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Handsworth's musical homecoming

HEADLINE ACT: Reggae legends Steel Pulse

IT WAS a “Handsworth Homecoming” celebration that will be remembered for generations to come – when international reggae legends Steel Pulse returned to their Birmingham roots to share a stage with Apache Indian and Musical Youth at Simmer Down 2014.

All three bands still play across the globe, with Steel Pulse taking time out from a world tour, but they all agreed their return to Handsworth, where they grew up, made this venue unique.

With a crowd of well over 20,000, this year’s Simmer Down was an unforgettable day of music, culture and celebration in Handsworth Park, organised by the Drum arts centre as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations.

In the words of Steel Pulse it was a “Handsworth Revo-Revo-Revolution” which rolled back the decades in a finale showcase and thrilled reggae fans down the generations, some who had travelled from as far as Zimbabwe, Venezuela and Miami.

Mukhtar Dar, the Drum’s arts director summed it up when he took to the stage and said: “Music more than any other genre brings communities together. Reggae music in particular, with it roots in struggle and its message of peace, unites us all. The richness of humanity lies in diversity.”

And he promised he would continue to campaign for headliners Steel Pulse to be included in Birmingham’s Broad Street “walk of stars” and for the band to have a statue created in Handsworth Park.

CROWD PLEASER: Apache Indian

Waseem Zaffar, a Birmingham City Councillor for Lozells and East Handsworth, said proudly: “Today reflects the very best of Handsworth: people from all communities and several generations are here together united by reggae music.”

The hat-trick of big names in the finale had been preceded by a day-long entertainment from artists such as Aston Performing Arts Academy, Kezia Soul, Diego Flex, Rose Capri and the Superskas.

Musical Youth’s front man Dennis Seaton showed he’d still got it as he led them through their chart-topping sensation “Pass the Dutchie.”

He’d first sung the hit in 1982. This time around his grown-up son Theo was on trumpet, but Seaton bounded around the stage relishing every second and even took out his phone to photograph the cheering crowd.

But off-stage afterwards, he had a serious message. He told The Voice: “Reggae music should be played far more on radio stations because it’s authentic. Everyone has got caught up in the Simon Cowell pop music thing and reggae has suffered as a result.”

SAY CHEESE: Dennis Seaton, of Musical Youth with Chico Hamilton (centre) and his son Theo Seaton

While “Boom Shak-A-Lak” ragga king Apache Indian, who is celebrating 25 years in the music business, clearly had also lost none of his verve and was thrilled to be sharing a stage with his childhood heroes Steel Pulse.

“It doesn’t get any more special than this,” he said. “I might be playing all over India, Europe and the Caribbean, but here in Handsworth Park I can play and see the house where I grew up. Now that’s special.”

The Drum’s CEO Charles Small, who is leading the “Raise the Roof” campaign to extend the arts centre, said: “It’s been an absolutely fantastic day. The fact that I’ve been able to enjoy Simmer Down and actually relax at an event run by The Drum is testament to our brilliant team who organised the day so well.”

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