An idea which came to us on a cold, wet afternoon in January 87 out of long conversations about our disillusionment and disappointment in the punk movement, about whether or not we felt we hod achieved anything in our respective bands. What we could have achieved? Then, more importantly, what we could achieve! Did we have anything left to offer?
Punk seemed dead and buried, but the respectable front of it could still be seen peacocking up and down the Kings Road, on postcards entertaining the tourists. We talked about the excitement, the energy, the enthusiasm and the dignity that punk was, that appealed to so many people and inspired them to form bands, magazines, fringe theatres, shops, venues, squats, etc. and how it all seemed to be disappearing, wasted.
We talked about the so-called punk bands of present, who see punk as nothing more than a musical style imported from America. "The words have no importance but you should see how fast we play" and discussed those who are all too willing to earn their bucks out of punk along the way. What were these people doing? Punk set out to destroy ageing superstar rock and all the pathetic leeches that went with it. Where now was the originality? The do it yourself spirit? And where had all the people gone who wed worked so closely with at one time? Then, more to the point, if we could see what a burnt-out wanked-on, miserable rut punk was becoming, what were we doing about it except for whining on just like anyone else?
Suddenly it came to us, do a gig! Together! Why a gig? We both already had eight years of gigs? Soon we realised there was no point in just playing the usual credible gig at Joes squat, it had to be different, a mouthy, well over the top gig that would prick up the ears if nothing else and do it in the biggest venue we could find this side of Wembley. Do it for no other reason than to try and inject a feeling of excitement and hope into the air, bring everyone together in mass, and then see what happens. We agreed first off that we couldnt consider the whole idea to death, that we, as confused, and lost as everybody else, would just throw ourselves in the deep end and hope for the best. Would enough people come to see us? Is anyone still interested in songs now years old? Who gives a shit as we phoned our final choice, the Academy in Brixton, which hosts a capacity of 5,300.
Colin posed as a Rough Trade representative throughout in order to book the hall, complete with briefcase, greased-back hair etc. (they hadnt heard of Conflict but everyone knows Rough Trade). After many more phone calls, meetings, and lies from both parties, a deal was drawn up on stolen Rough Trade headed paper. A date was set. Saturday 18th April 1987. A good omen, The Gathering of the Five Thousand on the anniversary of the Resurrection. The costs that were involved in organising the event were frightening and at this stage were set at £6163, this being made up of £1500 hall hire, £1300 security/staff, P.A. and lights £1300, posters £1300 and a further £763 spent on radio advertising, ticket printing, electricians, firemen, nurses and so on.
All the costs of which The Academy were adamant had to occur if the concert was to proceed. The Academy then informed us that the entrance price was to be £3.50 and this was the first time the whole event ground to a halt. We eventually and reluctantly submitted to a door price of £2.50, higher than our usual admission price, but under the circumstances the compromise seemed reasonable. During .he following months we set to work on publicising the event, scrapping together the money needed from various sources. Paco a daytime job, Colin some security work, loans etc. and worked hard letting anyone and everyone know exactly what we were up to. We printed and distributed leaflets, arranged press adverts, mail-out to over 3,000 people, Interviews, arranged rehearsals, equipment, supports and so on, and with the new costs the break even figure now stood at around £6600 (2,640 people).
The 18th getting closer, we blew the dust from the banners, checked over the lyrics and got the videos in order. We arranged for ten TV screens to be on stage (more costs) to show videos throughout the set, and set to work producing a new video, introduction tape, it was when we mentioned this to The Academy that they first warned us that the police were unhappy about the event taking place, assured us that plain clothes officers would sneak into the hall and informed us that they would be stepping up their security to a total of 75 men and 10 women. Then they told us be careful of the content shown in the films. Our immediate reaction was fuck this, the gigs off, secondly it was, no fuck them, let's rub their noses in it. By now a scene of paranoia and confusion had entered into the atmosphere, The Academy still not knowing Colin was in Conflict, the police pressure, us arriving at a meeting to find police happily chatting with Academy staff. Who was on whos side?
