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Members include Jude Abbott (joined band, 1995), trumpet, vocals; Boff, guitar, vocals; Dustan Bruce, vocals, percussion; Neil Ferguson, keyboards, guitars; Paul Greco, bass; Harry Hamer, drums, programming; Danbert "The Cat" Nobacon, vocals; Alice Nutter, vocals; and Lou Watts, vocals, keyboards. Addresses: Record company--Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019. Website--http://www.chumba.com.

When Chumbawamba rose to the top of the alternative charts in late 1997 with their rollicking, anthemic smash single "Tubthumping," many assumed they were just another upstart British band. However, the band had been together a decade and a half, and though new to American audiences, were a well-known anarchist-punk-pop act in Britain--and often a target of derision there for their mouthy, anti-establishment stance. Once termed "cuddly cartoon anarchists," the peroxided, 30-ish members of Chumbawamba now found themselves on MTV's 120 Minutes explaining what their music was all about.

The line-up of Chumbawamba has proved to be more immutable than the British cabinet ministries it has criticized over the years. Most of the band's founding members, who came together in 1983, were still on board when "Tubthumping" hit the charts 14 years later. Their acquaintance and subsequent formation into a band grew out of a "squat," or illegally-occupied dwelling, in the English industrial city of Leeds, where Lou Watts, Danbert "The Cat" Nobacon, Boff, Paul Greco, Alice Nutter, Dunstan Bruce, and Harry Hamer were living communally. They shared their funds, and for much of the decade earned a living by working in various co-operatives.

Leeds had also given birth to the politically-inspired music of bands like the Mekons and Gang of Four, and a miners' strike in 1984 enervated the squat-dwellers into taking action in support of the strikers. It was Margaret Thatcher's second term as prime minister, and the alternately despised or beloved Conservative Party leader was best remembered for her no-nonsense approach in transforming England from a democratic-socialist enclave to a free- market capitalist economy. Breaking the power of England's powerful trade unions was one facet of her government policy. Members of the Leeds squat that became Chumbawamba began collecting money for a local soup kitchen, and eventually started performing to raise money. "Chumbawamba didn't pick members on whether they could actually play anything," according to the band's self-written history published on their website. "The only entrance specifications were an ability to keep time, a hatred of authority and a good heart."

At this point the band's musical style leaned heavily toward punk rock, the sound of the disestablishment in England at the moment. They began playing for other benefits, such as animal-rights fund- raisers, but their against-the-grain mentality earned them enemies even among like-minded peers. Chumbawamba drummer Harry Hamer recalled these shows in an interview with Melody Maker's Ian Watson. Their fellow protesters, Hamer said, "were so narrow minded that even though I agreed with them, I'd find myself wanting to tell them I'd just eaten a bacon buttie!" On another occasion, a defanged Clash arrived in Leeds for a concert, and Chumbawamba singer Danbert Nobacon covered Joe Strummer with red paint. The band also protested at Falklands War victory parades, designed and posted a flyer campaign to shoot down Leed's local police helicopter, and even made fun of themselves: Hamer also told Watson in the Melody Maker interview that fans in English clubs never recognized him as the drummer, "so I've often slagged off Chumbawamba in the toilet at our gigs, saying how they're all junkies. That they say all these political things, but really they spend all their money on smack. And people so readily believe it!"

Such attitudes earned Chumbawamba ideological enemies even as word- of-mouth support for the band grew. They once did a single entitled "I'm Thick," in response to the skinhead Oi! punk movement then gaining ground in the early 1980s. To mock them, Chumbawamba took a typical Oi! rhythm track and sang the words "I'm thick" over it 64 times. After releasing these and other anarchist-minded songs on cassette for some time, in 1985 Chumbawamba started up their own label, Agit-Prop. Its first single was "Revolution," which famed British DJ John Peel began playing on his show. The song eventually reached the charts, and the band followed it that same year with the LP Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records. Its title came in response to the 1985 Live Aid campaign to raise money for victims of famine in Africa; band members were repulsed by the "do- gooder" aspect of the well-publicized, world-televised dual concert project, which failed to address the issue of why governments allowed their citizens to starve. Ten years later, "the media now claims that it had grave misgivings about whether Phil Collins's appearing on two continents in the same day would really be a catalyst for lasting change," the band remarked on their 1997 press release; but at the time, Chumbawamba were the target of much criticism for the title.

The title of their 1987 release, Never Mind the Ballots, was a nod to the title of the first Sex Pistols LP, but actually skewered England's 1987 elections in which Thatcher won a third term. During the campaign Chumbawamba had clandestinely promoted themselves as a band called "The Middle," and even won the endorsement of the Liberal Democrat Party; they almost played live at a political event before the ruse was discovered. Their next project also managed to earn them scorn--in 1988 they released a record of a capella folk music, English Rebel Songs. The band's more punk- minded fan base became confused. Two years later, Chumbawamba took a completely different direction with Slap!, marking their entry into the burgeoning dance-music scene. "We just reached a point where we realised we weren't enjoying shouting `No, no, no!' and pointing at people," Nutter told Melody Maker writer Dave Simpson.

