CONFLICT: Statements Of Intent (1982-1987) and Statements Of Intent (1988-1994)
Released 26 March 2021
Cherry Red imprint Mortarhate Records releases two 5 CD box sets collating the vinyl output of seminal punk band Conflict from their formation until 1994. Nathan Brown walks us through 12 years of riotous anarcho-punk.
Right from the get go it has to be said that Conflict were a big deal to many people who were active in the punk movement of the 1980s. They signalled a move away from some of the sacred cows of the anarcho-punk scene and the adoption of different, more confrontational tactics. Conflict were broadly trying to achieve the same things as Crass but they appealed to kids who were living the reality of being a punk on the street rather than in the safety of a commune. (“Who’s dropping out, we’re dropping in!”) And they looked like punks! They had jeans, mohicans and big spikes. Attacks for looking like a “freak”, or arrest on sight, were part of a price our counterculture would often pay, and a pacifist stance was increasingly an own goal. And then there was animal liberation, which Conflict did a lot to push more than most in the punk movement. The legacy of Conflict still resounds to this day.
Conflict have been occasionally mired in controversy in recent years. There have been some questionable social media posts, and a song from 2003 – An Option – was either clumsy irony that failed to hit its mark or revealed some disturbing attitudes towards asylum seekers. There isn’t the space to discuss that here and it falls outside of the subject matter for this review. No matter the conclusion people come to over those issues, it does not detract from the importance of Conflict both lyrically and sonically in the years covered by these box sets. The contribution they made to UK anarcho-punk is undeniable.
Each of these two box sets comprises a sturdy clam shell within which each CD is housed in a replica slip sleeve of the original album art. Going to this extra effort is to be applauded in my book as all too often retrospective compilations or box sets bundle up a band’s back catalogue in one, often bland, generic design that doesn’t do the content justice.
The booklets for both box sets feature some great photographs, provide an overview of how the albums in question were made. Partly relayed by interview with singer Colin Jerwood the liner notes by James Sherry remind us of a few key facts like the band losing 2p on every copy of the single This Is Not Enough Stand Up And Fucking Fight, which sold 40,000 copies!
What is missing from these box sets is the lyrics. For a band like Conflict, the lyrics were integral. I guess you could argue that it’s possible to find al the lyrics online now but I’m still old school. I remember reading the lyrics to many of these songs as I gave them a first or second listen. It cements the ideas.
Unlike some reissues, the music has not been remixed, but it has been remastered to ensure a faithful rendition on CD.
Disc One – It’s Time To See Who’s Who
This disc features the first album with the tracks from the first three Conflict 7 inches: The House That Man Built, To A Nation Of Animal Lovers and Live At Centro Iberico.
It’s Time To See Who’s Who was Conflict’s first full length release. It’s a youthful affair intersecting where anarcho punk meets yobbish street punk (e.g. “Standing in Oxford Street waiting for a bus when a copper stands beside me and says I’m nicked for sus”) – which I think may have been the underlying appeal of the band over the years. What is these days termed “relatable”. Songs of protest in the context of life as a young punk. There is a good balance of intelligence and exuberance and the album contains songs that would remain staples like Meat Means Murder, Exploitation and The Guilt and The Glory.
The House That Man Built on Crass Records was Conflict’s first release – a varied EP with a mix of male and female vocals and the band feeling their away around for their sound. Hearing the opening strains of the first track Conflict still makes the hairs go up on the back of my neck. Words spewed out with more anger than most punk bands. Even the famous tinny production values of Penny Rimbaud couldn’t curtail the onslaught. Wargames is haunting and dark. Blind Attack with its attack on street fighters from both left and right would pop up again. I’ve Had Enough throws up a bouncy, almost happy, sound while putting forward a not happy feminist message. It’s a song that can be forgotten from Conflict’s back catalogue and deserves to be heard more, and in the current news cycle is more relevant than ever:
“Your filthy morals just fucking stink
Don’t try and get my hands in your sink
Don’t call me your “bird”, I’m not your pet
Well, I’ve had enough, right up to my neck
This is mankind and mankind kills
Why should women be raped at your will?
This is mankind and mankind kills
Why should women pay for man’s thrills?”.
