Despite being formed in the early 80’s Chumbawamba were most popular and prevalent in the 1990’s, particularly after they moved into the mainstream with their iconic hit Tubthumping. Many of their original fans were horrified when the original, politically motivated niche band signed to EMI records in 1997 and entered mainstream consciousness.
Prior to this, Chumawamba had been a strictly “alternative” group, whose politically challenging lyrics gathered fans who wanted to be seen as anarchists. From protests about animal rights and pacifism in their early work, they continued to shock and challenge authority throughout the 90s with songs focusing on feminism, class warfare and gay liberation. They also sang songs railing against pop-culture, and heavily criticised EMI records for their capitalist values and their association with Thorn, an electrical company who had previously been associated with manufacturing weapons for the Second World War.
Eventually signing to EMI turned a lot of fans against them, but also gained them a lot of publicity. In 1997 they released Tubthumping and became a part of dominant pop culture themselves. The unforgettable lyrics “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re ne-ever gonna keep me down” fit with the band’s original defiant style, but were now being jumped up and down to in clubs up and down the country by thousands. The lyrics were full of swear words, the tune stuck in your head and the lyrics just begged to be shouted at the top of your voice after several pints on a Saturday night. It was a lads’ song, full of bravado, and even the words (“He drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink, he drinks a cider drink) instructed fans to get p*!#ed while dancing to it!
Despite their more mainstream audience, the band did not begin to ‘behave’, and were involved in one of their most memorable controversies just a year later. At the 1998 Brit Awards they performed their hit Tubthumping with alternative lyrics centring around New Labour ‘selling out’ the Liverpool dockworkers. This culminated in band member Danbert Nobacon pouring a jug of water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s head in protest at the New Labour government’s treatment of the working class dockers. Not long afterwards they instructed fans to steal their CDs from record stores if they couldn’t afford to buy them, thus continuing their protest against the capitalist record companies. Several alarmed music stores began selling their albums from underneath the counter.
The End of Chumawamba
Chumawamba continued to tour for several years, but in 2012 made the announcement that they were splitting up and Chumbawamba would be no more. After almost thirty years of anarchy , they felt that they had said all their was to say. Their final statement opened with the words, “That’s it then, it’s the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion.”
True to their word, there has yet to be a Chumawamba reunion. Though “knocked down”, this time, they won’t “get up again”, no matter how much their fans might want them to.