Chumbawamba has just become a name to watch out for. After 15 years of
hanging around at the edge of popular music, the band have just signed a
major deal with EMI and a new album "Tubthumper" set for release, an album
packed with potential hits.
Chumbawamba are a band who have a long history in Ireland. When they played
the St. Francis Xavier Hall in 1992 with Fugazi, they were banned for
throwing condoms out to the audience and were never invited back again.
(At the time, distribution of condoms in Ireland was heavily restricted.)
The fact that Alice Nutter appeared on stage dressed as a nun carrying a
whisky bottle didn't help matters.
However, their subsequent gigs have become somewhat of an annual event among
Ireland's alternative population. Every year as the winner rains end and
the spring rains begin, Chumbawamba roll into town. For the last four years,
an entourage of punks, crusties and all out weirdoes buy their tickets and
scare the decent people of Dublin by descending on whatever venue (not the
SFX of course) to jump up and down for an hour or so.
A few hours before their most recent performance, I met Alice for coffee in
the coffee bar at the Red Box to discuss music and politics. Alice, herself,
is the world's most unlikely pop star. With a strong northern English accent,
short spiky hair and a complete lack of ego, Alice is one of the nicest and
most approachable people in the whole of the music biz. So what is the new
"I think it's the best thing we've ever done and I don't say that every
album, 'cos I thought '...Raymond' (their last album) were shit. Tubthumper
has loads of dance beats with bits of jungle mixed in with big pop choruses
and straight down the line politics."
"Swingin' with Raymond", their last album was an experiment for the band.
From their first album "Pictures of Starving Children" up to "Anarchy", the
music had been characterised by blatant politics. "..Raymond" was different.
Divided between the Love side, a collection of straight-forward love songs,
and the Hate side, a mix of punk songs that lacked the punch of their
earlier stuff. It was a chance for the band to do something they'd never
done before, write straight-forward love songs.
"Once we'd done it, it were like 'yeah, fine', but now we want to go back to
where our hearts lie. We're not poets. We can have a crack at it, but I
think we're more fighters than writers."
However, Tubthumper does represent a change of outlook for Alice. She has
come to realise that Chumbawamba are a band who play music with politics
mixed in. She no longer regards the politics as the most important part of
the Chumbawamba experience.
"The stuff we're doin' now, the politics are totally apparent. We wrote
it all about Britain, but it is the most friggin' musical thing we've done.
I've come to realise that the reason we're a band is because we like playing
This does not mean that either the band or Alice are becoming less political.
The politics are still there, and just as strong as ever.
"I'm not fucking interested in Boy meets Girl, so I won't write about
it. I write pamphlets and articles and I do all the things that you do to
get your ideas across, but in a way Chumbawamba is something different. I'm
not musical enough to make music on my own."
The reason for the change in Alice's outlook is the realisation that,
despite the fact that they may all want the some things, they are not a
united political front. Alice no longer speaks about the group as a single
"It's took me years to realise that we've got broadly based sympathies,
but we don't all have the same motives for doin' it. Some people do it 'cos
they just love the music. They might sympathise with Class War, but they
won't join it. Everybody gets the right to veto ideas. The problem with
parties is that everyone is supposed to fucking think the same and that is
really damaging, because there's no room to manoeuvre."
Another big change for the band is the fact that they have now signed to a
major label. Alice admittes that she was "totally gobsmaked" by
the reaction of the big labels when they left One Little Indian. As a punk
band, signing onto a major label could be seen as selling out, but Alice has
a different reason for doing so.
"My reasoning for doing it isn't how we're going to get our message
across to more people, it's nothing to do with that. It's because my
experiences with One Little Indian and the music industry have convinced me
that they're all the fucking same. There's small business men and big
business men and they have got a different agenda to us. There's no good or
The band's signing with EMI marks the latest chapter in the horror story of
Chumbawamba's experiences with record companies. When the band started out,
they thought they could do everything on their own, including run their own
record company. They then realised that the only way that would work was if
they didn't pay themselves anything.
"It's like co-ops, you work harder for less money, because you exploit
yourself. But, we couldn't be a band and a record company."