We rehearsed late into the morning for a week with a new brass section and female vocalist, and slowly built up a set which we felt was relevant and poignant. A massive boost to us all occurred when Steve Ignorant announced he had plenty more to give and joined the Conflict organisation on a permanent basis. The whole idea now seemed to have changed, we hadnt played for six months and Steve not for three years, and with the mounting pressures it seemed more like we were going into battle rather than a concert, Conflict on trial? Conflicts last stand?
From the very start we had decided it would be good to document the event from beginning to end, and arranged for a mobile recording studio and a five person video team to be present on the night, one of which was to be with us at all times prior to the event in the able hands of a mate called Pinko, who recorded rehearsals, and just about anything that happened, including us monitoring police activity around the Academy three days before the gig. By now we had decided the event would have more purpose as a benefit and got in touch with a wide range of causes with the ever-present help of Malcolm from Housmans Bookshop.
It was planned for all causes receiving benefit from the concert to provide a stall, each showing what they were about and offering direct contact with the general public. We hired in 25 tables for their displays and informed the Academy that we would draw up a list of names/organisations and they would have to be let in early and free of charge on the day, also we eventually persuaded the Academy there should be no rent charges for the stalls, after all the concert was a benefit far them! Over the next few days we set to work arranging coaches from all over the country which proved quite a task. Although coaches successfully arrived from Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Exeter, Ireland and various parts of London. We were called to our final meeting with the Academy prior to the concert on Thursday 6th April.
It was at this meeting that Colin was informed he had to meet police chiefs in Brixton to discuss the plans and aims of the gathering, but prior to this several important points were raised! No meat was to be on sale at the event, the security were to be calm and treat the audience with respect, no security was to be on the stage, (this would be provided by Conflict) stall workers would be allowed free entrance from 3pm onwards. The Conflict organisation would arrive at 11am and help set up PA., lights etc. If the concert broke even, all further monies would be split 50-50 between the Academy and the stalls, and lastly, under no circumstances could the police enter the hall without the bands/Academys permission.
Then at the police meeting they informed us they would be mounting a full-scale security operation around the Academy, and would, in fact, be sealing off certain streets. When asked if expecting trouble they replied no. It's just a precaution. They began to question further and we thought we had convinced them that Conflict were just a rock band with a few violent trouble makers in their following, until an officer announced that Conflict have a huge loyal horde of supporters with the reputation of being the most political and violent audience in the land. And their main target was, in fact, the police. What can you say to that?
When the meeting concluded they still did not know I was in fact a member of Conflict, but I had a feeling I hadnt seen the last of Brixton Police Station. Travelling home it occurred to me that perhaps they were not banning the concert in order to get one long look at Conflict and our ilk in one move, perhaps they were planning to test their new riot control tactics an us? After all, theyve stopped concerts before, why not this one?
Looking back over what authority has done to Conflict and the peace movement over the years a feeling of 'are we doing the right thing?' emerged. Had we made a big mistake by raising our heads and bringing the whole movement out into the open, in one day? A staged battle? By now, however, it was too late. One day to go and we went over everything, it was now we received information that the Three Wise Men, a political rap band, had chosen not to appear on the bill.
We felt deeply disappointed for this was to be the first time we were to appear live without the appearance of other punk groups, and the importance of reaching new people was now more relevant than ever. A huge gap to fill, but help soon came in the form of Benjamin Zephaniah who calmly and quietly said yes. Its not often you get the chance to work with unpretentious, undemanding, 100% people, but Benjamin is one of them. Forward, the final agreement. No meat on sale, banners o.k., lighting platforms, stage risers, t-shirts to be sold at £4.00, cheaper than usual drinks, ignore usual house rules and let cameras and tape recorders in, guest list drawn up and confirmed, areas cleared for coaches to arrive, parking permits obtained, door price £2.50, no police allowed in the building, security to treat people with respect, Conflict people to provide stage security, any profits to be split 50-50 between the Academy and the stalls, Conflict to arrive at 9am, P.A. at 9am, lights at 10am, mobile recording studio at 11am [???] crew at11.30am, TV monitors at 11.30am, caterers at 12 noon, tables for stalls at 1pm, stalls at 2pm, soundchecks at 3pm, doors open at 7pm.
