘14’s official sponsors – Birmingham Mind and Time to Change. For more information on these orgnaisations click on the links.
As for the rest of the artists performing, on the main stage The Superskas belted out some top tunes with all the energy this wonderful genre of music deserves. Musical Youth performed brilliantly, giving it everything they had whilst ‘Pass(ing) the Dutchie’ on the Lefthand Side and more – it was great to see these Brummie stars roll back the years. Multi-million record selling local boy Apache Indian & the Reggae Revolution were tight as hell too; ‘Boom Shack-a-Lack’ is a song made for a festival bathed in sun.
And regardless of whose watch you were watching (or not) we did get to see a Steel Pulse homecoming in Handsworth, with whatever bitter taste was left being swilled out with some Red Stripe in a packed Crown and Cushion afterwards.
All in all Simmer Down Festival ’14 was one of the best days of my year. I’m already excited about 2015.
For more on Simmer Down Festival visit http://simmerdownfestival.wordpress.com/
For more from The Drum, visit http://www.the-drum.org.uk/
N.B. Simmer Down Festival ’14 was sponsored by Birmingham Mind & Time to Change, both organisations working to tackle issues surrounding mental health:
For more information on Birmingham Mind, visit http://www.birminghammind.org/
For more information on Time to Change, visit http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/
Steel Pulse’s set at Simmer Down Festival ’14 was cut short due to a late start and a strict curfew – with an official response still yet to come to us from the event organisers.
On behalf of Steel Pulse, Selwyn Brown posted the following message on the Simmer Down Festival ‘14 Facebook page:
Well done Mukhtar and well done to all The Drum organisers in putting together a truly unique Birmingham celebration. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed the event along with the rest of the Steel Pulse family.
My apologies to the people for the short set and I want to go on record and say that this was no fault of the organisers and we as a band take our share of the blame for that.
However this does not take away from the overall success of the event. All the media entities who thought it was not news worthy have missed the point again but that doesn’t take away from the impact that has been made and the pride we all feel as a community. No matter where we travel as a band we never forget where we come from and always feel pride in representing our home town and its diversity and unique character.
The revolution will not be televised but it lives on and will continue to inspire future generations. I met up with so many friends and family yesterday and the buzz I feel will not subside for a good while and I’m not ashamed to share that. I also know that people travelled from around the UK and Europe just to be part of this event. I even met fans and friends from the USA who were here on vacation down south but chose to be in Handsworth for Simmer Down.
Well done again to The Drum, all the artists who performed so admirably, to all the security and event staff and to all the people who turned out to share the Handsworth experience, long may it continue and Jah bless you all.
Birmingham Review is still looking into this and wants to thank all the people who have been involved in the conversation.
Birmingham Review would also like to extend a special thanks to Jordan/Jay Rubiah at The Drum, whose front line endeavors make him a champion in our book (and possibly the only member of staff on site) – we salute you sir.
Ed King is editor of Birmingham Review. Follow him @EdKing2210