Liberty: The People Who Care Are Still Angry!
A conversation with Steve Flack on his involvement in one of the most militant punk-rock bands
When it comes to early 80’s anarcho-punk scene in the UK, there are a few bands as militant and uncompromising as Liberty. The band formed in 1980 in North Kent to get it all out on the table early. Liberty were not afraid to unopolegitacally question and confront their own scene, meat eaters, or any right-wing political opponent. By the end of 1984 they had already got close friends with Conflict and Steve Flack joined Liberty as a second singer. Both bands were not only gigging together, but also on several occasions had to fight with either bare hands or weapons to defend themselves from Nazi boneheads and other scumbags.
Singer Mark Wallace often said while on stage things like “Lyrics first, then music”, “Do you really care?’, “This is not enough, stand up and fucking fight!”, and “Get out there, and show your anger!” And now, more than 30 years later the band is once again active in both music and radical politics. The people who care are still angry and old punk Steve Flack is here to prove it. Photos by Andie Harrington and Punk Rock Pix by John Marshall.
OK, let’s go straight to your own story. Do you mind to share some background about how and when you first got involved with DIY subculture and punk music?
Steve Flack: OK, I got into punk in 1976. I was 13 and had a part time job in a record shop, like many I saw The Pistols Bill Grundy interview and that hit a raw nerve and I knew this was something that was for me. During the coming months any money I got went on records—The Pistols, The Damned, etc. The early bands that hugely inspired me were The Clash, The Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers. I lived fairly close to Small Wonder Records and got to know Pete and Marie really well.
Pete first pointed me in the direction of Crass before “Feeding of the 5000” came out, and I first saw them at St. John’s Hall in Epping in 1978 and was totally blown away from the moment I walked in by the banners and how friendly the band were, especially Steve and our friendship grew stronger throughout the years via Crass gigs, our time spent in Conflict and on the present day.
To me this is what punk was about—completely DIY not lining the pockets of businessmen. Crass gigs were at times very confrontational with the left and right-wing using them as a battleground at times, and personally I struggled to understand the pacifist stance with these people. They had some great bands to support them—Poison Girls, Flux, Dirt, and Conflict. My girlfriend Mandy had been asked to do some vocals on the first Conflict album, which lead to us both doing vocals on further releases and live. So I was part of the band for 6 years and started a friendship that has stretched 35 years.
How and when did you join Liberty and have you been in other bands before?
Mark Wallace who was the singer in Liberty asked me to join as a second singer as they wanted to bolster the vocal sound of the band. It was after a Conflict gig in Ipswich in 1984 that Liberty had played where we had a major ruck with the British Movement and had sent them on their way after some blood donations!
What does anarcho-punk mean to you? Is it just a name that was given to the bands of the early 80’s who advocated viewpoints similar to Crass?
I still don’t really like the term anarcho punk and don’t know if there was really a need to title those bands who had grown out of the Crass label. I suppose what it means to me is, that it is people who are part of the punk movement who care deeply about various social and political issues, and are prepared to act on the things they sing about.
For some anarcho-punk was already dead by the mid 80’s as it became self-righteous to the extent that proving your own righteousness, or more likely disapproving of someone else, became more important than building a community and finding ways to address social injustices in a meaningful way. Do you agree?
I do agree strongly on that and some people became the thing that they were totally opposed to and disagreed with, but got sucked in by their own self importance and lost direction of what it should have been about. For Liberty, well certainly me, I became disillusioned and needed something different. I believe our album, when it came out, was way ahead of its time, the music and message were as equally important as each other, and using pianos, violin and a brass section was a point of difference—something we could’ve built on had we continued at that time.
It seems that Liberty and Conflict have been among the most militant bands from that era. Is it true that there were several times when both bands had to fight with Nazi skinheads and cause violent confrontations at the shows? Do you agree that while many anarcho bands at the time were upholding pacifist sloganeering, Liberty was more about confrontation?
There were a number of occasions when both bands were involved in violent confrontations with Nazis. I prefer the word boneheads because to me the skinhead culture grew out of the music and culture of Jamaïcain rude boys.
Both bands wouldn’t and still won’t stand for these idiots at our gigs and they were there for one reason: to express their vile shit nazi views and hurt people and we weren’t going to stand back and watch people we love get hurt. They only understood one thing, where other bands may have taken the pacifist stance we didn’t, and at times hit them hard before they had a chance to start trouble. And yes, we were about confrontation and without going into too much detail were actively involved in various forms of direct action surrounding this.
What’s your motivation for singing Liberty songs in 2016? Why do you think so many bands of the 80’s have reformed in one form or another? What is it like to work under the belt of reformed Kent anarcho-punk’s Anthrax and their label Grow Your Own Records?
So present day and back in Liberty, the band has grown and line-up has changed. Mick and Del started playing together again in 2005 with Mark S on Bass and Mark W came back for a while, and wrote the second album “Just Talking Reality“. He moved on and Luke from Social Parasites joined. Nath was recruited as a second guitarist before I returned after living overseas for a number of years.
All of us share the belief that there is still plenty of things wrong in the world and many issues that we feel strongly about. We have known Gary from Anthrax for many years so it’s good to be involved with Grow Your Own. I believe many of the bands reforming are doing it for the same reason as us and still have plenty to say.
Back in the day punks were doing benefit gigs for anti-war campaigns, feminism, animal liberation, and working class issues such as the miners’ strike under Thatcher’s government. Now we have groups like Punks For Refugees and a strong focus on antifascism in a much broader sense than just fighting the Nazi boneheads on the streets. Do you think the political situation in the UK right now is even worse than it was before? Are there any causes or groups you feel close to your heart at present day?
There are a number of current day issues that really haven’t ever gone away if we look around the arms business. But Anti-Fascism, Human and Animal Rights are issues that the band feel very strongly about.
It’s a vicious circle that has lead the terrible plight of refugees trying to escape the war violence and murder that has been created by world governments who are looking to protect investments in those countries. Many people who voted for Brexit was due to immigration and immigrants wanting to seek refuge in the U.K. If they believe they are coming here so they can claim benefits then those people must be a special kind of stupid, they have no choice since their homes have been destroyed by the war machine and companies such as Lockheed Martin one of the world’s biggest arms dealers gained £31 billion pounds in 2013, sadly there is no profit in peace.
Thank you, the last one is on you. Anything to add?
Check out our single that was released by Chaz on Global Resistance. It has been well received and we have other new material that we plan to record in 2017.
The People Who Care Are Still Angry!