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Chumbawamba

Chumbawamba are an English band who began their career playing Anarcho-punk, but over a 25-year career have gone on to play music ranging from pop-influenced dance music and world music to acoustic folk music. The band are best known for their song "Tubthumping" and are generally influenced by anarchist political stances and an irreverent attitude to authority.

Band history

Early years

Chumbawamba were formed in 1982 from the ashes of several other bands based in Yorkshire and Lancashire: Chimp Eats Banana, Men In A Suitcase, and Ow My Head's On Fire. Inspired musically by bands as diverse as The Fall, Monochrome Set, Wire, and Young Marble Giants and politically by the anarchist stance of Crass, Chumbawamba's activities in the early years were based around a communal house in Armley, Leeds. 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 (1984-1985), 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 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.

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.

One Little Indian Records

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chumbawamba had begun to absorb influences from techno music and dance culture. The band moved away from their original anarcho-punk roots and 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).

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.

EMI controversy

Chumbawamba drew criticism from the band's original following in 1997 when the members 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 (all members were up until then working in other jobs to make a living) as well as to communicate their message to a wider audience.

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 male vocalist Danbert Nobacon, provoked by the Labour government's obsession with being 'down with the kids' and its refusal to support the Liverpool Dockworkers Strike, poured a jug of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who did not retaliate, at the 1998 BRIT Awards.

Chumbawamba released the album WYSIWYG on EMI in 2000, and parted from the label in 2001.

MUTT Records

In 2002, Chumbawamba formed their own record label, MUTT, for UK releases.

Under MUTT, Chumbawamba released their eleventh official album, Readymades, as well as 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" for a Pontiac Vibe television advertisement in 2002. Chumbawamba gave the money to the anti-corporate activist groups Indymedia and CorpWatch.

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.

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.

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.

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."

In October 2007, the band confirmed that recording sessions for the album were in progress and that "26 songs [have been] recorded, some of them only 30 seconds long." And that the album will be a concept album with songs "calmly stating their case about the state of the world. Then buggering off."

In December 2007, the band confirmed the title and release date of their new album, called The Boy Bands Have Won. The band said on their website that "It's got twenty-five tracks and it'll be out [in] late February." The album was officially released on March 3 in the UK and March 14 in Europe.

The name

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:

  • On an episode of BBC2's pop music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks there was a question about where Chumbawamba got its name. The answer (according to Mark Lamarr) was that it got it from what a monkey wrote on a typewriter when an experiment took place involving monkeys and typewriters (as in the infinite monkey theorem).
  • 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.
  • In Boff's autobiography he claims that the name was derived from the chanting of African street musicians which he and Danbert heard while busking in Paris. However, in a footnote he goes on to state that this is in fact a lie, as is every other explanation that the band have given over the years.
  • According to a Pop-Up Video on VH1, the name "Chumbawamba" is derived from a dream that one of the members had, wherein men were called "chumbas" and women "wambas".

Line-up

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).

The longtime members have been:

  • Danbert Nobacon (1982-2004) - vocals and keyboards
  • Boff Whalley (1982-) - vocals and guitar
  • Midge (1982-1985)
  • Lou Watts (1982-) - vocals and keyboards
  • Dunstan Bruce (1982-2004) - vocals
  • Alice Nutter (1983-2004) - vocals and percussion
  • Harry Hamer (1984-2004) - drums
  • Mavis Dillon (1984-1995) - trumpet
  • Cobi Laan (1988-1990)
  • Paul Greco (1992-1999) - bass
  • Jude Abbott (1996-) - vocals and trumpet
  • Neil Ferguson (1999-) - bass and vocals (sound engineer from 1986)
  • Phil Moody (2008-) - accordion

Partial discography

(Original releases dates and labels given. Some material has been re-issued on other labels in the US.)

1980-1985

  • Cardboard Box, 1980 (Cassette only release by proto-Chumbawamba group Chimp Eats Banana)
  • "Three Years Later" - track on Bullshit Detector Volume 2 compilation LP, Crass Records, 1982 (Nb, Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whaley (Boffo) also has a solo track, "Garageland", a cover of a song by The Clash, on this LP)
  • "I'm Thick" - track on "Back on the Streets" compilation EP Secret, 1982 (Chumbawamba recording as 'Skin Disease', a mock skinhead/Oi! band)
  • Be Happy Despite It All, Sky and Trees, 1983 (Cassette only release, joint with The Passion Killers, featuring hand coloured cover)
  • Raising Heck with Chumbawamba, Peaceville Records, 1983 (Cassette only release, live material plus songs by Simon Lanzon)
  • It Could Be So Much More, Acid Rain Products, 1984 (Cassette only release, joint with Flux Of Pink Indians, recorded live at the Conway Hall, London)
  • Let Us Show Them Our Hearts, Sky and Trees, 1984 (Cassette only release, joint with The Passion Killers)
  • Another Year of the Same Old Shit, Sky and Trees, 1984 (Cassette only release)
  • History Luddite, Homebrew Tapes, 1984 (Cassette only release, live at Luton Library, May 1985)
  • "Common Ground", Sky and Trees, 1984 (A benefit 'cassette single' for striking miners)
  • To Thine Own Self Be True, Sky and Trees, 1984 (Cassette only release)
  • In The Cellar, Sky and Trees?, 1984 (Cassette only release)
  • It's Up To You, Sky and Trees?, 1984 (Cassette only release by the Passion Killers)
  • The Unfairy Tale/The War Inside Our Heads, Sky and Trees, 1984 (Cassette only release, Danbert Nobacon solo material, much was re-recorded for release on vinyl the following year)
  • The Unfairy Tale, Sky and Trees, 1985 (Danbert Nobacon solo release)
  • "Revolution", single, Agit Prop, 1985