Chumbawamba next attempted a record made up entirely of samples taken from artists such as Kylie Minogue and Abba, mixing the cuts into a record they titled Jesus H. Christ. It was never released due to legal problems in obtaining publishing rights for the sampled bits, so in response they wrote songs about censorship issues and released Shhh. The 1992 effort, wrote Dave Jennings in Melody Maker, "is full of dance rhythms, seductive melodies, harmonies and, above all, a mischievous sense of humour."

The following year Chumbawamba signed to a small, leftist-minded label called One Little Indian, which also has the corporate turf of Bjork and Skunk Anansie. One of their first releases for it was an anti-fascist single, "Enough Is Enough," with black English rap act Credit to the Nation. The single caused a stir, as usual, and a record store in Leeds was vandalized by fascist troublemakers for selling it. More controversy came in 1994 with the LP Anarchy, which featured a live birth on its cover. Some outlets objected to the graphic nature of the photograph. The record itself was deemed "a breathtaking mix of infectious disco and anthemic pop with the grand operatic scope of a West End musical" by Melody Maker's Watson.

After the release of the "Homophobia" single in May of 1994--which spoke out against anti-gay violence and attitudes--Chumbawamba's turn toward a more music-hall vibe was evident with the 1995 LP Swinging with Raymond. Half its tracks were romantic paeans, the other half about hate and other political issues. Around this time Chumbawamba became embroiled in an anti-anti-drug campaign: the British government had launched campaign to alert young people to the dangers of Ecstasy, and used a photo of an actual 18-year-old woman who had died after taking the drug and drinking too much water, which quickly and fatally affected her metabolism.

Chumbawamba objected to the billboard campaign which they perceived as more of a misinformation service; better to use such a platform to warn teenagers not to take Ecstasy and drink gallons of water at the same time--a common phenomenon in overheated rave clubs--than stressing that the "drug" had "killed" this young woman. They hijacked the billboard image and began mailing out their own literature, an act for which they were vilified in the press. The band explained their stance against the anti-Ecstasy campaign on their website: "The {campaign's} aim was to make ecstasy Public Enemy Number 1; ironic considering how many hundreds and thousands die each year from tobacco-related deaths. Both the government and the advertisers make billions from the tobacco industry; the only posters about tobacco desperately try and coax us into buying it." The Chumbawamba website offers fans and enemies alike much fodder, and is done with the typically smart-mouthed, anti-establishment ethos for which the band has gained renown. One section gathers the most scathing press about Chumbawamba, such as one Melody Maker assessment of their 1995 LP Showbusiness!, in which Andrew Mueller disparaged the band for what he termed their "sheer woolly- mindedness ... Chumbawamba are a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party."

In the spring of 1997, Chumbawamba came under the aegis of EMI Europe, which released a rousing single called "Tubthumping" that summer. Much of their new sound came as result of their collaboration with producer and friend Neil Ferguson, who also played on the record as well. "Tubthumping" became a huge hit in England, in part for its catchy hook and rap-inspired reworking of an old drinking song once commonly heard in working-class English pubs. The song also featured samples from the 1997 British film Brassed Off, the story of permanently unemployed miners in England and their brass band. The very term "tubthumper" is a slang term for an impromptu speechmaker, which is what the band soon had an opportunity to become on a global scale.

The LP Tubthumper was released in the fall of 1997 in the United States on Republic/Universal. Within a few weeks the "Tubthumping" single was No. 1 on alternative charts and its video appeared frequently on MTV. The album itself featured a typically- Chumbawamba mix of musical genres, from drum-and-bass to straightforward dance songs--but behind it all was their continuing anti-establishment vibe. One track addressed homelessness ("The Big Issue"), another the Liverpool dockworkers' strike ("One by One"). "The revolution will not be televised, but in Britain it sometimes makes the charts," wrote Mark Jenkins in Time Out-New York, who called the collection "Woody Guthrie recast by Andrew Lloyd Webber."

Putting their newfound-money where their mouths were, Chumbawamba played a series of concerts to benefit a fund for striking Liverpool dockworkers; they also embarked on a small U.S. club-date tour that fall. Success had failed to dampen their anarchist spirit. In response to a query posted on their website, they suggested that fans shoplift the Chumbawamba LP from the larger retail outlets, and even provide a list of British chain stores from which to steal--which "involves fewer moral dilemmas," they wrote, than pilfering from the small independent record retailer. Evening Standard journalist Zoe Williams interviewed the band when "Tubthumping" was No. 5 on the London charts, and noted that despite the recent pop-star fame, Chumbawamba try to remain true to their cause. "Everyone's desperate for them to lose the angry anti- system agenda and settle down to some straightforward self- indulgence," Williams wrote. "But it will take more than some media attention to stop them causing trouble."

by Carol Brennan

Chumbawamba's Career

Most band members worked on co-operative work collectives during the 1980s. Band formed and recorded and sold own cassettes, early 1980s; formed own label, Agit-Prop, 1985; released several singles and LPs, including Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, 1986; signed to One Little Indian label, c. 1993; released several singles and LPs, including the single "Ugh! Your Ugly Houses!"; signed with EMI Europe, May 1997; released "Tubthumping" single and Tubthumper LP, summer 1997.

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