It was in the van returning from Wales that members of the band declared an intention to call it a day. This declaration meant that the miner's benefit that they had had just played at the Aberdare Colosseum on 11th July 1984 was the last that Crass would ever play.
Crass may have been the band that fermented the 'anarcho-punk' movement, a viable branch of punk, but their demise did not signal the death of a scene. The D.I.Y. nature of the anarcho-scene-on-a-shoestring meant that a significant number of bands, venues, promoters, distributers and labels existed in a self-sufficient, self-supporting network.
Critically, with Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government returned to power in the 1983 General Election and British heavy industry fighting for its life, there was still much to rail against.
Despite the 'There is no authority but yourself' ethic that Crass and associated bands espoused, the Crass split did create something of a vacuum, given their prominence and importance. One band in the frame to occupy that space was South East London's Conflict. Inspired by Crass, by 1984 Conflict were well established with their own label (Motarhate) and a roster of like-minded bands.
Ideologically, Conflict were broadly aligned with Crass, which led the latter to take the former somewhat under their wing , at least in the early years of Conflict's existence. However, different approaches in terms of the best way to handle right-wing instigated violence at their gigs saw the more liberal minded Crass distance themselves from Conflict and let's just say their more robust peacekeeping methods.
In March 1985, Conflict released the single 'This is Not Enough', a tremendous racket, obtainable for a mere 49p. Here seemingly Conflict shot themselves in the boot. In trying to out do Papa Crass with the 'Pay No More than 45p' label for their 'Reality Asylum' single.... given inflation.... every copy of 'This is Not Enough' sold at a 2 pence loss..... which only becomes problematic when the single sold.... which it did in the thousands!
The 'Pay No More Than...' pricing strategy adopted by many of the anarcho bands was another draw for a cash-strapped 16 year old trying his best to build up a record collection on a Saturday job wage. Large chunks of Conflict's back catalogue were then acquired from Virgin Records on Brighton's Queen's Road for a relatively low outlay.
The powerhouse singles such as 'The Serenade is Dead' and 'Mighty and Superior' and albums, especially 'Increase The Pressure' got a lot of airplay in this young punk's bedroom, much to the dismay of my parents!
Despite the fact that Conflict played regular gigs at the Richmond (Hotel) in Brighton, I first got to see them at the point that they released 'The Ungovernable Force' album. It was 9th November 1986.
By this point in time, Conflict were no strangers to controversy. Two years previously, Conflict were embroiled in a high profile war of words with left wing band, New Model Army, who had signed to E.M.I., the record company of the Establishment and one with known investment links to the arms trade and other interests that did not sit easily with Conflict and many others. The dispute prompted Conflict to release 'Only Stupid Bastards Help E.M.I.' on 'New Army Records', a mail order benefit LP for the 'Riot Defence Fund'. The title was a take on the 'Only Stupid Bastards Take Heroin' T-shirt worn NMA's Justin Sullivan on Top of The Pops.
Later on, even within the scene, the rumour mill turned relentlessly producing accusations that the band's management of their Mortarhate label was awry in terms of royalty payments to bands connected with the label and sales accountability. Accusations of this nature were aggressively refuted by the band.
Beyond the music, regular trouble in and around venues where Conflict played brought them to the attention to the Metropolitan Police (the Police Constabulary responsible for Greater London). This resulted in the band's gigs in the capital regularly being pulled at the 11th hour as the police leaned on venues to cancel. The relationship between the 'Met' and Conflict hit an all time low in the wake of the band's 'Gathering of the 5000' event in Brixton which escalated into a full blown riot that saw 52 arrests and 10 police injured.
Into the 1990's and musically things had shifted a great deal. Dance music was king and Conflict's brand of confrontational issue-driven punk lost its footing to some degree, at least here in the UK. In Colin Jerwood's own words, now was the time to reign thinks in a bit. Activism of the type promoted and practiced by Conflict had by the late '80's become a risky pastime, attracting serious custodial sentencing in the courts. The judiciary were not adverse at that time to make examples of prominent agitators and in such an environment Conflict believed that they also would be squarely in the frame for such treatment. The band were still prolific in recording terms, but, to my ears at least, some of the anger had dissipated somewhat.
Conflict are still playing, the last time I saw them was at Rebellion in 2019. It's funny and it may be down to my own gig damaged ears, but I only recognised a handful of songs in a set that I was very familiar with. A far cry from an 80's Conflict gig. Slow it down boys..... the words mean as much as the music!