Voices, that’s all: a farewell to Chumbawamba

Very sad to hear that Chumbawamba have thrown in the towel after thirty years, with their final gig happening tonight in Oslo.

While best known for their hit Tubthumping (itself something of an aberration from their anarcho-punk origins) and for throwing water over John Prescott at the Brit Awards, in their final albums they underwent an unlikely creative renaissance as a highly melodic, close-harmony-singing folk quartet.

If you have Spotify installed, here’s a quick canter through those last albums. The first was A Singsong and a Scrap:

Recommended highlights: You Can (Mass Trespass, 1932), a moving paean to the Kinder Scout mass trespass in 1932, and The Land of Do What You’re Told, which I’ve posted on before.

The second of these albums was, frankly, the band’s masterpiece: The Boy Bands Have Won (to use the abbreviated version of its 156-word title), a sprawling celebration of the spontaneous, human and engaged, in opposition to both an ossified and reactionary “heritage” folk tradition and the vacuity of “boy band culture”:

Highlights: you really need to listen to the whole thing, but try Unpindownable, All Fur Coat & No Knickers and Waiting for the Bus (a song that will make you angry once you know what it’s about – Gary Tyler is still in prison to this day).

The band’s final album was Abcdefg, which specifically celebrates music:

Highlights: Voices, That’s All (which sets out the band’s manifesto for the album, and always makes me think of G.K. Chesterton’s essay, The Little Birds Who Won’t Sing); Hammer Stirrup & Anvil (a tribute to Dmitri Shostakovitch); and Torturing James Hetfield. This last one is a great example of the band’s ability to focus righteous anger into songs that were both funny and educational: in this case, Metallica lead singer James Hetfield’s support for the use of his band’s music to torture Iraqi prisoners.

I could also mention English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 (the Spotify title is incorrect), which was a re-recording of an earlier album of traditional English-language songs of protest and rebellion (English Rebel Songs 1381-1914).

So, while redditors are welcome to think that Chumbawamba had been “culturally irrelevant for well over a decade”, I hope this post will persuade a few people that cultural irrelevance has rarely sounded so good…

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1 thought on “Voices, that’s all: a farewell to Chumbawamba”

  1. Risking sounding like a right sycophant… from Girard to Ellul to Chumbawamba! I do like your eclectic ways – though they reveal my ignorance. ‘Tubthumping’ was the only song of theirs I knew and, as I don’t have Spotify installed I can’t play the samples.

    in friendship, Blair

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