The Academy management finally agreed on all points, but stipulated that a safety barrier would now have to be erected at the front. We objected, they said no barrier, no concert, we had now covered every angle to the extent that as the 8th grew nearer we ate, slept, and shat the Academy. The 18th arrived, one of the sunniest days of the year up to then. We arrived at the Academy at around 11 oclock after picking up vans, people and equipment, to find people already outside purchasing tickets. On entering the building we found the P.A. had arrived along with the mobile recording studio and lighting rig, and with the help of the brilliant Conflict team was in the process of being set up on the vast stage. Looking to the front at stage we sow the safety barrier being erected and felt disappointment at the distance created between stage and audience.
Most of the time was spent arranging the stage and when it came to erecting the backdrops we encountered what would be the first of our many problems, "You cant put them up!". "Why not?" "Because theyre not fireproof, thats why!" "Why didnt somebody tell us they had to be before now then?" we snapped. Eventually someone got hold of some flameguard, treated the backdrops and they went up. Trying to keep calm, with time not on our side we pushed on, checking over the recording and video equipment and meeting various people who were working for us throughout the day, it was now we found out our soundman had rung to say he couldnt make it, what a day to let us down. The company who were supplying the TV monitors arrived soon after only to say they would not set them up us we hadnt taken out insurance on them (not that anyone mentioned we needed it when we hired them) so, as usual in these circumstances a compromise was reached, four TV. screens, not the spectacular towers of ten we wanted, but time was running out on us, and fast.
The backline then arrived only to be sent straight back, wrong amps, bits missing, not working etc. Although in all fairness the company responsible were quick to provide replacements. Things now running late, the stallholders began to arrive but were having difficulty getting access to the building. We began sorting this out, only to be informed we now had to soundcheck. We ran through a few numbers and eventually got a sound that was reasonable, but in no way satisfactory, then back to the stalls, it seems the Academy had not printed enough passes, so were insisting that the remainder of stall holders pay to enter, and with their 85 security now present in the building, who was going to argue? A quick glance outside in the street enhanced mixed feelings of joy and fear as we witnessed hundreds of people massing in the areas surrounding the Academy. We also witnessed a heavy police presence, but all seemed quiet.
On returning to the building to grab a minutes peace and some food we found, to our horror, police in uniform inside the hall taking a good look at our stage layout, and in particular the banners. We soon found out that the Academy management had let them in and were showing them round, it was now quite obvious what side they were on.
In between mouthfuls of food (the first all day) we ran back and forth to the stage door, "can you get me on the guest list", to the front doors, "theyre making our stall holders pay" to the support bands "when do we soundcheck", to the P.A. bloke, the lighting bloke, the management, to the coaches, to the stalls again, and taking into consideration the size of this place I personally was beginning to think that some people must think Im a fucking whippet or something.
Another argument developed when the Academy informed us that in fact the stalls would have to be charged rent, a fee of £15 per stall, "But I thought we agreed that... "Look bollox to that mate, weve had enough of these dirty bastards already", the management snapped. I reluctantly walked around the stalls and informed them of the change of plans, assured them it was no fault of Conflicts and most seemed quite reasonable about it. But then again most people are to your face, as we witnessed when reports reached backstage of how Conflict were ripping the stalls off,
Faces looking drawn we met briefly to relax, only to be told the crowds outside were fighting and police would sure soon be arriving in numbers. Fuck it, open the doors, get them in off the streets and out of the reach of the cops. Now lets have that five minutes to relax and discuss the set, not a chance, door security werent taking any notice of the guest list policy, and pandemonium threatened as people were told, go to the side door, no go to the front door, the side door. Most people paid anyway, just to get in and have done with it, but it left a gutting feeling as we looked from the balcony windows to see friends and people who were supposed to be working being jostled around outside, with the knowledge we were powerless to do fuck all about it.