>From there they went to work with Southern Distribution, where their
anarchist principles got them into trouble. They decided to work on trust and
not to sign a contract.
"How fucking ridiculous, it's like expecting capitalism to put it's
hands up and say 'well, I'll behave, because you're saying you are'. We went
to One Little Indian, and that were even worse."
The bands deal with EMI holds a certain element of satisfaction for Alice.
Despite the band having a few minor hits from Anarchy, the band have never
received much media attention.
"If you cite Chumbawamba's name, it's like sayin' 'I'm an unfashionable
The band have continued to exist despite the lack of coverage and are now
getting their own back. The media is being forced to take notice, because
Chumbawamba are becoming a hit without their help. Success, though is not
the most important thing to the band.
"We don't give a shit. If success were all we wanted, we'd have given up
years ago. Never let the bastards grind ya down, we're fuckin' carrying on.
I've sort of realised that you have to value things not by how successful
they are. The things people value in this country, they value by how many
people bought the fuckers and how much it cost and how much money there is in
it. That is a ridiculous way to judge summat, because there's so many other
There is the buzz of hearing your song on the radio.
"The first time I started hearing us on the radio, I were really
excited. A bit of me went 'Stop it, stop it. Turn off the radio, it doesn't
matter. And another bit of me were going 'Oh, we're on the radio'."
Well, with "Thumbthumping", the first single from Tubthumper,
racing up the charts, that's something Alice, and the rest of the
chart-watching world, is going to have to get used to.
What Alice Nutter has to say about:
The Class War organisation and political activism.
I'm part of Class War and we're in the process of dissolving it so that
summat less sectarian, less young boy macho, less set in its ways can evolve
out of the ashes. We've spent months and months writing an open letter which
is based on how we need to think about new ways of organising. Like what the
situation is we face, how the old left is locked in a reality that don't mean
anything anymore, how it addresses workers, how it's sexist, how it don't
bring any glamour to politics. You've got to make summat that people want to
be involved in.
I don't mean like the RCP, a shag group. People join the RCP 'cos they want
to fuck and because they've had over-privileged back-grounds and they want a
couple of years of slummin' it. I don't mean like that, I mean an
organisation that like ordinary men and women feel part of, and not in a
patronising way. Not in that lefty way of "Here's a vote over miner's
The response has been really amazing. The last paper is just gonna be the
open letter with a few articles. It's just starting to be circulated and
then we're gonna organise a conference. It's not open to everyone. If you
haven't got class politics, don't bother turning up. But, if you think you
can change the world by startin' your own business and just modifying it a
bit, it's open to anyone who feels intensely political, but there is no home
for 'em anywhere, because all the groups are too dogmatic and too rigid.
Single Issue Politics.
I only get involved in single issues 'cos they interest me. I think single
issue things are really dangerous, you'd end up in a bubble if you never got
involved in nothing. But people get obsessed with their own little corner
and stop seeing the world as it is. In some ways single issues breed ghetto
mentality, because all you do is get involved with your little group of
people, round your single issue an' you end up fighting the world. It's
like, "If you don't believe this is the most important thing in the
world, you're a wanker". It's bullshit.
Single issues, half the time, end up being welfare groups for social misfits.
All the sad bastards that don't have a life join single issues. I refuse to
be guilt tripped, saying that any one thing is the most important. The
problem is we don't have an overview of what's happened to us politically.
It's really hard to step back and look over the last 15 years. Capitalism
has come on in leaps and bounds. Why ain't we? Instead people go
"Well, I've done this and I've done that."
We've been really stupid, we've not responded to what capitalism's done.
Instead, we've been too busy policing each other. I've changed the way I go
about things because I've had to, 'cos I wanna live in the real world.
The European Union.
It were the International Monetary Fund's idea originally, so I'm obviously
cynical in terms of the motives behind it. But, in terms of working with
other people, I don't think it's any bad thing not to have borders. There's
lots and lots of different interests involved in it and it's business that's
manipulating it. Capitalism's realised that it cannot continue to grow if
the borders are up and there's trade restrictions.
