Last updated: 02/19/2012 11:00:00 AM
Chumbawamba have always been mavericks. When they formed in the eighties, they were a punk rock reaction to the Thatcherite foppery of Duran, Duran and Spandau Ballet. Wilfully anarchic, the band developed the ethos that punk is an attitude rather than a style of music, their music has spanned everything from acidic pop to accappella harmonies to break beats layered with atmospheric folk samples. Chumbawamba have always set themselves against conservatives with a small ?c? in both a political and musical sense.
Throughout their long and chequered career Chumbawamba have inspired such glowing headlines as the Sun?s ?Heartless Bastards!? *1 and managed to have two albums removed from the shelves of major record chains on the grounds that a sleeve depicting a newborn baby was ?pornographic? and the band were inciting shoplifting.*2 Chumbawamba were well used to controversy by the time they finished their 9th album Tubthumper in 1997, and the band were also used to surviving the vagaries of the music industry, so when their label One Little Indian refused to put the album out on the grounds ?that it wouldn?t sell?, Chumbawamba set out to find another label for the finished album. EMI released the album in Europe and Universal put it out in the US. The album went on to sell 5m copies worldwide. Accusations of ?sell out? faded away as the band continued to function as a collective, and to use their new found access to the media to push campaigns like Free Mumia Abu Jamal, and their financial success to fund the emerging a
nti globalisation movement.
Chumbawamba?s next album WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) captured the zeitgeist and was a barbed swipe at the business and celebrity culture which puts the drive for profit before human life, replacing news and real information with yet another picture of Posh and Becks pouting. It was all a bit too much for EMI who?d hoped for a Bob The Builder novelty record. Chumbawamba and EMI parted company.
Last year completed the film Well Done, Now Sod Off (working with director Ben Unwin) a potted history of Chumbawamba which premiered at the Leeds Film Festival (winning the audience award). Well Done, Now Sod Off! supplies answers to why Chumbawamba are so loved and loathed. Never shying away from involvement in the world outside music, Chumbawamba break the unwritten rule that rebellion in the pop world consists of misbehaving and throwing tantrums. Chumbawamba have never smashed up a hotel or dressing room but they did refuse to join in the campaign of misinformation which surrounded Leah Betts death (producing posters which replaced the word Sorted with Distorted) and they have soaked the Deputy Prime Minister in retaliation for New Labour?s refusal to support the striking Liverpool Dockers.
Pontiac are presently using Pass It Along from WYSIWYG in an ad campaign in the US. Before accepting the ad Chumbawamba contacted anti capitalist groups and asked them if they?d accept the proceeds (the band have done this in the past with Renault and Ford ads.) Pontiac is now indirectly financing Corporate Watch and Indymedia. General Electric recently offered Chumbawamba $750,000 to use Tubthumping on an ad for an ex ray machine, since General Electric manufacture engines for military planes the band refused the ad. As Danbert Nobacon put it: ?We have to deal with each one of these ads as they come along but we simply couldn?t find a reason big enough to excuse the fact that GE?s engines were currently flying over Afghanistan dropping bombs and incinerating civilians.?
At the moment Chumbawamba are just finishing the soundtrack for Revenger?s Tragedy, an Alex Cox film which stars Eddie Izzard, Derek Jacobi and Christopher Ecclestone. Readymade, the band?s next album is already completed and will be released on Universal in the US, the band are talking to labels for a European release but no details are finalised yet. Readymade is a departure for Chumbawamba in terms of musical style, slower and more poignant than previous albums, it mixes breakbeat?s with folk samples as diverse as Eliza Carthy and Woody Gutherie.
*1 The Sun headline Heartless Bastards came after Chumbawamba responded to the Sun?s charity record ?I am Sailing? after the sinking of the Herald of free Enterprise, with a flexi single entitled ?I Am Selling?.
*2 The cover of Anarchy! was a newborn baby emerging into the world. The band thought it perfectly depicted both beauty and pain but one major record chain only saw a sleeve with ?too much beaver? and placed every copy in brown paper bags. The album Tubthumper was removed from the shelves of Virgin stores after Alice Nutter refused to condemn shoplifting on a US TV programme. The chain said the band were inciting fans to steal.
Thanks to Graham Dellow for submitting the biography.