To A Nation of Animal Lovers was an important 3 song EP. It featured a collaboration with Steve Ignorant, still in Crass at the time, and sewed the seeds for his future involvement with Conflict. But more importantly it was arguably one of the first animal liberationist (as opposed to animal rights) records in the punk milieu. previously a few anarcho-punk bands had argued the wrongs of eating meat, wearing fur or testing on animals – arguing that animals had rights. To A Nation… went further, arguing for liberation and with a forceful message that Direct Action was the only appropriate response. The imagery on the poster sleeve was unforgiving and not for the squeamish ensuring the message was clear. I count myself among the animal liberationists who heeded this call to get involved in a more direct way. Musically it signalled a harder edge, and featured prodigious use of feedback as another instrument, which itself became part of the Conflict sound. On Whichever Way You Want It the song starts off with a haunting guitar melody, the space around it adding tension. The bass brings in a mournful sadness and then begins to build the momentum, along with thundering drums before the lyrical attack kicks in. Lyrically it paints a vivid picture of hell for animals inside a vivisection laboratory. The resounding chorus of “Liberate” provides the only sane response. Protest songs don’t get much more powerful.
Live at Centro Iberico was an EP on Poison Girls Xntrix label (later re-released on Conflict’s Mortarhate label) that showcased 6 songs that would go on to feature on the first album. The power and precision of Paco’s drumming in particular leaps out from this recording.
Disc Two – Increase The Pressure and The Serenade is Dead
The album Increase The Pressure showed that Conflict had become even more focused with a lyrical attack on the establishment, animal abusers, cruise missiles and infighting in radical activist circles. “Never Mind The Bullshit, Here’s The Facts!”. It’s angry political punk rock at it’s best with tirades of lyrics spewed out with scarcely a pause for breath. Rather than platform rheotoric, Conflict still retained a relatable street level response to the challenges around. Musically it was precise with a sharpened attack thanks partly to Kevin Webb’s guitar style, and made full use of Paco’s prowess behind the drum kit, with the bass providing the much of the structure. Every song was powerful, but Tough Shit Mickey stands out for many with its slow introduction building up to a cleverly crafted tirade of animal liberationist anger:
“Because before too long there will nothing left alive
Not a creature on the land or sea, a bird in the sky
They’ll be shot, harpooned, eaten and hunted too much
Vivisected by the clever men who prove that there’s no such
Thing as a fair world with live and let live
The royal family go hunting what an example to give
To the people they lead and that don’t include me
I’ve seen enough pain and torture of those who can’t speak
So I’m gonna speak for them in an all out attack
And if someone tries to whip me, then I will fucking whip them back
Because I have had enough of this madness in those theatres of hell
Enough of them hounding the fox to the kill
Of baby seals being clubbed, their mothers cut up
They satisfy their greed, their wealth’s built on blood
Of their slaughterhouse haunting the back of the mind
The gas chamber of the farm life, the end of the line”
The live side of Increase The Pressure features 9 songs from across their output recorded in 1983, breaking off for a news report style account of the Stop The City protests the previous year.
Conflict were on the ascendancy and Increase The Pressure marked them out as an important band. The angry rabble rousing feel it conveyed was that punk was a movement which could make a difference. The front cover featured a sea of demonstrators with a circled A flag facing off cops, while the rear was a burning meat wagon – presumably from the Brixton riots.
By this time Crass had started imploding, soon to play their last gig, leaving Conflict in a prime position to occupy the vacancy left in many an anarcho punk’s heart… and on the back of their jackets. The great irony was that far too many free thinking anarchists wanted leaders to look up to and Conflict were seen by some as those leaders. This theme would vomit itself up on The Final Conflict album later.
The Serenade is Dead EP follows and was a precursor of what was to come on Increase The Pressure with its leading bass line and feedback attack. In 3 songs the band covered a lot of turf. They tried to make sense of the stark difference between the basic human emotion of love and war mongering – which was ever present when we lived under the threat of the bomb. A belligerent attack on how we are governed – “The System Maintains law and order throughout the land”. A disgusted look at how punk was becoming a diluted rock cliche.
Disc Three – Only Stupid Bastards Help EMI
A recording of a gig in LA released to raise money for an anarchist bust fund, the title album targeted New Model Army’s Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin message and threw it back at them for “selling out” to EMI. A 22 track set covering songs from across their releases up to Ungovernable Force, with angry introductions to songs. What would otherwise be a tight performance was at times chaotic, breathless and interrupted by fighting and the band’s response “Fucking leave ’em alone” presumably directed at security. As the gig progressed fighting in the crowd ensued. “Stop it you stupid cunts, cut the fucking fighting out you stupid dickheads.” “What’s the matter, is it past your bedtime?…go home and get your dummies”. Depressingly similar to the way Sham had to deal with trouble at their gigs. Other bands might have edited out the trouble, but this was part of the band’s identity. Jumping in and getting involved. Calling shit when you see it.
Disc Four – The Ungovernable Force, This Is Not Enough and The Battle Continues
For my money The Ungovernable Force is still one of the best punk rock albums of all time, and I’m someone who finds it incredibly difficult to even distill down to a top 10. This LP will always be in the top few. By this time Big John who had played bass from the beginnings of the band had been replaced by Oddy from Broken Bones.