1986-1990

  • "We Are The World", single, Agit Prop, 1986 (Joint release with US band A State of Mind)
  • Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Agit Prop, 1986
  • Know Your Enemy, Doomsday Tapes, 1986 (Cassette only release, live material recorded at the Bull and Gate, London)
  • Feed The World, 1986 (Cassette only release, live material recorded in Birmingham)
  • "Destroy Fascism!", Loony Tunes, 1986 (Collaboration with Dutch band The Ex under the name 'Antidote')
  • Un Toast A La Democratie, 1986 (Cassette only release, an early live incarnation of "Never Mind The Ballots")
  • Never Mind the Ballots, Agit Prop, 1987
  • "Let It Be" single, no label stated apart from Anti-copyright, 1987, (Released under the name 'Scab Aid' following the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster)
  • There Comes A Time, 1987 (Cassette only release, recordings of two shows)
  • "Smash Clause 28!Fight the Alton Bill!", single, Agit Prop, 1988
  • English Rebel Songs 1381-1914, Agit Prop, 1988; re-released One Little Indian, 1994; re-recorded 2003.
  • Sportchestra: 101 Songs About Sport, Agit Prop (Chumbawamba collaborations with various other musicians recording under the name 'Sportchestra')
  • Slap!, Agit Prop, 1990
  • "Whoopee, We're All Gonna Die", EP, Rugger Bugger records, 1991 (3 members of Chumbawamba recording under the name 'Passion Killers')
  • Jesus H Christ (unreleased due to legal issues (see above). Bootleg copies are in circulation however)
  • "I Never Gave Up", Agit Prop, 1990

1991-1995

  • Shhh, Agit Prop, 1992
  • "Behave", single, Agit Prop, 1992
  • First Two, re-releases of Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records and Never Mind the Ballots, Agit Prop, 1992
  • "Enough is Enough", single, One Little Indian, 1993, featured MC Fusion #56 UK
  • "Timebomb", single, One Little Indian, 1993 #59 UK
  • Live In Armley, independently produced live album, 1993
  • English Rebel Songs 1381-1914 , Album , One Little Indian 1994
  • Anarchy, One Little Indian, 1994
  • "Homophobia", single, One Little Indian, 1994
  • Showbusiness!, One Little Indian, 1995 (A live album)
  • Swingin' with Raymond, One Little Indian, 1995
  • Ugh! Your Ugly Houses! - EP, One Little Indian, 1995

1996-2000

  • Portraits of Anarchists (Book and CD collaboration with photographer Casey Orr), AK Press/One Little Indian 1996
  • Tubthumper, EMI, 1997, US #3, 3x Platinum
  • "Tubthumping", single, EMI, 1997, US #6, US Modern Rock #1, UK #2
  • "Tubthumping" (Tyler Dunphy Kardance Mix), EMI and DJ Rockin, 1997
  • "Homophobia (live)" on Milkshake - A CD to Benefit the Harvey Milk Institute on timmi-kat ReCoRDS (1998)
  • Uneasy Listening, compilation of stuff from 1986-1998, EMI, 1998
  • "Amnesia", single, EMI, 1998 UK #10
  • "Top Of The World (Ole, Ole, Ole)", single, EMI, 1998 UK #21
  • The ABCs of Anarchism, Seeland Records, 1999 (Collaboration with Negativland)
  • "Tony Blair", one-track CD single sent out to the mailing list as a "Christmas present", it was found by a record company employee who banned Chumbawamba from releasing it, 1999
  • WYSIWYG, Universal, 2000

2001-2005

2006

2007

2008

Television appearances

  • Chumbawamba has an ethical policy that determines their involvement in multimedia products. In late 90's, the band turned down $1.5 million dollars 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 the episode of TV series Family Guy, "Wasted Talent," the show's parody of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the "Oompa-Loompa"-like characters call themselves "The Chumbawamba," with an Oompa-Loompa-like song, entitled "The Chumbawamba Song."
  • In the episode of TV series The Simpsons, "Little Girl in the Big Ten", Homer sings an altered version of the song "Tubthumping".
  • "Tubthumping" was performed on the Late Show with David Letterman (CBS Network, USA). Shortly before performing, the band decided to replace one of the choruses with a stripped down chant of "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal". While it was assumed by the band that this would be edited out of the broadcast version, it was broadcast as performed.
  • Chumbawamba performed a half hour set for the German television program, Rockpalast in 1996.
  • The band's 1997 performance in Katowice was broadcast on Polish television.
  • The band were officially banned from German television in 1996 (the same year they performed on Rockpalast) after Danbert Nobacon stripped nude, wrote "PUNK" across his chest and danced in this manner in front of The Smashing Pumpkins on a live broadcast of a rock festival. The ban seemed to have been lifted less than a year later, when Chumbawamba achieved worldwide fame with "Tubthumping".
  • In the episode entitled "My Bed Banter & Beyond" of the American TV show Scrubs, JD threatens to keep singing the chorus from "Tubthumping" all day if he doesn't ask a girl to stay at his apartment with him.
  • In a How I Met Your Mother episode, Barney describes a girl like a Chumbawamba song that is stuck in your head.
  • In the episode of Futurama "Fry and the Slurm Factory", the Grunka-Lunkas use "Chumbawamba" in one of their songs.
  • In a Goodness Gracious Me (TV & radio) episode, the Guru Maharishi Yogi "translates" some gibberish "Sanskrit" into the lyrics to the song.

Chumbawamba songs in film

A partial list of films featuring songs by the band.

Chumbawamba songs in multimedia

A partial list of multimedia contents featuring songs by the band.

Further reading/references

See also

External links

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