Listening to the chanting echoing up from downstairs we realised people were becoming impatient, so on went the first band, Thatcher On Acid, it was then I got my first look at the crowd, it was huge, with hundreds still outside queuing to get in, from every part of the country they came and also from Ireland, Sweden and most of Europe. The ungovernable force had arrived.
The people helping as our stage security managed to get in to the hall just in time for the start of Benjamin Zephaniahs set, and after a brief confrontation with the Academy security, took up their positions at the front of the stage. Benjamin blasted through a set of sheer brilliance, and by his finale had the crowd in a fine militaristic mood.
This was it, this was the moment we had worked and waited three months for, our chance, the 18 minute video intro commenced and the crowd let out a deafening roar. We rushed backstage for a final chat and checked over the set, and at the final moment with the hall ringing with chanting we eventually cracked, the pressure of the day and mixed feelings, frustrations, fear, hate, joy, love, hope and the overwhelming response of the crowd finally proving too much, the tears flowed for a few moments before we rushed to the front of the stage in on attempt to help our friends contain the vast enthusiastic crowd, the intro tape faded...
The event ended, as we saw it, in failure, fighting breaking out on stage, bringing an abrupt and violent ending to the closing stages of the encore. For this reason we decided not to include these tracks on this album, along with others that we simply fucked up.
We remained onstage for a while talking, listening and arguing with people, because throughout the set we noticed people present at the front, hell bent on trouble, who could simply offer nothing more than destruction, damaging PA. equipment, lighting equipment, ripping down banners, then invading the stage and mobbing group members, the latter of course, acceptable when a gesture at support (although not entirely relevant) but most of this was fucking malicious, and what happens when you retaliate? Popstars! Fucking Popstars!
This along with Academy security beating shit out of people, bringing dogs on to the stage, assaulting Paco and getting tooled up to "Do over the rest of the group" finally got too much, tempers flared and we announced the event was over, and Conflict were finished.
We left the stage feeling gutted, shattered and totally destroyed. What was to have been the chance to bring all together had ended in a sham, with people blaming each other, some blamed the venue, some the security, most blamed Conflict.
With the masses now heading for the doors we retreated to a backstage room where everyone sat in silence trying to take in and recover from what had happened throughout the day, then we heard smashing glass and chanting outside. We ran down the stairs out of the side doors and came face to face with Brixtons riot control mob in full battle dress. There have been many different versions of what happened after and during the riot that followed. All we personally saw before being beaten back into the venue was the sickening sight of Thatchers police force at work, chasing, beating and arresting everybody in sight. However, various activities occurred as police vans were left unattended outside the doors with their contents off in pursuit of criminals although these are best left to the imagination.
Reports from locals said that the police arrived in force fifteen minutes before the scheduled end of the concert and lined the streets adjacent to the Academy, others said the police started it all by violently arresting anyone shouting or singing as they left the hall. Unity and companionship being the most important assets of our movement, people went to aid the arrested and from then on a full scale running battle between oppressors and oppressed commenced.
The Academy was totally sealed off with us still stuck inside as police attempted to prevent any people retreating back in to the building. Those who managed to get through told different versions, some said the police battered everyone, others said the police got a bloody good hiding. We were eventually allowed to leave the Academy at approximately 1.45am with police following (making sure we went straight out of Brixton) we headed for home.
After another sleepless night I woke with hopes that the whole day might have been a nightmare, and in fact this might be Saturday, but if course it wasnt, this hit home as reports filled the airwaves and TV. screens about "The Battle of Brixton.
Most of the day was spent on trying to enlighten ourselves as to exactly what happened both during and after the event, inside and outside the Academy, and finding out who had been arrested, on what charges, if any were still detained, and where!