Starting with the You Cannot Win audio montage and ending with the eerie piano and almost operatic singing of To Be Continued, in between the album switched musical styles here and there but kept returning to a high octane, aggressive form of punk rock. It was hard hitting lyrically as well as musically. A self serving political elite, the Metropolitan police, animal abusers, nuclear armageddon, punk rock cliches were all within their sights.
It was all packaged within images of riot cops and with a context of riots across the UK.
Reclaim the streets, reclaim the towns, reclaim the nation”
Like Increase The Pressure before it, The Ungovernable Force was another call to arms, challenging the anarcho-punk movement to put its words into action. This Is The A.L.F spelled out the philosophy and motivation of animal liberationists whilst giving details of tactics anyone could adopt. And on The Arrest they gave legal advice about how to deal with the Police.
Before the Ungovernable Force, in early 1985 This Is Not Enough backed with Neither Is This was released. Raw, loud and angrier than ever, I remember reading a review at the time (possibly in Green Anarchist) which proclaimed this single to be like “Crass meets Motorhead”. And in those 3 words you have it. That is why everyone loved Conflict! A signal of what was to come, it had a harder metallic edge and featured a full on attack on the state, rooted in the recent experiences of new age travellers, the miner’s strike, inner city riots and the SAS assassinating Irish republicans.
The Battle Continues is one of of the stand out records by Conflict, the introductory bassline to Mighty and Superior preceded the rather similar Seven Nation Army by White Stripes by nearly 20 years. The crisp, haunting guitar really builds this song, in much the same way Whichever Way You Want It did a few years before. The vocal attack is full on as expected. B Side To Whom It May Concern is another blast of high octane punk rock anger littered with swearing and attack on the powers that be, with its rallying cry “If it’s a Fight They Want they’ve got it”. It is a clue to the direction the band were heading in for The Ungovernable Force.
Disc Five – Turning Rebellion Into Money
A double album when it came out on vinyl, and taking its name from a line in White Main In Hammersmith Palais, it documented the Gathering of the 5000 Brixton gig at which Steve Ignorant performed Crass songs for the first time since their demise. The title had a flip side too. Turning Money into Rebellion as the release was intended to raise funds for various activist groups. The gig even got a mention in Simon Parkes book about the Brixton Academy as it descended into a police riot. What with Stop The City, a rise in animal rights direct action across the land and the Met’s antagonism from their fortress at Brixton nick mere yards away it came as no surprise.
You can hear the cavernous acoustics of the Brixton Academy as the band race through 32 songs in 1 hour and 18 minutes. A jubliant crowd sing along to the Crass songs. The extended reggae section on The Day Before deserves a listen and you can hear the chaos of on-stage theatrics involving attempted arrests by “coppers”.
There were fights breaking out in the crowd. And behind the scenes it was all a big gamble for the band. With hindsight you can hear and stress in the vocal performances. With an emotional outpouring and words delivered at such a break neck speed, sometimes you didn’t get all the words! Some of the inter-song outbursts on the live recordings would be the source of amusement in years to come.
Disc One – The Final Conflict
The Final Conflict is an album that has some great songs, great lyrics and presents a typical combative Conflict view of the world. However, in my opinion something in the production never really let through the full power of the band – there is a certain muddiness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good powerful album in its own right and used to be stuck to my turntable, but Ungovernable Force and Increase The Pressure had set an incredibly high bar.
Countdown to Confrontation with its endlessly lifting riff builds up the tension in fine style before Let The Battle Commence rips it up. Steve Ignorant joined the team for this album and Against All Odds (from the same recording session). Listening back to this after watching the recent Poly Styrene documentary I Am A Cliche and re-watching the Arena programmes Who Is Poly Styrene? and Tell Us The Truth (Jimmy Pursey) I now wonder if the angst we hear is the outpouring of torment after being “owned” by the gig going, record listening, public for too many years. In the live recordings you hear similar appeals to Jimmy’s for the violence to stop.
There was fallout from the Brixton gig with pressure from the Metropolitan Police amounting to a ban on the band playing. This and the incessant bitching and rumours about the band spilled out in I Heard A Rumour.
“Time and time again we hear the same old rumours. Conflict doing this, Conflict doing that…Said the money was going to ALF Gave a carrot to the animals and pocketed the rest”
“You never wanted leaders, but you treated us as such And then when we said “no more of this”, who kicked away your crutch? You accused us of hypocrisy and ripping people off”
Rather than running away, Conflict hit the rumours head on. Their reponse: “Drop it, forget it, you got it fucking wrong”
Alongside critics within the punk movement, they took on Politics with a big P (of course) including a great response to common crtiticism of anarchists who abstained from voting on The A Team “If you don’t vote, then don’t complain – oh fuck off! Don’t you realise what you’re saying? You’re supporting every move they make. Holding the parliamentary system up, they rise, the powerful elite. There is no independence in party politics”.
