Chumbawamba is an English band. Over a 27-year career, the band plays music ranging from pop-influenced dance music, a cappella/choral music and world music to acoustic folk music.
The band are best known for their song "Tubthumping" (also known as "I Get Knocked Down"), but also for "Enough is Enough" (with MC Fusion), "Timebomb", "Top of the World (Ole, Ole, Ole)", "On eBay", "Jacob's Ladder (Not in my Name)" and, most recently, "Add Me".
They have taken influence from anarchist politics and an irreverent attitude to authority, touching on issues such as domestic violence, religion, racism, fascism, war, homosexuality, information technology, pop culture, resistance, working class rights, and consumerism.
Chumbawamba were formed in Burnley in 1982 with an initial line-up of Allan "Boff" Whalley, Danbert Nobacon (born Nigel Hunter) and Midge, all three previously of the band Chimp Eats Banana, and they were soon joined by Lou Watts. The band made their live debut in January 1982 and their first release was a track ("Three Years Later") on the Crass 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. One of the band's earliest releases was under the name "Skin Disease", the band parodying the Oi! bands of the time so successfully that they were included on an Oi! compilation album by an unsuspecting Garry Bushell. By the end of 1982, the band had expanded to include Alice Nutter (of Ow, My Hair's on Fire) and Dunstan Bruce (of Men in a Suitcase) and were living in a squat in Armley, Leeds, with Harry "Daz" Hamer and Dave "Mavis" Dillon joining soon after. Stalwarts of the cassette culture scene, the band was 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 Records
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 Revoultion EP in 1985, which quickly sold out of its initial run, and was repressed, reaching #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 then current 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 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.
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 questioning the validity of the British democratic system. The band adopted another disguise with the "Let It Be" release under the name Scab Aid, a song mocking the charity version of the Beatles song by the popstar supergroup Ferry Aid, which aimed to raise money for victims of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.
Their 1988 album English Rebel Songs 1381-1914 was a recording of traditional songs from that period, and was very different from their preceding work. It became their biggest selling record in Germany.
One Little Indian Records
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chumbawamba had begun to absorb influences from techno music and rave culture. Each band member quit their day jobs to begin concentraiting on Chumbawamba 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 suggesting 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 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 after the poor sales 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 guitarist Boff had married Orr the previous year). The band members then took 9 to 5 day jobs again, but they also had a Co-op account out of which they paid themselves ??60 a week for the next year as they wrote what would become Tubthumper.
Chumbawamba vocalist Danbert Nobacon pictured playing live at the University of Leeds, 1986, supporting Conflict.
Chumbawamba drew criticism from the band's original following in 1997 when they signed to the major label EMI in Europe, particularly as some of their earlier output had explicitly attacked this corporation; they had even been involved with a compilation LP called Fuck EMI in 1989. The anarcho-punk band Oi Polloi (with whom Chumbawamba had previously toured and worked with on the 'Punk Aid' Smash the Poll Tax EP ) even released an 'anti-Chumbawamba' EP, Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records. However, the band argued that EMI had severed the controversial 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 but 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 success
Chumbawamba's biggest chart hit, "Tubthumping" (UK #2, US #6), features what, without the context of the accompanying liner notes (removed from the US release of the Tubthumper album for copyright reasons), appears to some to be one of the most apolitical of any of the band's lyrics. In fact it was an explicitly working-class song, an anthem written to celebrate ordinary people's ability to have a good time despite being constantly knocked down by poverty and inequality. They followed it up with a socially-minded song, "Amnesia", which reached #10 in the UK, but did not chart in the US. It was also during this period that Chumbawamba gained some notoriety when, provoked by the Labour government's obsession with being 'down with the kids' and its refusal to support the Liverpool Dockworkers Strike, Chumbawamba 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 male vocalist Danbert Nobacon later poured a jug of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in the audience. They were back in the news headlines a few weeks later after Alice appeared on ABC's Politically Incorrect and advocated theft, urging fans of their music who couldn't 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. 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 The record featured nothing from the Tubthumper album. Also in 1998 came one of Chumbawamba's strangest releases - a Japan only mini album entitled Amnesia, consisting of country and western style versions of recent hits "Tubthumping" and "Amnesia" alongside old favourites 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.
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 "Doomed Flight 1721", a song that listed all of the people that, at the time, Chumbawamba 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, and partly to update people who thought that Tubthumper was their first album, the band decided to make a documentary and began to go through hundreds of hours of footage that they had recorded over the past two decades. Originally intended to be simply a compilation of their videos, the result was Well Done, Now Sod off, a much more comprehensive history of the band, inspired by films like Radiohead's Meeting People Is Easy and the Sex Pistols Filth and the Fury. The title was taken from an early review of a Chumbawamba record and the film included both lovers and haters of the band.