The final outcome, as we know it, of what happened in the streets following The Gathering Of The 5000, is as follows: Fifty-two people arrested, with thirty-two later charged under the new Public Order Act, with offences ranging from obstruction to A.B.H. on police officers, the remainder were roughed up, questioned and released!
Nine policemen and one W.P.C. were injured, two seriously, also four police vans and two cars were damaged.
There was an estimated total of thirty thousand pounds worth of damage to the surrounding area, much of which was pinpointed targets for attack in certain leaflets distributed prior to the event. A method that works? The official police statement that followed claimed they had drafted in five hundred police to the scene following disturbances after the concert, in an attempt to clear the area and move people out of Brixton, and that riot police and dog handlers were deployed as five hundred white punk rockers started attacking police with missiles, inevitable confrontation followed, and arrests occurred.
What the statements failed to say, and is still unanswered is, if the police operation was mainly to clear the area and move the crowds out of Brixton, then why did they force Brixton tube station to close, after emptying a whole tube full of passengers back on to the streets? Why were officers frequently boarding buses and pulling people off? And why did they completely seal off all exit roads from Brixton within a five mile radius of the Academy???
Nothing to do with testing new riot techniques I suppose!
Not to fulfill their ever repeated brag of how they can quell a Brixton riot in one hour either!
Perhaps it was to show the local blacks that they beat up white people as well!
The above reasons are probabilities but can not be proven, but in reality the answer is obvious, the police hate us as we in turn hate them and their main objective was to hunt and frighten off as many people as possible.
Reports repeatedly flowed in of people simply attacked by police, not arrested, just beaten up and then left, others receiving serious head wounds, and even a man having his head smashed through a window by two officers. The police used boot polish to black out their identification numbers and went in for the ruck, comments by police officers included "Youve had this coming you punk cunts", "Who wants some" and "Conflict are next".
People detained were forced to give fingerprints and have their photographs taken, spat on and generally abused. A senior officer admitted verbally that some of his younger constables had simply lost their heads in the mayhem, but I wonder if that story will also excuse the people awaiting trial for injuring police officers.
The truth of what happened on Saturday 18th April 1987 in Brixton, London, was in fact a police riot, made ever possible and more unquestionable by the recently imposed new Police Bill.
New Bill, old bill, theyre all a pile of fucking shit, theyre the states puppets, it pulls the strings and they jump, no one truly polices the police in the United Kingdom, they are a law unto themselves, powerful, uncontrollable and unstoppable.
It is essential we are not made weak with anger. We must push forward and create, Im sick to fucking death of staged battles after our concerts, we cant beat them out in the open, only once have we ever held back and chased off the police but nowadays they are fully prepared for us, sure we must retaliate when started upon, but to think we can take over after leaving a concert is suicide.
Its fucking soul destroying to see the police hammering fuck out of people within our movement, people you respect and love, its so wasted. We can and will beat them by using pressure, resistance and action, carefully and properly for its far better to achieve a little slowly than getting five years in jail for rioting.
We can not state enough the importance of direct action, including after concerts, but be careful, there is always property and people in surrounding areas and on journeys home that require constant attention, but if you wish to hit back at the police do it only when the numbers are on your side, quietly, quickly and carefully.
The last paragraph was written after we received copies of a leaflet titled "Turning Conflict Into Reality", it seems these leaflets were distributed at the Academy and also at other London concerts by Conflict. The leaflet criticised both Conflict and the punk movement in general claiming it is stupid to enjoy yourself by dancing to groups, it also stated that punk was about as revolutionary as Crossroads (an English soap opera series). The leaflet then went on to urge people to go out onto the streets and take over after the concert, are these people stupid? Cant they see that fists and boots are no match for truncheons and plastic bullets?
The general contents of the leaflet, except for the aforementioned, were vaguely valid, but the fact remains that they were distributed by political activists who wont show themselves or take responsibility for their literature. They simply use you to take the risks and us to take the blame and pick up the pieces.
