Black Symbol presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion

Black Symbol presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion
Reggae Archive Records
Release Date: 10th July 2015
CD and Digital Download

Previously released as two very sought after LP’s, Handsworth Explosion Volumes I & II, this compilation brings together those ground breaking records for the first time on CD.

Let’s jump back to the early 80s to an area of Birmingham in the UK called Handsworth. Black Symbol were a reggae band living and working in Handsworth, their Jamaican roots ran deep, as the core of the band grew up in the St Ann’s area of the island. The band had a strong sense of loyalty to their community and despite only having local success, they used money made from their live shows and limited single releases to fund recording sessions for local bands and singers.

Black Symbol member Blobbo stated their aims on the rear sleeve of Handsworth Explosion Volume II, “Handsworth Explosion is a brand new revolutionary idea originated by ‘Fatman’ the producer, lead vocalist and founder member of Black Symbol. The intention of this album is to provide a much needed link between Symbol and other Ghetto bands, to reveal, an as yet undiscovered talent suppressed by the music machine.”

Their reputation in Birmingham was understandably immense, but like many reggae bands of the era, they struggled to get their music heard by the wider population. Their self released records were always going to struggle for wider recognition without the marketing power of a major label behind them. (I will touch on how I think major labels failed at supporting and marketing reggae in a later article).

Thanks to Reggae Archive Records these tracks are available on CD for the first time, all twenty songs excellent examples of the talent that lay at the heart of the Handsworth community. God bless Black Symbol for having the foresight to help these bands record!

The songs are roots in flavour with a rich mix of spiritual and social comment, exactly as you would expect from 80s UK roots. Black Symbol, the driving force behind these recordings understandably feature heavily, as do Benjamin Zephaniah, Gerald Love, Sceptre and many more.

Highlight track for me is Truth & Rights – New Language, a heavy dread track, with a great bass line, subtle guitars and a pretty impressive vocal DJ display. If anyone can tell me more about them please leave a comment!

Other highlights include, Music Business, a Benjamin Zephaniah track, which is a cool slice of dub poetry. Spiritual Reggae is a short but very sweet roots track by Black Symbol and reminds me of the band Culture. It’s ‘don’t forget your spiritual roots’ theme is visited by many of the tracks. Feeling by Black Knight closes the set with a gentle skank interlaced with some nice keyboards, add a few vinyl crackles and this track could be a very authentic early Jamaican ska release.

What can I say but another cracker from Reggae Archive. I have become a big fan of this 80s Midlands reggae sound and it will be interesting to see what’s coming next. So how about a Truth & Rights compilation gents?


  1. Sceptre – Ancestors Calling
  2. Truths & Rights – New Language
  3. Black Symbol – Travelling
  4. Gerald Love – Jah Children
  5. Zephaniah – Music Business
  6. Truths & Rights – Saddest Moment
  7. Black Symbol – Spiritual Reggae
  8. Gerald Love – Scandal Man
  9. Sceptre – Living On Strong
  10. Zephaniah – Free Man
  11. Benjamin Zephaniah – Stop The War
  12. Man From The Hills – Redemption Day
  13. Mystic Foundation – Life In The Ghetto
  14. Black Symbol – Feeling Is Irie
  15. Black Knight – Lets Make Up
  16. Black Symbol – Trouble Trouble
  17. Benjamin Zephaniah – Unite Handsworth
  18. Man From The Hills – How Long
  19. Mystic Foundation – Handsworth
  20. Black Knight – Feeling

Are you planning on picking up this release, or were you even around this scene at the time? Leave a comment, it would be good to hear from you……

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. There were so many wicked Birmingham reggae groups. The live scene was booming and I was a fan of the early UB40 material and Beshara.


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