Chumbawamba // were a British band that formed in 1982 and ended in 2012. The band constantly shifted in musical style, drawing on genres such as punk rock, pop, folk, and experimental. Their anarchist or libertarian socialist political stance exhibited an irreverent attitude toward authority, and the band have been forthright in their stances on issues including animal rights, pacifism (early in their career) and later regarding class struggle, feminism, gay liberation, pop culture and anti-fascism.
|Also known as||Skin Disease, Antidote (with The Ex), Scab Aid, Sportchestra, The Middle (as a hoax)|
|Origin||Burnley, Lancashire, England|
|Labels||Agit-Prop, One Little Indian, EMI, MUTT Records/No Masters|
|Associated acts||Chimp Eats Banana|
The band are best known for their song "Tubthumping", which was nominated for Best British Single at the 1998 Brit Awards. Other singles include "Amnesia", "Enough Is Enough" (with MC Fusion), "Timebomb", "Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé)", and "Add Me".
In July 2012, Chumbawamba announced their decision to end the band. On its website the members stated "That’s it then, it’s the end. With neither a whimper, a bang, or a reunion." The band performed three last shows between 31 October and 3 November.
Chumbawamba formed in Burnley in 1982 with an initial line-up of Allan "Boff" Whalley, Danbert Nobacon (born Nigel Hunter), Midge and Tomi, all four previously members of the band Chimp Eats Banana, shortly afterwards joined by Lou Watts. The band made their live debut in January 1982. Their first vinyl release was a track ("Three Years Later") on the Crass Records compilation album Bullshit Detector 2. They were initially inspired musically by bands as diverse as the Fall, PiL, Wire, and Adam and the Ants and politically by the anarchist stance of Crass. Another of the band's early releases was under the name "Skin Disease", parodying the Oi! bands of the time so successfully that they were included on 'Back On The Streets', an Oi! compilation EP put together by Sounds magazine journalist Garry Bushell. By the end of 1982, the band had expanded to include Alice Nutter (of Ouch, My Hair's on Fire), and Dunstan "Dunst" Bruce (of Men in a Suitcase) and were living in a squat in Armley, Leeds, with Harry "Daz" Hamer and Mavis "Mave" Dillon joining soon after. Stalwarts of the cassette culture scene, the band released a number of tapes including Be Happy Despite It All and Raising Heck With Chumbawamba, and were featured on many compilations. Chumbawamba were at the forefront of the 1980s anarcho-punk movement, frequently playing benefit gigs in squats and small halls for causes such as animal rights, the anti-war movement, and community groups. The band's collective political views are often described as anarchist. They made several songs about the UK miners' strike, including the Common Ground cassette and a song dedicated to the pit village of Fitzwilliam, which was one of the worst cases of economic decline following the strike.
Sky and Trees and Agit-Prop RecordsEdit
By the mid-1980s Chumbawamba had begun to release material using the vinyl format on their own Agit-Prop record label, which had evolved from an earlier project, Sky and Trees Records. The first release was the Revolution EP in 1985, which quickly sold out of its initial run, and was re-pressed, reaching No. 4 in the UK Indie Chart, and staying in the chart for 34 weeks. The first LP, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records (1986) was a critique of the Live Aid concert organised by Bob Geldof, which the band argued was primarily a cosmetic spectacle designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger.
The band toured Europe with Dutch band the Ex, and a collaboration between members of the two bands, under the name "Antidote", led to the release of an EP, Destroy Fascism!, inspired by hardcore punk band Heresy, with whom they had also toured. Both the Ex and Chumbawamba were released on cassette tape in Poland during this period, when music censorship was entrenched in Iron Curtain nations. The "RED" label, based in Wrocław in south-west Poland during the late 1980s, only released cassette tapes and, despite the limits enforced by Polish authorities, was able to release Chumbawamba's music, in addition to bands from the USSR, East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Chumbawamba's second album, Never Mind the Ballots...Here's the Rest of Your Lives, was released in 1987, coinciding with the general election, and questions the validity of the British democratic system of the time. The band adopted another moniker, Scab Aid, for the "Let It Be" song release that parodied a version of the Beatles song recorded by the popstar supergroup Ferry Aid to raise money for victims of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.
The 1988 album English Rebel Songs 1381–1984, originally released as English Rebel Songs 1381–1914, was a recording of traditional songs.
