Chumbawamba formed in the early 1980s and were closely allied with anarcho-punk collective Crass (their first release was a track on the Crass Records compilation Bullshit Detector Vol. 2).
The band centred around a communal squat in Armley, Leeds, and frequently played benefit gigs for animal rights groups, anti-war groups and other causes.
Practical jokes were part of the anarchist’s armoury after Crass had managed to fool a wedding magazine into giving one of their flexidiscs away, and Chumbawamba followed suit in conning Garry Bushell (then an avid proponent of the Oi! punk movement) into including the band’s I’m Thick (recorded as ‘Skin Disease’) on a compilation put together by Bushell.
Most of their early recordings were released on cassette, but by the mid-1980s, the band started to release records, often with a striking message designed to provoke comment.
Their first single, Revolution, was startling, opening with the sound of John Lennon‘s Imagine before the record is taken off and smashed. It was just as precise lyrically: “The history books from every age have the same words written on every page, always starting with revolution, always ending with capitulation, always silenced by the truncheon, or bought out with concessions, always repetition…”. It was a powerful introduction, finishing at #6 in John Peel‘s 1985 Festive Fifty.
The follow-up, We Are The World, was banned from airplay owing to its explicit support of direct action.
Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records was an obvious dig at Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project, and the following year (1987) saw the release of Never Mind The Ballots to coincide with the general election of that year. Other targets included multinationals (the band published a book on immoral activities titled Dirty Fingers in Dirty Pies), apartheid and imperialism.
After years of releasing records on small labels and maintaining their anarchist outlook, they surprised everybody by signing to the archetypal establishment label, EMI. They justified the decision by stating that ALL record labels are out to make money – it’s just that some are better at it than others.
Almost immediately, Tubthumping (1997) hit it big worldwide and was followed by two further hits – as well as a well-publicised soaking of Labour politician John Prescott at an awards ceremony.
Despite line-up changes, the band continues to operate today, although musically, they are much more inclined to folk tunes than rabble-rousing punk oratory.
Billy ‘Boff’ McCoid
Guitar, vocals, clarinet
Bass, trumpet, french horn
Darren ‘Harry’ Hammer
Danbert Nobacon (Alan Whaley)
Vocals, saxophone, percussion