If you are a regular reader of this site the chances are you like your music to be edgy and confrontational. It is not always meant to be safe, indeed sometimes it can even be downright dangerous and contentious. As far as punk rock is concerned one of the leading bands within the more extremist Anarchist fringes is UK act Conflict. They have been around since 1981 and as a force have been self-labelled as ungovernable and have throughout the years been incredibly outspoken. The band led through thick and thin by frontman Colin Jerwood have gained notoriety for acts such as providing addresses of vivisectionists on the inside of their record sleeves and having their inflammatory Gathering Of The 5000 gig at Brixton Academy spilling to the streets and causing a full scale riot. Even punk friendly event Rebellion Festival find them too hot to handle giving them a lifetime ban.
Unfortunately controversy reared its ugly head recently when Colin did exactly as stated in one of his own songs ‘Now you’ve put your foot in it’ and in a moment of near suicidal lunacy made a statement he now describes as brain-dead. It is not to be repeated here and indeed I was among those shouting at him in near outrage as others were talking about burning the bands records and never having anything to do with them again. The following questions were asked before the event and Colin is in the process of making a full apology for offence caused.
This will be published here as soon as I have it.
Conflict also do a lot of good when it comes to spreading the message of a lot of worthwhile causes too and Colin has been involved in a lot of charitable work too for the Eltham Park Project in his own area. This includes raising funds for a minibus to take people out, buying football goals and equipment for people who can’t get funded, taking over some local buildings in a park, setting up a community tea room and providing food for those less privileged in the area.
Here follows a lengthy interview with Colin, about the band, telling us some surprising information about how they almost called it a day and catching them playing some of the old songs for the last time before they move on to hopefully releasing some new material. Naturally it is complete, word for word and uncensored in any respect.
AN: Calling Conflict a mere band is kind of selling things a bit short due to the fact that you have always been actively involved in organisation, campaigning and even educating people about various Anarchist causes, taking in everything from political corruption to animal rights. Is this something you would agree with and how important would you say Conflict the band is today in spreading the message?
CJ: I think it is important to remember that Conflict as a band is just that, but of course this is the main method I have chosen over the decades to voice views and use as a start to then build further on of course. Recently I have been taken aback by letters and words I have received from for want of a better word people who have been main players within the Animal liberation movement throughout the years. In truth I never really realized that some words I had written had such impact and had inspired many to do so much. I see this as a main achievement and have always measured Conflict’s achievements by the amount of activism and actions that have/take place rather than the number of people that attend our appearances or units of recordings that shift.
AN: Just for those wondering, who exactly is in the band now and how stable a line-up is it? There have been some changes recently, one I particularly noted was guitarist Gav King also of Fields Of The Nephilim. What would you say he and any other new members bring to the band and do you consider that they need to have like-minded ideologies to work with you?
CJ: The line up is myself, Paul Hoddy, Spike Smith and Gav King, Pleased you ask this as it’s something I/we get a little bit of stick for. First off I have to like whoever is to be part of the Conflict band, and had/have recognized qualities in both Spike and Gavin. Since playing with Conflict I believe both have developed an understanding of what Conflict is and a passion for what it is all about and means to so many. Some say that people that playing music for a living should not be included in a group line up such as Conflict, not right-on or Anarchist enough?? But for me the fact that unlike past members these two people do not beg for state handouts or work as part of any slave force and contribute very little to what we are fighting against speaks volumes, they also ask for a lot less to take part in Conflict than other members in the past. To me this time I went for the best players I could find, that were committed and took pride in delivering the set to its maximum potential. It is fact that this is now the case.
AN: Conflict are one of those bands that have always been about even if it has not been apparent. Whereas many of the original punk bands split up you have kept things going even if you have perhaps had to have enforced periods of silence. What is it that has kept you going through thick and thin?
CJ: I suppose it’s simply because (without wanting to sound poncy) Conflict is what I am, it’s what I do, all I ever will. Conflict is a reflection of a human being rather than just a band…Sometimes I fucking hate it, sometimes I love it the same as I feel about life itself.
AN: Of all those that split up, many have reformed lately and are playing again. For me this has good and bad points as sometimes I have seen some bands that are clearly not into rehashing the old anthems and others who thrive on it and even get a new lease of life performing after all these years. What is your opinion on this?
CJ: I have seen bands that have reformed that I wish I had not, as it spoils what once was for me, people could say this about Conflict playing only old stuff since we recommenced appearances but to date all this has just been a test as in was there still reason for Conflict being and to acknowledge if i still enjoyed or in fact was still capable of such a set?
AN: Punk often gets mocked by the popular media as being a bunch of old, fat, tired, drunk ex-teenage rebels. Is the label punk even still relevant now or is it a parody? I think it is, as there are many new bands continuing the tradition both musically and politically. What do you think? Is punk still a relevant force and if you had a message to those that degenerate it what would it be?
