Music Review – Chumbawamba

Djangoly Theatre, Nottingham
27 September

As far as public perception is concerned, Chumbawamba certainly resemble social work: much misunderstood and maligned.

They are best known for their thumping worldwide hit Tubthumping (a song about shouting to change the world after you’ve had a few) and for chucking buckets of water over deputy prime minister John Prescott, writes Graham Hopkins.

But the loud, brash northern anarchist collective has transformed itself musically into an accomplished acapella and acoustic band, albeit one in the folk agitprop strain. They retain an honesty that exposes and decries racism, sexism, homophobia and
domestic violence (“With all the pain and the silence that she feeds on, with all the hurt that the bruises can’t show”).

All delivered with lyrical insight and, despite their somewhat dour image, humour; and, let it be said, cracking melodies and

Talking beforehand, the band were shocked to hear of a teacher in a Derby school, with 10 per cent black and Asian pupils, who continues to teach despite standing as a candidate for the British National Party.

“You can’t be a policeman or a soldier if you have racist views,” says band member Boff Whalley, “but you can carry on being a teacher.” The Day the Nazi Died was duly dedicated to the kids at the Derby Pupil Referral Unit. Unsurprisingly, the new (and
excellent) “punk-folk” album, A Singsong and a Scrap, featured strongly, the highlight being the soul-caressing By and By – about the Swedish-born “troubadour of discontent” Joe Hill, a songwriter and union organiser executed by firing squad in Utah, US, in 1915.

But the audience saved their biggest cheer for (yet another) new version of the classic Homophobia (“the worst disease, you can’t love who you want to love in times like these”). Coinciding with the Labour Party conference, the performance ended triumphantly as Lou Watts, playing the heart-broken lover, unleashed her marvellous voice on the Phil Spector-esque ballad
Tony Blair. (“Tony, you said that you’d be true, I believed you liked a fool, I should have seen it in your eyes.”)

Originally available only as a free CD to mailing list members, you can now download the track (and many other treats, including
a happy and glorious take on The Beatles’ Her Majesty) from the group’s website. The music press hates Chumbawamba, which ought to be recommendation enough. They might well have people poke fun at them but this folk punk is thought-provoking finery. And beautiful. There I’ve said it: Chumbawamba are beautiful.

Now, where’s that cider drink?

Graham Hopkins is practice editor of Community Care

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