Over the next week we learnt, from reliable sources, how the Academy had virtually gone back on our entire agreement, people were treated rough by security, girls were harassed, they confiscated tape recorders and ripped the film out of cameras. They also threatened stall holders, t-shirts were sold at £6 instead of £4, they ignored the guest list and stall passes, and disgustingly they were not providing vegetarian food, instead they sold beefburgers.
We eagerly arranged a meeting with the Academy at which we hoped to find out what went wrong and get accounted to for the concert. At this meeting they denied all the above, then dealt the most devastating blow we had to deal with since the very idea of the gathering started, they were refusing to pay us any expenses, and furthermore refused to share any monies with the causes the concert was in aid of. They claimed there had been over a thousand pounds worth of damage inflicted on their building in the form of graffiti, broken windows and smashed toilets and sinks. When asked if we could see the damage they replied its already been repaired, how convenient.
Further to this they informed us that there was not enough money to cover costs and in fact they would be requiring a substantial amount off us (some chance). Finally they refused to honour agreed bills for hiring the TV. monitors and tables. We walked out.
Anyone who attended the concert will be aware of the Academys lies and deceit and hopefully will be less trusting than we were in any future dealings with them. Financially the event proved a disaster, with Conflict still paying debts off to various companies and people and with the Academys management being so unhelpful by refusing to disclose any official figures theres no way of knowing how many people actually attended. A small consolation evolved when we learnt that the stalls hod got away without paying rent and had, in fact, made quite a lot of money selling product related to the causes.
The days passed and it became more and more obvious to us that without taking finance into consideration the gathering had been a huge success. We had brought everyone together, and to say that we injected excitement into the air was an understatement. People were optimistic, and the press was full of stories and comments (most utter rubbish) about Conflict and the movement in general. Phone calls and many letters of support were received daily and people generally were talking about the events before and after, all over the place, same good reports, some bad, but it didnt matter! Something was happening. The more we looked at what was going on around us the better it seemed, and anyway, how else was the biggest alternative concert in punk history to have ended? It we had finished, said goodnight, and all had gone home quietly what would have been achieved? Was anything achieved?
By now however, it didn't matter, we felt alive and ready to go again and decided to consider our future. We met and discussed many things including the emotions at the concert, and commented on how nice it was to see people smiling again. We soon shrugged off our final doubts and depression and set to work producing this album in an attempt to repay the debts, generate urgently needed finance amongst the causes present on the sleeve, and start again. Thats why this album is six pounds. We all desperately need finance.
We set to work laying out the cover, and decided, like the concert, it should be different and well over the top. We decided the only way to capture the atmosphere and feelings was to print pictures of all who took part, including the crowd, and as we layed out the pictures of ourselves we could already hear the screams of rockstars and sell out. But then again weve always been different and broke the "rules". We were the first anarchist band to use colour covers, the first to put the entrance to our concerts up to a more realistic price, and the first to claim pacifism was an ideal and not an answer, all of which in turn we were criticised for, but most soon realised being realistic is a matter of importance and followed suit.
The mass publicity now occurring also had an adverse effect as we found ourselves summoned to appear before police chiefs in Brixton, from then on we were threatened with incitement charges and informed that an offshoot of the Home Office was considering doing all in their power to prevent the group known as Conflict performing live anywhere within the boundaries of the United Kingdom until further notice.
We were in fact banned from the UK, and although no white paper was served upon us, we soon found our scheduled tour of the country cancelled as police visited club owners and "persuaded" them not to let Conflict appear.
Further to this we have found all our mail tampered with and have learnt of police entering record shops and taking copies of our recordings away. However, since the clamp down we have successfully managed to appear under pseudonyms at various venues around the country and will continue to do so. We regard the banning as puerile and immaterial and therefore will not adhere to the states restrictions.
Lastly we would like to send love and thanks to all who attended the gathering, to those that couldnt and the many that have shown so much overwhelming support over the years, we now will fight on, and were sure you will too. Remember, whoever they vote for, were ungovernable.
Conflict, London 1987
Taken from reverse side of Conflict/Mortarhate merchandise leaflet distributed at gigs in the late 80s and early 90s.