CJ: To me Conflict are a Punk band and it is something I am proud to be a part of, Punk is as relevant today as it has always been, to Punks. Punk in itself will never be a force in itself again but whatever it spawns will hold importance and value always. From small acorns great Oak trees do grow.
AN: Conflict have lately been a lot more active on the live front, I caught you last at Another Winter Of Discontent and there have been shows in other places that I guess you have not visited in the UK for some time. What has the reaction been like, I believe some of the shows sold out? London could have had a bigger turn out but I find that apathy can set in here and it was a big room. You even had to play bouncer and throw someone out at that one didn’t you?
CJ: After Rebellion, with all that happened the intention was to call time and walk away. However, I couldn’t as it’s so hard to walk away from something you love and is a major part of ones-self. So i asked the group to back me on a low key test appearance, in Manchester. To establish what I said before about whether Conflict should continue with live appearances. Manchester was amazing, Bristol was next and the same, so with so far so good I agreed to take part in A.W.O.D which would prove a much bigger test. In my view this was a big success and as ever the appearance created conflict in itself, with disturbances both inside and outside the venue with political minded fancying their chances. Strange you say about the turn out, we sold every ticket of our allocation and AWOD announced the night of our appearance was sold out? I know I was unable to help people that wanted to pay to get in, told it was over venue capacity??
Then Conflict made the first appearance in Dublin and I consider this to have been the best live set and Conflict gig -Ever.
AN: After the infamous Feeding Of The 5000 gig at Brixton Academy was there an actual ban put on the band preventing them from playing live or is that just an urban myth? If so how long did that affect you for?
CJ: Three punk bands have been the subject of parliamentary debate, The Sex Pistols, Crass and Conflict. Only one has ever been officially banned from making live appearances by order of a white paper and that is Conflict.
AN: I remember one instance meeting up with loads of people and ahem police at Kings Cross Station and being led to a secret warehouse to watch Conflict and I believe the Subhumans play. In a way it felt so much more real than going to see the band play in a corporate venue, would you agree or was it simply a nightmare organising and playing gigs like this?
CJ: This was at a film warehouse and this was amazing, we expected the Astoria date to be pulled and therefore everything was in place to relocate the event.. Of course this is by far the most exciting and relevant method for Conflict appearances but in my view it is also essential that some are made in well know establishments that attract people other than whom already know of Conflict and all it’s about.
AN: Do you ever have a problem booking shows in the UK, are there ever any problems with venues allowing you to play. I know the Camden Underworld is one venue you have been back to a few times and guess Brixton Academy is off the cards, any other issues though?
CJ: We got stopped from taking part in a small festival at Islington academy a few years ago, and had to inform the venue/local authorities that I was no longer a part of the group. Thereafter it went ahead. Basically, if the venue has to apply for police approval then Conflict will not be granted that.
I listened to an interview with Brixton Academy owners and they were asked best ever concert? Can’t remember what they said but my ears pricked up when asked worst? Some disgusting Anarchist group called Conflict.
AN: Would you consider that you and the band are still on the authorities watch list and still considered a threat by the powers that be?
CJ: Well the FACT that my home was surrounded by Scotland Yard’s top terrorist squad from 7am until 9pm speaks volumes, at present I am unable to go fully public with details to protect myself.
AN: There have been many changes and another thing that used to be an unfortunate side effect at Anarchist punk gigs was having fascists turn up in rank and having to go as far as to defend the shows so they could go ahead. You just don’t have that happening nowadays well certainly in England. Would you consider this is just as punk bands are not considered a threat or is it due to the fact that previously the likes of Combat 18 were far more militant and organised that the clowns that are the EDL today?
CJ: I don’t think the big boys consider many punk groups a threat in any way at all anymore, and without wishing to give it the large these people would not have any desire to take on the response which would in turn follow if they were to orchestrate or encourage an attack on Conflict. Having said that three saucy right wing Italian skins were waiting for me outside after the AWOD appearance, but ended up being most apologetic and leaving swiftly.
I drew the attention of the EDL personally a while back after I commented that Lee Rigby Was NOT a hero, they publicly put me on their requires servicing list.. Thereafter, through an associate I made contact with who was the EDL gob /top chap and an apology soon followed and that man’s retirement??/The mind boggles.. I don’t see EDL as a threat.
AN: So you are now playing some highly anticipated dates in America and possibly reading these questions on the tour bus. How long since you last played there and what do you anticipate from these dates.
CJ: Fuck, how long ago did you send these questions? I am sorry Pete I am still fucking utterly useless at keeping up with things.
The American appearances were honestly incredible and an inspiration to many including ourselves.