One Little Indian RecordsEdit
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chumbawamba had begun to absorb influences from techno music and rave culture. The band members quit their day jobs to begin concentrating on music full-time as they could now guarantee sales of 10,000 and they moved away from their original anarcho-punk roots, evolving a pop sensibility with releases such as Slap! (1990) and the sample-heavy Shhh (1992) (originally intended to be released as Jesus H Christ!, this album had to be withdrawn and re-recorded because of copyright problems). They also toured the United States for the first time in 1990.
When Jason Donovan took The Face magazine to court that same year for claiming he was lying by denying he was gay, Chumbawamba responded by printing up hundreds of 'Jason Donovan – Queer As Fuck' T-shirts and giving them away free with the single "Behave".
After signing to the independent One Little Indian record label, Anarchy (1994) lyrically remained as politically uncompromising as ever, continuing to address issues such as homophobia (see song "Homophobia", the music video of which features the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence), the Criminal Justice Act and the rise of fascism in the UK following the election of Derek Beackon, a British National Party councillor in south-east London in 1993. The album was the band's biggest success to date reaching the top 30 in the UK and the singles "Timebomb" and "Enough Is Enough" both entering the low end of the UK Singles Chart. The latter featured Credit to the Nation's rapper MC Fusion. The live shows to support the album were recorded and went to make up their first live album Showbusiness!, released in 1995. One Little Indian also decided to re-release Chumbawamba's back catalogue, which meant that the first three albums were released on CD format for the first time. The first two, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records (1985) and Never Mind the Ballots (1987) were repackaged as one disc under the title First 2.
Chumbawamba parted with One Little Indian during the recording of the 1996 album Swingin' With Raymond, although they did release one last CD entitled Portraits of Anarchists which came with copies of Casey Orr's book of the same name.
Chumbawamba signed to EMI in Europe in 1997, a move that was viewed as controversial by many of their followers. They had been involved with a compilation LP called Fuck EMI in 1989, and had criticised the label in many of their earlier songs. The anarcho-punk band Oi Polloi (with whom Chumbawamba had previously toured and worked with on the 'Punk Aid' Smash the Poll Tax EP ) released an 'anti-Chumbawamba' EP, Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records (Ruptured Ambitions 1998). Chumbawamba argued that EMI had severed the link with weapons manufacturer Thorn a few years previously, and that experience had taught them that, in a capitalist environment, almost every record company operates on capitalist principles; "Our previous record label One Little Indian didn't have the evil symbolic significance of EMI however they were completely motivated by profit." They added that this move brought with it the opportunity to make the band financially viable as well as to communicate their message to a wider audience .
Band politics and mainstream successEdit
In 1997 Chumbawamba scored their biggest chart hit with "Tubthumping" (UK No. 2, US No. 6), which featured an audio sample of actor Pete Postlethwaite's performance in the film Brassed Off. This was followed up in early 1998 with "Amnesia", which reached No. 10 in the UK. During this period Chumbawamba gained some notoriety over several controversial incidents, starting in August 1997 when Nutter was quoted in the British music paper Melody Maker as saying, "Nothing can change the fact that we like it when cops get killed." The comment was met with outrage in Britain's tabloid press and was condemned by the Police Federation of England and Wales. The band resisted pressure from EMI to issue an apology and Nutter only clarified her comment by stating, "If you're working class they won't protect you. When you hear about them, it's in the context of them abusing people, y'know, miscarriages of justice. We don't have a party when cops die, you know we don't."
In January 1998 Nutter appeared on the American political talk show Politically Incorrect and advised fans of their music who could not afford to buy their CDs to steal them from large chains such as HMV and Virgin, which prompted Virgin to remove the album from the shelves and start selling it from behind the counter.
A few weeks later, provoked by the Labour government's refusal to support the Liverpool Dockworkers Strike, the band performed "Tubthumping" at the 1998 BRIT Awards with the lyric changed to include "New Labour sold out the dockers, just like they'll sell out the rest of us", and vocalist Danbert Nobacon later poured a jug of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in the audience.
Chumbawamba has an ethical policy that determines their involvement in multimedia products. In the late 1990s, the band turned down $1.5 million from Nike to use the song "Tubthumping" in a World Cup advertisement. According to the band, the decision took approximately "30 seconds" to make.
In 2002, General Motors paid Chumbawamba a large sum of money (either $70,000 or $100,000, sources differ) to use the song "Pass It Along" from the WYSIWYG album, for a Pontiac Vibe television advertisement in 2002. Chumbawamba gave the money to the anti-corporate activist groups Indymedia and CorpWatch who used the money to launch an information and environmental campaign against GM.
