They fly the flag for Birmingham around the world, but rarely play in their home city.

If you ever wonder whatever happened to Steel Pulse and Apache Indian, it’s not because they no longer have a place on the music scene.

It’s because that place is now in such far-flung locations as Brazil, Japan and even Sweden.

They may have been overlooked in their native city, but now they’re making a big noise about their homecoming gig.

Steel Pulse are headlining the Simmer Down Festival on Sunday, a free event in Handsworth Park, 30 years after they last played it and nine years after they last played in Birmingham.

Also on the bill are those other Brum stars of reggae, Apache Indian and Musical Youth.

Apache Indian, aka Steve Kapur, is boyishly excited about performing on the same stage as his childhood heroes.

“Wow, what a great line-up!” he enthuses.

“Being on the same stage as Steel Pulse is amazing. I’m sure I was in the crowd at Handsworth Park when they played 30 years ago.

“One of my earliest inspirations was Steel Pulse. It made me so proud to know they were from Handsworth like me.

“Why haven’t they got a star on Broad Street? We have got to celebrate them more.”

Steve, 47, is a former pupil of Handsworth Wood Boys’ School. He has never moved away from Birmingham but spends most of his time working abroad.

He’s also celebrating 25 years in the music business.

“It’s a shame I don’t get to play music in Birmingham more often. They don’t support reggae here,” he sighs.

“I’m big in India, across Europe and the Caribbean and Japan has been massive. I’ve just come back from New York.

“There’s nowhere that I haven’t been, five times over.

“If you are not played on the radio here, where are you supposed to go? You will go elsewhere. Still, it’s nice to play in Birmingham at Simmer Down.

“I think local radio stations should play local bands for 25 per cent of the time.

David Hinds and Selwyn Brown from Steel Pulse who are appearing at the Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park July 2014.
David Hinds and Selwyn Brown from Steel Pulse who are appearing at the Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park July 2014.

“If you go to Mumbai or New York, you hear local music. Why should they play the same pop everyone else is hearing? If you come to Birmingham you just hear Britney Spears and Madonna, which is awful in a city known for its music. Give us a break!

“We are waving a flag for Birmingham around the world yet hardly recognised in our home town.

“Let’s hope Simmer Down isn’t just a one-off. I’d love to see 100,000 people there in the future.”

Last year around 13,000 flocked to Handsworth Park for the event but the stellar line-up this time, the fifth Simmer Down, is expected to attract many more.

Mukhtar Dar is director of arts and marketing at The Drum, the arts centre in Aston which organises it.

He says: “Simmer Down has become one of the fastest growing and diverse festivals in the UK.

“We’ve had to move the main stage from the lake to the top field this year to make room for a bigger audience.

“There are a number of stages and a wide range of activities, plus stalls for local food and craft businesses.

“At the heart of Simmer Down is celebrating the diversity of Birmingham’s community, especially the northern part which doesn’t always have the best reputation.

“We believe that the arts play a major role in capturing the imagination of people – imagine what life can be like when communities come together and barriers can be broken down.

“It’s a music and arts festival, with reggae at its core, with the social message of peace and love.

“Simmer Down is the name of a 1964 release by Bob Marley, but it’s also a request for everyone to chill out and relax.”

Steve is keen on the idea of the festival bringing people together, so much so that he’d like to get local gangs involved.

He says: “I would love to get the two biggest gangs on stage at Simmer Down, to have a truce if only for one day.

“I’m working with police and gangs to lower crime. And everywhere I go, I talk about drugs, knives and guns, about peace and respect.

“Simmer Down can be a statement – let that day count, let people leave feeling inspired. It’s about more than the music.

“I would love to head up a campaign to really improve Birmingham, bringing people together through music. We have to move forward together as a city.”

And it’s not just talk from Steve, who is putting his money where his mouth is.

He has set up an academy called AIM – Apache Indian Music – at South and City College in Handsworth.

“I have a recording studio there and I help the kids to make music and help them with life skills.