AN: You always hear nightmare stories about bands and visas, I take it your history did not prove a problem or was it fairly easy for you to gain access to the US, a place where they could have decided to look on Conflict as a terrorist organisation in a worst case scenario?
CJ: Well, believe it or not I no longer hold an official criminal record as all my convictions have now been spent due to time. However, due to the serious nature of some of the past convictions and charges these are still on records and will remain always. (Basically, anything they consider could possibly be a cause of concern or harm to police)
AN: I have been looking at the names of the support bands and have to say that none have hit my radar (although Resistant Culture are somewhat familiar and have members of Terrorizer). I can imagine there being a flood of bands who want to support you, did you get involved in hand picking them yourself?
CJ: No we did not this time, but I intend to have control of such in the future.
AN: Conflict have certainly never struck me as a band who give a flying one about making money in fact the opposite at times with things being more about the event and making it run than anything else. Is it a struggle though to go and play further afield in a place like the US? Do you expect to come back skint and desperate for some good vegie food?
CJ: We did actually ask for some guarantees this time around as have lost lots in the past and this time had nothing to lose. Got air fares on other people’s credit cards so required to know we would/could pay them back, of course to some we’ve sold out for daring to make that a condition of going out there.
Vegie/Vegan food is in abundance in the U.S.A now to be honest and in many ways leads the way in regards to this as such.
AN: December the 7th and 8th are dates cast in stone when you are putting together the Gathering Of the 500 at the aforementioned Underworld in London and a benefit show for Keith Mann at the Garage the day after. There are some great supports too. How long has this idea been in the planning? What can people expect from these shows?
CJ: Of course there was never a plan to do a second date, but felt it worthwhile to do one…demand is mad, quite strange in fact. We are going to also use the second hall at the Garage which will boost capacity to 780.
After this my intention is to recreate the Gathering Of The Thousands festivals with the aim of making this stand up as a big well know festival. We will start in London, then thereafter we will look to do the same in Ireland, Wales and Scotland and offer something more
creative and fresh. The events this weekend are my own promotions therefore I hired the
venues and covered all group fees etc. Many conflict songs will be heard live for the last time ever in the UK this weekend and I will be making a full public apology over the Glasgow comments. I will be releasing a full statement and sincere apology asap however, I have
been visited at home and pulled in for questioning over this in the past week.
AN: A hell of a lot has changed since Conflict started in 1981, what have been the biggest for you as a band and the way you work and would you say it is easier or harder today?
CJ: I think it is easier for Conflict to communicate and operate today due to internet/social media sites etc. However as you are aware I am still crap at keeping up with things, having said that demand for Conflict and the time the attention requires is at an ALL TIME HIGH.
AN: What would be the best advice you could give a young like-minded band starting out today?
CJ: You know what I don’t know how a lot of them persevere and keep at it, there are so many great new groups who make up what is a real underground scene.
In total truth, Conflict was simply fortunate enough to be in the right place at exactly the right time and the rest is history.
Of course it’s important and morally right to avoid falling into the trap of becoming a part of what you’re against, however from experience I believe there is a value in taking part in some events/playing some mainstream venues in order to widen the horizon to project the group and all associated with it…For instance for me I find it worthwhile to make festival appearances in venues where I would not make standard Conflict gigs…Ie. Have just turned down an 02 Academy UK tour…but would play a big fest at the 02 Forum..
AN: Obviously as you have probably mentioned the Internet is very important especially when it comes to cutting down boundaries and spreading word about things. One negative aspect I find is that instead of going to demos, hunt disruptions, protests etc people consider they are doing their bit as armchair anarchists moaning about all that is wrong as voices on social media rather than getting out there and doing something. Would you agree?
CJ: Oh fuck yes, but in truth I never went to many demos, every single one I did I was arrested. So therefore kept to my own methods of hitting back, I think it is vital that people do NOT speak of too much in great detail on the net. May sound fucking obvious but I have noticed many still do…Be warned they may have not come to you yet, but trust me they will.
AN: Finally and it has to be asked but new material? It’s been bloody ages, we are talking ten years since There’s No Power Without Control. What’s going on, can we expect something new at some point?
CJ: I have written a new single Conflict – This much remains . I am working on the music for a new album also.
If I had felt after the test gigs that there was no need for Conflict then I would have left it at that but the overwhelming support that has been expressed this year has made me want to release new recordings.
I am also well underway in the writing of a book . CONFLICT-THE MOVEMENT AND ME.
AN: Anything you would like to add to our readers, the platforms all yours.
CJ: It is not important if people love or hate Conflict as long as they are fighting for what they believe.
It is NOT about the Left or the Right – it IS about what is Right and Wrong.
Thank you for your time and effort to date. Col
Interview and photos Pete Woods