The A Team features a nice grooving reggae inspired bass line shortly before a chaotic ending, providing a seque into These Things Take Time. This one takes a moment to really take off, but once it gets into its groove is a hafl decent reggae song performed by punks, with additional toasting from Kerry Bovell. Clearly it was Clash influenced, which also creeps out in the following song Radio Trash. The title track is almost like a state of the nation speech.
Disc Two: Against All Odds plus 12 inch remix of the Final Conflict
Against All Odds was always a bit of an oddity. It presented some good ideas but the execution was sometimes lacking something. Assured Mutual Destruction material sounds like demos and would later appear fully formed in Steve Ignorant’s next band Schwarzeneggar, which also featured the studio engineer and keyboard player on this session. Opener Against All Odds has an atmospheric build up but has not aged well as some of the keyboard sounds available at the time have become a little cheesy.
The attempt at acid house with A State of Mind will never be on anyone’s Best of Conflict list, and the relevant message of The Greatest Show On Earth was served up like a 99 to an ice cream van tune. A Message to Who is the highlight of this album and in that song they had a tune with memorable guitar melodies. Similarly to The Serenade Is Dead it was a song of unrequited love mixed with messages of resistance to the state.
It all makes sense when you read in the booklet that Colin would have rather given the tracks away with The Final Conflict but this was before digital downloads so an extra album it had to be.
Disc Three – Conclusion
Returning from the wilderness after a quiet couple of years, Conclusion saw Conflict back “still hoping for the hopeless and making excuses for the lawless”. At times anthemic, angry and upbeat, at others melancholy using keyboards to great effect and with soaring guitar lines.
There is variety among the songs but also within the songs themselves, fast sections build up and drop into slow melodic middle sections. Reggae beats sitting alongside a few angry fast punk rock tunes.
No More Excuses features an incendiary performance from Jackie Hanna
There does appear to be more of a personal vibe to the songs, sometimes almost mournful. Painting pictures of the impact of an unequal society on its victims as much as rabble rousing. At the time this came out, the title and the reduced live appearances of the band led many to conclude that this was it for Conflict. Until the early 2000s it was. This disc ends on These Colours Don’t Run – a shouty tirade against racism, sexism and animal abuse that society deems acceptable.
Disc Four – In The Venue
Recorded in 1994 on home turf in New Cross, they careen through a set of 24 songs showcasing the Conclusion album alongside core songs from the band’s back catalogue. As is often the case with live recordings it is drum heavy but thankfully Paco’s drumming was interesting enough for this not to constitute a problem. It also serves to remind how tight the band could be in a live situation.
Disc Five – It’s Time To See Who’s Who Now
I never quite understood the rationale behind this album being released. The songs featured on it were drawn from their first 7″, first album and To A National of Animal Lovers 7″ were all classics from the era before they had their own label, Mortarhate. Why had they bothered spending time going over old ground? The booklet reveals the re-recording of those songs was down to the same old music industry bullshit of Conflict not having the rights to their own records, which had been deleted and thus were no longer available. Exploitation indeed. Recording them again was a way they could re-release these early songs. There are a few interesting moments, but I would always choose the original. Colin sums it up best in the booklet when he says “I don’t like it as much as the original recording. I like certain tracks but the first one represents the time and it’s got that young feel.”
So, across the 2 box sets you have 6 CDs of studio releases, 3 live albums and 1 re-recording of an album. The cynic might argue that a commercial decision was at play. If the 3 live CDs were bundled with Time To See Who’s Who Again in one set and you had the 6 “proper” studio albums in another set the latter would fly out like shit off a shovel and the former would just attract flies. I think that would be missing the point of gathering all Conflict’s albums released in the periods covered by these box sets: Re-releasing the lot rather than cherry picking. Splitting the band’s releases into pre-Brixton and post-Brixton makes sense when you understand the impact it had on the band. Whether or not so much live material should have been released in the first place is a different question. It’s also worth bearing in mind that some of these live releases were fund raisers for prisoners and a bust fund. To give the other side of the argument, some people love a live album and it is interesting to be able to listen back to how a band sounds live.
These box sets will be welcome for people who lost the records for various reasons over the last few decades, or who just don’t own a record player! Meanwhile there will be young punks who want to explore a band who clearly mattered so much. Why do so many of those old punks revere this band so much? As one commenter on social media said “all for the cost of one original off Discogs.”
Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.