“I can give up one day a week, every Wednesday, to go in. I’ve made enough money to fund the academy myself, I haven’t asked for any help.

“It’s to inspire kids to do better in their lives. It’s saying I care enough to care about you, don’t give up hope, we’re here.

“There are a lot of cuts, to charities and education, so we have to stand up and do something.

“Many of the kids come from broken homes and come in hungry.

Amlak Tafari from Steel Pulse at the press conference at The Drum launching the Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park July 2014.
Amlak Tafari from Steel Pulse at the press conference at The Drum launching the Simmer Down Festival in Handsworth Park July 2014.
 

“I also work in prisons and with young offenders.

“I don’t have the answers but I have a passion to do something.”

The father of three grown-up children, Steve is an unusual blend of Indian and Jamaican with his long, dreadlocked hair and Jamaican patois.

He confused people when he released his first record 25 years ago, Movie Over India.

It was in Indian language but with a reggae influence, which nobody had done before.

“It caught on, people loved it. It went to number one in the reggae and Asian charts, which had never happened before.

“People get confused about where my records fit on the shelf, but why should I be in just one genre?

“They say how can you be involved in reggae if you’re Indian? I can do what I want!

“You don’t have to be black to like reggae – look at all the crowds in Scandinavia. And one of the biggest reggae bands in the world, UB40 from Birmingham, are white!”

Steve is not shy about listing his achievements.

“I’ve had seven top 30 hits, sold 10 million records and been nominated for an Ivor Novello Award and the Mercury Music Prize,” he rattles off.

“After Movie Over India I was asked to do another song, but to tell you the truth I didn’t have one! I hadn’t expected the first one to be a hit.

“I hastily wrote Chok There, which means lift, and which went to number one again. In fact my first three records topped the charts, and then I was signed by Island Records.

“They put me on the first flight out to Jamaica to record in Bob Marley’s studio. I made the album No Reservation and the first single was Arranged Marriage, which was a Top 20
hit in the mainstream charts.

“Suddenly I was on Top of the Pops and even Blue Peter – yes, I have a Blue Peter badge!

“Then, in 1993, I released Boom Shack-A-Lak and my career really took off.

“It was number one all around the world. It’s been used in seven Hollywood movies including Dumb and Dumber Scooby Doo 2 and 100 TV commercials, including one with Jennifer Anniston.

“It has kept me busy. But even though I play abroad all the time, I’ve never moved away from Birmingham. It’s my home, it’s given me everything I have, so my heart is in Birmingham.”

Similarly, Selwyn Brown from Steel Pulse still has a strong Brummie accent.

The band was formed at Handsworth Wood Boys School in 1975 by friends David Hinds, Basil Gabbidon and Ronald McQueen.

Members now include David, Selwyn, Sidney Mills and Amlak Tafari.

The band’s first album in 1978 was called Handsworth Revolution and their first single for Island Records was Ku Klux Klan, about the evils of racism, and indeed they were part of Rock Against Racism.

Amlak reveals they have just returned from performing in Lima in Peru, a far cry from their beginnings in Handsworth.

He says: “I never dreamt of travelling round the world and I never dreamt of coming home like this. It’s long overdue.

“I used to play music in a dark cellar with mould on the walls. We only had one cymbal and one drum stick.

“Then mom took £27 – a lot of money – to a second-hand shop near John Bright Street and bought me my first guitar.

“I played it just for fun, I never expected things to take off. We experienced racism and prejudice, people looked down on us and we felt we never had a hope in hell.

“But look at us now!”

* The Simmer Down fun kicks off on Sunday at 12.30pm with the specially commissioned Simmer Down Big Brass Mash-Up. Other artists taking part include Aston Performing Arts Academy, Kezia Soul, Diego Flex, Rose Capri and The Superskas. Musical Youth are due on stage at 3.45pm, followed by Apache Indian at 4.45pm and Steel Pulse at 6pm. For more information, ring 0121 333 2444 or go to www.the-drum.org.uk .