"Neither Washington, Nor Moscow" (Album, 2021)
deluxe reissue of the 1996 LP, this has everything a
committed Redskins fan could ever want (and tellingly quite
a lot that they could do without). I first saw Redskins on
the back of a flatbed truck with Conflict at a Socialist
Workers Party march in South East London in 1982, and hardly
anybody turned up apart from the people who'd come to see
Conflict play. I remember Redskins all wore balaclavas, but
not much stuck in mind other than "They're good".
I knew they were a 'SWP band' and so treated them with the suspicion that only someone who was briefly in the SWP and who left pretty sharpish when they realised it was essentially run as a religious cult can have (Don’t get me started about 'bleedin' Trots'…).
I heard the first single Peasant Army/Lev Bronstein on John Peel’s show, and liked it a lot, despite my reservations about the latter being a hagiography of Trotsky, but it wasn’t until they added a brass section that they really caught my attention.
The 12” single of Lean on Me/Unionise is justly sited as a high-water mark for political music, independent labels, and frankly music in general.
Managing to sound like The Clash and Dexy’s at the
same time, it’s easily their best release. All these, and
the other singles (originally released in a bewildering
array of formats and versions – sometimes a 7”, a 10” AND a
12”) are included in all their various mixes (and yes, I
bought them all), along with their BBC radio sessions (and
the LP proper, obviously). All of these are entirely
essential; but here we come to the crux of the matter - this
box set could have easily been at least one disc lighter.
It does a very good job of collating all the various versions of the tracks not included on the original album, the Peel session is fantastic, and the booklet and packaging are first rate. But (and there’s always a 'but'), there are not one, but two live sets, as well as early demos (from when they were called "No Swastikas") and rough recordings of songs that never made it into the studio. The early demos are of historical interest only, as are the later rough versions of new songs, and I found myself skipping through the discs to get to the stuff I actually wanted to hear.
The live sets are of little interest to me, although I suppose the truly committed fan would want them, but does anyone really need to hear the band mangling Skinhead Moonstomp with Jerry Dammers on keyboards? or Back in the USSR with Billy Bragg? They also make the inexcusable decision to attempt to cover Tracks of My Tears, an error that has brought many bands to ruin, and they really, really shouldn't have; it is truly awful.
10/10 for the good stuff, the pointless bits bring it down to 5/10, but the packaging drags it back up to 7/10.
Nick Hydra (February 2022)