So all this European union is in the interests of capitalism. And the side
product of that is that we have more contact with other cultures. So it's a
bit six of one, half a dozen of the other. Except I'm not a little Englander,
I don't think "Britain for the British and I want to stay separate."
I think it's been engineered for reasons that I'm entirely against, but like
everyone else I'll take what's comin' and I'll use it.
Neo-Nazism and the Rise of the Right.
I support AFA, I've got friends in AFA and it's one of the things we're
constantly giving money to, because it's not respectable and it's
under-funded. We won't give money to charities and stuff, it's ridiculous.
We give money to dockers and things like AFA, things that 'ave had their
finances cut off. But, I do think that there's a tendency sometimes to
over-exaggerate what the neo-nazis are doin' and how powerful they are.
In Britain, 'round Leeds, they are supposedly rising again. They came 'round
to our house and stuck stickers on my door. But, at most it's 10 loonies and
there's fucking loads of us and I'm not prepared to be scared just because
they've got a reputation for lonnyism and you think they're madder than us.
I'm not prepared to keep writing about 'em anymore and saying they're on the
rise and I'm not doing propaganda work for them. So, I don't really know how
powerful the neo-nazi's groups are.
Obviously I know about France and bits of what's happening in Germany, but I
don't know if the coming down of borders is making it easier. The reason
fascist parties don't get ridiculously strong is the Government gives the
people all the racist laws that they want. You don't have to join the BNP to
be a legal racist, England is legally racist. Our immigration laws are
The Result of the British Election.
We played on Thursday night, the first of May, at sort of an anti-election
bash and I sat up all night afterwards just to see the Tories squirm. It
were absolutely brilliant. Like Portillo and Virginia Bottomley and it were
fucking brilliant watching Michael Howard getting kicked out and Rifkind.
People that I've 'ated for years and years and years. There were a bunch of
us there, a spliff in one hand, a beer in the other, screaming at the telly
and you'd be really excited and then it'd go onto the Labour candidate and
everyone'd just go "Oh, No." I'm dead happy that the Tories have
gone, but I'm not happy it's Labour have replaced 'em.
There's a few reasons. It's absolutely obvious that they're static Tories and
we're becoming a one-party state. Actually, I think we always have been, but
it's becoming more apparent. Because they've both got the same fucking
policies, they're just a younger version of the Tories. They've got elected
by convincing business that they're bluer than the Tories, that they'll work
in business' interests and by convincing the population that a) they won't
rock the boat, but b) somewhere, even though they've never said it, they'll
somehow care about people, they'll have some kind of integrity. And
everybody's gonna be disappointed because the first moves they've made are
For the welfare reforms they wanna bring in, they've employed a bloke called
Frank Field under Harriet Harman and he's called a free thinker. What that
means is he's got huge right-wing views. He's meant to be in Labour Party,
but he'd fit in well in one of Thatcher's think tanks. He's got this theory
that human beings are motivated by self-interest, not altruism. His reforms
of Welfare State are based on that. That we should act in self-interest, not
altruism. Jack Straw's gonna be in the Home Office and his great idea's
curfews for teenagers.
People are gonna be disappointed, but optimism breeds optimism. I don't
think it's any bad thing that there's a change of government and I'm not
sayin' that people will be disappointed and they'll sit on their arses. I
think time's ripe for people with different ideas to organise.
And Finally, Is the Revolution Gonna Come?
Yeah. I don't know when, but I think we'll have to believe in the idea of
revolution. What choice is there? Parliamentary democracy is a choice
between two evils. Not good enough. There's all schools of thought. I read
enough to know that some people say the revolution is gonna come
spontaneously, other people say that you need a vanguard to lead it. Which I
don't believe for a minute.
I think any revolution has to be lead by the people who's lives it affects,
not by some fucking educated elite. Other people say all you can do is carry
the torch of anarchism 'till the revolution comes. I think everything's a
combination. I think I sometimes take myself too seriously, spend too much
time thinkin' of what if, would the revolution happen if so and so, so and
so. I don't think anyone knows, you've just gotta live your life and enjoy