EMI released the band's first collection album which featured a mix bag of songs from between 1985 and 1998 under the title Uneasy Listening.
Also in 1998 came a Japan-only mini album entitled Amnesia, consisting of country and western style versions of recent hits "Tubthumping" and "Amnesia" alongside earlier songs like "Mouthful of Shit".
As a millennium present, Chumbawamba sent out a limited edition single to everyone on their mailing list. The song was a shoop shoop style ballad entitled "Tony Blair", which read like a heartbroken letter to an ex-lover who had broken all his promises. The band would send another free single out two years later, this time a re-worked version of the Beatles' song "Her Majesty" to coincide with the Queen's Golden Jubilee, with lyrics denouncing royalty.
Chumbawamba released the album WYSIWYG in 2000 which included a cover of the early Bee Gees song "New York Mining Disaster". The single "She's Got All The Friends That Money Can Buy", was backed by "Passenger List For Doomed Flight 1721", a song that listed all of the people that the band would like to see "disappear." The list of unfortunates included Tony Blair, Ally McBeal and Bono. Chumbawamba parted from EMI in 2001. The band later said that they got what they wanted from the deal with EMI: "we released some great records, we travelled all over the world, appeared on all these TV programmes, and we made loads of money, a lot of which we gave away or ploughed into worthwhile causes".
To celebrate their 20 years together, the band made a documentary based on footage that they had recorded over the past two decades. Originally intended to be simply a compilation of their videos, the result was entitled Well Done, Now Sod off. The title was taken from an early review of a Chumbawamba record and the film included both lovers and haters of the band.
Mutt Records Edit
In 2002, Chumbawamba formed their own record label, Mutt Records for UK releases.
Under Mutt, Chumbawamba released their eleventh official album, Readymades, which mixed samples of folk music with dance beats. For the US Readymades was repackaged under the title Readymades And Then Some, the extended title referring to a second disc – a DVD which featured clips from Well Done Now Sod Off and remixes of "Tubthumping", one being a remix by the band Flaming Lips. Under the Mutt label the band also produced Sic – Adventures in Anti-Capitalism, a paperback book of political and musical writings by friends and acquaintances of the band.
The band also revisited their a capella 1988 album English Rebel Songs 1381–1914 and felt that as they were now more confident singers, they should re-record it and bring it up to date. And so English Rebel Songs was remade in 2003 with the added track "Coal Not Dole" bringing the record up to 1984.
In 2004, the band released an album called Un. While less synth driven than Readymades or the Revengers Tragedy soundtrack, the album relied heavily on samples, from tribal chants to Frank Zappa interview quotes. The album opens with one of the earliest recordings of a human voice, that of Thomas Edison reciting "Mary Had a Little Lamb". The album gave an inkling of the folk sound that Chumbawamba would move towards on their subsequent releases.
No Masters RecordsEdit
In 2005 Chumbawamba took a hiatus from full-scale touring and recording projects, but a trimmed-down acoustic line-up of Boff Whalley, Lou Watts, Jude Abbot and Neil Ferguson continued to tour the UK and Europe throughout 2005 and 2006. It was this line-up that recorded the album A Singsong and a Scrap, released late in 2005 on No Masters records. They followed this up with a second live album, entitled Get On With It, recorded during 2006 at various venues throughout Britain.
In 2006 Nutter wrote the musical drama Love and Petrol which played for a week in Bradford during June. Hamer wrote the music. Both continue to work in theatre, with Nutter writing Foxes for West Yorkshire Playhouse 2006 and Where's Vietnam? for Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2008 – again Hamer wrote the music. Nutter has since moved into radio and TV, writing for Jimmy McGovern's BAFTA-winning drama, The Street and for Casualty. In 2007 Danbert released his second solo album Library Book Of The World, his first being The Un-fairy Tale in 1985. The Un fairy-tale was re-released in 1997.
In 2007, Chumbawamba played at the Glastonbury Festival. In early 2007, the band announced via their website that a new album was in the works, stating that "the new album will be acoustic and probably won't sound like A Singsong and a Scrap".
The result was The Boy Bands Have Won, released on 3 March 2008 in the UK and 14 March in mainland Europe. The record contained 25 tracks, some of them full length songs, some of them no more than a minute long and was again acoustic folk in style. The album features the Oysterband, Roy Bailey and Barry Coope amongst others.