In 2002, Chumbawamba formed their own record label, MUTT, for UK releases.
Under MUTT, Chumbawamba released their eleventh official album, Readymades, the idea behind the record being to mix samples of folk music with dance beats. For the U.S 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.
General Motors paid Chumbawamba $100,000 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..
The same year Chumbawamba provided an original soundtrack to Alex Cox's film adaptation of Revengers Tragedy. Chumbawamba released the full soundtrack in 2003. The band also revisted their a cappella 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 re-released in 2003 with the added track "Coal Not Dole" bringing the record up to 1984.
In 2004, the band released an album of world music-influenced songs entitled Un, which addressed such current concerns as the looting of the museums in Iraq (On eBay) and Buy Nothing Day.
No Masters Records
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 live album, recorded during 2006 at various venues throughout Britain. The remaining members of the band had managed to re-work a number of their old pop songs to fit with their new acoustic folk set.
In 2006 Alice wrote the musical drama Love and Petrol which played for a week in Bradford during June. Harry wrote the music. Both continue to work in theatre, with Alice writing Foxes for West Yorkshire Playhouse 2006 and Where's Vietnam? for Red Ladder theatre company 2008 - again Harry wrote the music. Alice has since moved into radio and TV, writing for Jimmy McGovern's bafta winning drama, The Street and for Casualty. She's currently writing a pilot for Granada and developing a series idea for the BBC. Danbert continues to record and release music. In 2007 he released his second solo album Library Book Of The World, his first being The Un-fairy Tale back in 1985. (The Un fairy-tale saw a re-release 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 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. One song detailing all the creeps that inhabit cyberspace entitled "Add Me", has fast become a live favourite.
Over the years, the band have been asked many times what "Chumbawamba" really means. While there are many speculations, the band generally answer that it's a gibberish word, meaning nothing. According to Chumbawamba's official FAQ :
Chumbawamba doesn't mean anything. At the time we formed (early '80s) there was a rush of bands with obvious names. It was the time of ???peace punk' and you couldn't get across a youth club dance floor without bumping into a Disorder, a Subhumans, a Decadent Youth or an Anthrax t-shirt. We liked the sound of Chumbawamba because it wasn't nailing ourselves down. Thatcher On Acid were a good band but it's lucky for them that Thatcher stayed in power for 11 years. If her influence had only lasted 18 months Thatcher On Acid's sell-by date would have come and gone a lot sooner. We wanted a name which wouldn't date.
Other explanations which have been given include the following:
In an interview on a German website with Alice and Boff, the members claimed that the "Chumbawamba" was the mascot of a football team, Walford Town, which they found in the Rothman's Yearbook, a collection of old facts and figures about British football. Boff said "...And we just thought it was funny, so we used the name". There has never been a team in English football called Walford Town, although the name has occasionally been used to represent the local team in the BBC soap opera EastEnders.
Jude Abbott, Neil Ferguson and Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba in 2005.
The band's membership has varied over the years, with the line-up and musical assignments in the early years being especially fluid (members were known to switch instrument between, or even during, gigs). This list is drawn mainly from the credits of their releases since 1985. Major long-term contributors are in bold.
For current tours and the newest album the band has solidified around a 5-person base:
Lou Watts (1982??? ) ??? vocals, guitar, percussion and keyboards
Boff Whalley (1982??? ) ??? vocals, guitar, ukelele and clarinet
Jude Abbott (1996??? ) ??? vocals, recorder and trumpet
Neil Ferguson (1999??? ) ??? vocals, guitar and bass
Phil Moody (2007??? ) ??? accordion and vocals
Other longtime members have been:
Dunstan Bruce (1982???2004) ??? vocals, bass, sax, turntables and percussion
Danbert Nobacon (1982???2004) ??? vocals and keyboards
Alice Nutter (1983???2004) ??? vocals and percussion
Harry Hamer (1984???2004) ??? vocals, drums, programming and percussion
Paul Greco (1992???1999) ??? bass (replaced by Neil Ferguson)
Mavis Dillon (1984???1995) ??? vocals, trumpet, french horn and bass (replaced by Jude Abbott)
Frequent contributors and special guest artists have included:
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
Jimmy Echo ??? 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
Members of Oysterband on "Goodbye to the Crown", A Singsong and a Scrap and The Boy Bands Have Won
Roy Bailey and Robb Johnson ??? lead vocals on The Boy Bands Have Won