MIDNIGHT RAVER interviews Yoni Gal, director of Dreadtown: The Story of Steel Pulse
The long-awaited documentary film about legendary reggae act Steel Pulse may see a 2016 release says director Yoni Gal, who together with Oscar® nominated producer Mike Lerner, has spent the past several years of his life unearthing hours of unseen archive material from friends, family and fans of the popular UK reggae act. The film, titled ‘Dreadtown,’ is a feature documentary that tells the story of the Birmingham bomb squad, who emerged from the racial turbulence of 1970s Britain to become one of the world’s most loved and timeless reggae bands. The film is narrated by acclaimed Hollywood actor and social activist Danny Glover and features interviews with the likes of Rita Marley, Matt Groening (creator, The Simpsons), Lennox Lewis (World Heavyweight Boxing Champion), Snoop Lion, Alpha Blondy(United Nations Ambassador of Peace), Burning Spear, UB40, John Lydon (Sex Pistols), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Damian Marley, Ziggy Marley, Chris Blackwell (founder, Island Records), Linton Kwesi Johnson, C. Thomas Howell (actor), Aswad, Billy Idol, The Specials, Michael Franti, Jason Mraz, Gwen Stefani and many more.
MIDNIGHT RAVER has been instrumental in helping unearth archival material for the film. We recently sat down with Yoni Gal to discuss the film.
MR: So this documentary film about Steel Pulse has been in production for some years now. Talk about how the project originally came together.
YG: “Yeah, you could say it’s been going on for quite some time! It all started when we made a music video with the band called ‘Door of No Return’. That was back in 2007. We didn’t have a huge budget at all but we were fairly ambitious with it anyway… We shot half of the video in Senegal – at the actual house on Gorée Island where they used to hold slaves. It was a real collaboration between the band and us, and I think everyone really enjoyed the process. That’s when I realized no one had yet put the band’s story down in some sort of definitive way, and it just seemed like a massive opportunity to tell a really powerful story.”
MR: When were you first exposed to Steel Pulse? Talk about being a fan of Steel Pulse, what their music has meant to you.
YG: “Wow, I was probably about five or six years old! My older brothers used to have the “Smash Hits” album all through my childhood and they played it a lot. I fell in love with songs like ‘Not King James Version’ and ‘Rollerskates’. So I was really young. Reggae music, and especially their music, has always meant a lot to me. I always gravitated towards music that contained information. I loved the fact that their songs were always mentioning specific people and places – I would always get intrigued about who these people might be, and where these places might be. This was during the early 90’s so information wasn’t as easy to find as it is today.”
MR: Your company, Driftwood Pictures, what other productions have you guys worked on?
YG: “We created Driftwood Pictures as a place for us to work on the projects that had that sort of roots or social, cultural angle to them. That’s really where my passion is, and we emerged really by working mainly on reggae music videos in the Caribbean. We worked with a bunch of really great artists and now, for the last few years, we’ve just been focusing on trying to get this film ready, so the future’s quite open right now.”
MR: With 50 years of archival material, I imagine this documentary has been a huge lift for you guys. How do you even get started? What was the first thing you did after the agreement was made to move forward with the film?
YG: “Yeah, it’s been quite a challenge! Apart from the fact that we’ve been doing this independently, without any label support, it’s the sheer size and scale of the story that has been one of the reasons that it’s taken so long to get together. This film evolved, initially, in quite an unconventional way, and so it’s hard to pinpoint those moments. But the first thing I remember doing was just trying to get to grips with the ins and outs of the band’s entire history – all the events, characters and people that have come and gone from this story – it took quite a while to fully get my head around the magnitude of the band’s existence and the events of the last 40 years. Once I’d done enough research, we went and did extended interviews with David and Selwyn, to try and get a basic mapping of the story and to see where the most interesting aspects were. From there, it evolved and grew, as we started to discover the real underlying themes to what their music has always really been about. “
MR: The fact that this band tours more than any other act in reggae must make it all the more difficult to piece everything together as I’m sure you need to consult with the band on just about every aspect of the production.
YG: “Yes,definitely. What’s really impressive with Steel Pulse, aside from the fact that they started 40 years ago, is that they’ve never taken a break. Absolutely no hiatus at any time, it’s been solid, from the word go, this band has relentlessly brought their music and message to millions, day after day, year after year. It would have been impossible to get to grips with this, if it hadn’t been for the co-operation and support of the band. Especially David Hinds, who seems to have a razor-sharp memory. Honestly, you can ask him about something he did 25 years ago, and he’ll tell you the day, the time, the name of the hotel he was at, and what color his jumper was when he did it. It’s really, seriously impressive! He’s so astute and thanks to his amazing memory, we’ve been able to track down so many people from their past and re-link with them – we’ve been able to include people in this film who lost touch with the band as far back as the 70’s, but David remembered their names, and I was able to go find them and now there they are, in the film recollecting amazing stories and memories about the band.”