In late 2009 Chumbawamba toured northern England in their self-penned pantomime, a comedy musical entitled Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection with the Red Ladder Theatre Company. In late February 2010 they released their 15th album, titled ABCDEFG.
It was announced in 2011 that Boff Whalley was working on a musical for the stage. The soundtrack to the musical, entitled Chumbawamba & Red Ladder Present: Big Society! was released on 16 January 2012. The recording features all of the current members of Chumbawamba performing on various instruments, accompanying the singing of the actors in the play. Two songs are sung by former Chumbawamba drummer Harry Hamer, marking his first vocal appearance on a Chumbawamba recording since the 1986 song Rich Pop Stars.
Chumbawumba is a member of the Canadian charity Artists Against Racism and participated in a Radio PSA for them.
On 8 July 2012 Chumbawamba announced their decision to disband. On their website they opened the statement with "That's it then, it’s the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion." They stated they would continue with individual efforts, and ended their official statement:
We do, of course, reserve the right to re-emerge as Chumbawamba doing something else entirely (certainly not touring and putting out albums every 2 or 3 years). But frankly, that's not very likely. Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we’ve had.
In December 2012, the final UK show, filmed at the Leeds City Varieties on Halloween night, was released as Chumbawamba's only live DVD, entitled Going Going.
The band's final show at Leeds City Varieties was performed by the latest line-up of: Boff Whalley, Jude Abbott, Neil Furguson, Phill Moody and Lou Watts, with the more folk style instruments, and arrangements the band had grown and become. The show included special guests who performed on songs, such as former band members: Danbert Nobacon, Alice Nutter, Harry Hamer and Dunsten Bruce, and fellow recording collaborators like Belinda O'Hooley. Mike Harding, radio folk presenter and supporter of the band, was present at the gig and came back stage to the dressing rooms to speak with the musicians. A group of people on the front row of the audience all wore Margaret Thatcher masks. When coming on to play, Jude Abbot pointed them out and Boff Whalley commented "Oh my goodness the entire front row is Margaret Thatcher. They have come to collect our poll tax." A 'washing line' of band T-shirts was hung at the back of the stage and they included prints from the early 80's to the present. It was the idea of Boff Whalley to use them on the stage as he turned up in the morning with a suitcase full of T-shirts and a bag of pegs as a way to make a back drop on the stage.
The show was stage managed by Alyson Howe who had met Harry Hamer some years before as he was beginning a career in theatre work, and then later met and worked with the Chumbas during their collaboration with Red Ladder theatre company on the show Riot Rebellion and Bloody Insurrection and later Big Society! Her duties mostly involved getting pizza for everyone, arranging dressing rooms and making sure all the guest musicians were present in the wings before performing. The Leeds City Varieties technicians had already met and worked with most of the band the previous winter during their two-week run of Big Society! The set list changed once half an hour before the doors opened, moving Time Bomb, one of their better known songs, to a later slot and cutting one song to save time. Although it was the band's final show in Leeds, the band flew the next morning to do their second to last gig in Oslo.
A mail-order EP, In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher, was released on 8 April 2013. The CD had been recorded in 2005 and made available for pre-order on the group's website, to be issued upon the death of Margaret Thatcher.
After leaving Chumbawamba, vocalist Dunstan Bruce founded Dandy Films, an independent film and video company whose projects have included a "video blog" of the Levellers UK tour during 2010 and Sham 69's tour of China.
In 2012 former Chumbawamba members Dunstan Bruce and Harry Hamer formed a new band, Interrobang?!, with guitarist Stephen Griffin of London-based Regular Fries.
In August 2017, Dunstan Bruce, Boff Whalley and Jude Abbott were interviewed on BBC's The One Show from the Leeds City Varieties and near their former home celebrating 20 years since the release of Tubthumping.
On 1 July 2015 Dunstan Bruce started a Kickstarter to fund a documentary titled I Get Knocked Down (The Untold Story of Chumbawamba) that told the band's entire history from different members' perspective. He surpassed his £40,000 goal. That same year, Chumbawamba was the featured subject on two podcasts produced by Gimlet Media: StartUp #16 "The Secret Formula" and Surprisingly Awesome #4 "Tubthumping".
In 2009, Boff Whalley and Dominic Grace produced a theatre script: Riot Rebellion and Bloody Insurrection, a musical theatre show where the band (Boff, Phill, Neil and Jude) were present on stage and played live numbers alongside actors/singers Jo Mousley, Dean Nolan and former band member Harry Hamer. Phill Moody doubled as band member and character narrator who relayed the story centre stage in rhyming couplets accompanied by his accordion. It was directed and produced by Red Ladder Theatre Company and toured Northern UK venues winter 2009-2010. It was a historic play set in the 19th century with elements of musical theatre, agitprop and audience interaction. Set during the Luddite rebellion it included satiric and humorous parallels to the then Gordon Brown government and state of living in the UK. The show included songs from the Chumbawambas 2003 album English Rebel Songs and a rendition of Time Bomb where the cast and band would substitute the venue in the last lyric of the song. e.g. "Gateshead Sage is falling down".
2013 Chumbawamba and Red Ladder collaborated again on Big Society! Written by Boff Whalley. The performance played 18 January to 4 February. The band were again on stage as live musicians. The songs were composed by Boff Whalley and the band specifically for the show, except for the traditional song 'It's the same the whole world over'. The company cast well known comedian Phill Jupitus alongside actors Dean Nolan, Harry Hamer (former band member), Kyler Goodie and Lisa Howard. It played for two weeks at Leeds City Varieties the venue where Chumbawamba would later play their final Going, Going gig. Set in a struggling Victorian music hall the show made specific parallels to David Cameron's 'big Society' and Tory government in its 'front of cloth variety' scenes. Notably in the opening number "Who's running the show?" and a later scene where 'little Nick' is presented as a ventriloquists dummy on David's knee.
The band's membership varied over the years, with the line-up and musical assignments in the early years being especially fluid (members were known to switch instruments between, or even during, gigs). This is a list of principal official members and collaborators, drawn mainly from the credits of their releases since 1985. Short-term members and collaborators are not included.
- Former members
- Boff Whalley – vocals, lead guitar (1982–2012)
- Danbert Nobacon – vocals, rhythm guitar and keyboards (1982–2004)
- Lou Watts – Lead vocals, keyboards (1982–2012)
- Dunstan Bruce – vocals, guitar, turntables, percussion (1982–2004)
- Jude Abbott – vocals, recorder, flute and trumpet (1996–2012)
- Alice Nutter – vocals, percussion (1982–2004)
- Harry "Daz" Hamer (born 5 March 1964) – drums, percussion (1982–2004)
- Mavis "Mave" Dillon – trumpet, French horn and bass (1984–1995)
- Paul Greco – bass & harmonica (1992–1999)
- Neil Ferguson – vocals, guitar and bass (1999–2012)
- Phil Moody – accordion and vocals (2004–2012)
- Frequent guests
- Neil Ferguson – producer, engineer, guitar & keyboards (promoted to full band member in 1999)
- Simon "Commonknowledge" Lanzon – vocals, keyboards, piano and accordion
- MC Fusion – vocals on Shhh and Anarchy
- Cobie Laan – vocals, live recording
- Stephen Blood - marracas, French horn
- Jimmy Echo (actually a band member's father impersonating Elvis) – vocals on some versions of "Timebomb" and "Amnesia"
- B. J. Cole – slide guitar on WYSIWYG
- Folk vocal trio Coope, Boyes & Simpson on A Singsong and a Scrap, Get On With It! and The Boy Bands Have Won
- The Charlie Cake Marching Band on The Boy Bands Have Won and ABCDEFG
- Members of Oysterband on "Goodbye to the Crown", A Singsong and a Scrap, The Boy Bands Have Won and ABCDEFG
- Roy Bailey and Robb Johnson – guest lead vocals on The Boy Bands Have Won
- Jo Freya – saxes on The Boy Bands Have Won and ABCDEFG
- Belinda O'Hooley - piano on ABCDEFG
- Michelle Plum - vocals on "Sewing Up Crap" on Readymades and live vocals/keyboards from 2001–2004
- Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records (1986)
- Never Mind the Ballots (1987)
- English Rebel Songs 1381-1914 (1988)
- Slap! (1990)
- Shhh (1992)
- Anarchy (1994)
- Swingin' with Raymond (1995)
- Tubthumper (1997)
- WYSIWYG (2000)
- Readymades (2002)
- Revengers Tragedy Soundtrack (2003)
- English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 (2003)
- Un (2004)
- A Singsong and a Scrap (2005)
- The Boy Bands Have Won (2008)
- ABCDEFG (2010)
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- "Brighton Magazine - A Weapon Called The Word: Levellers Go Grassroots With Debut Reissue". Magazine.brighton.co.uk. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
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