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Music / Chumbawamba

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Amazingly, this isn't the most off-the-wall thing they've done.

"I get knocked down, but I get up again.
You're never gonna keep me down."
— "Tubthumping"

Chumbawamba were a British "anarchist rock" band whose career spanned over 30 years, having formed in 1982 in Burnley, although the band called Leeds its home. Today, they're best remembered as the band that penned the hit "Tubthumping" (from 1997's Tubthumper), whose "I get knocked down..." chorus has become ubiquitous as an anthem for perseverance, even though that's not even close to what the song is about.

The band gained initial fame in anarcho-punk movement in the 1980s, being a dedicated part of the cassette culture scene. They frequently made appearances on numerous benefit albums for a wide variety of causes, such as animal rights and anti-war. This led to their first real chart success, "Revolution" (1985, UK Indie #4), eventually leading to their first LP, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, a year later. It was a scathing criticism of Bob Geldof's Live Aid effort, which the band derided as a "cosmetic spectacle designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger" and featured the sound of bandmate Danbert Nobacon vomiting into a toilet.

By 1990, the band started to develop their pop sound with "Slap!" (1990) and the sample-heavy "Shh" (1992), with the band having their first tour of the United States in 1990. In 1992, the band gained some notoriety after handing out T-Shirts that read "Jason Donovan – Queer As F***" T-shirts packaged with their single "Behave", done in response to Jason Donovan suing The Face magazine for claiming Donovan was a liar for denying his homosexuality. 1994 would see the release of "Anarchy", which gave the band their first singles that reached the bottom part of the UK Top 40, their best showing at that date.

Then came...their song. A staple of late night drunks, sports games, and anything else that called for a dose of "keep your head up, kid!", "Tubthumping" became one of the most played songs of 1997, hitting #6 in the U.S. and #2 in the UK. The song's success- and its fuelling by the band's signing with EMI- were a lightning rod with fans, with some accusing the band of selling out. The band responded to this criticism by explaining that no matter what record label they were signed to, big or small, they would use the band for profit, so the distributor of their music didn't matter. It was hardly the first controversy their time in the spotlight would produce. In early 1998, bandmate Alice Nutter said in an interview that fans who couldn't afford the album should steal it from the record store shelves, causing Virgin Megastores to sell the album from behind the counter. At around the same time, at the 1998 BRIT Awards, the band sung the song with altered lyrics showing support for the Liverpool Dockers' Strike, punctuating the point when Nobacon poured a bucket of cold water on the head of then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in the audience.

They would follow up their smash with "Amnesia", which was a modest hit, before fading back into obscurity, where they were more comfortable. 2000 saw the release of WYSIWYG, followed by the band's parting with EMI in 2001. A year later came the autobiographical documentary Well Done, Now Sod Off to celebrate twenty years together. 2003 saw Readymades, folk songs redone electronically, and a year later came Un, featuring "The Wizard of Menlo Park" which sampled Thomas Edison's first recording, "Mary Had A Little Lamb".

By 2006, the band was winding down, trimming its membership (they had as many as ten members before going down to four in 2005). Chumbawamba played Glastonbury in 2007, promising a new album that turned into 2008's The Boy Bands Have Won.... 2010 saw the release of their final album, ABCDEFG, before the band announced in 2012, that they were breaking up after thirty years, though they did leave the door open for a reunion.

Album Discography:

Members (Founding members in bold, final members in italic):

  • Danbert Nobacon - lead vocals, rhythm guitar, banjo, ukulele, keyboards (1982-2004, 2012)
  • Boff Whaley - lead vocals, lead guitar, clarinet (1982-2012)
  • Alice Nutter - vocals, percussion (1982-2004, 2012)
  • Lou Watts - lead vocals, keyboards, guitar, percussion (1982-2012)
  • Mavis "Mave" Dillon - bass guitar, trumpet, French horn, vocals (1984-1995)
  • Paul Greco - bass guitar, harmonica (1992-1992, 2012)
  • Neil Ferguson - vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards (1999-2012; producer/engineer since 1986)
  • Harry "Daz" Hamer - drums, percussion, guitar, programming, vocals (1982-2004, 2012)
  • Dunstan Bruce - lead vocals, percussion, guitar, turntables, saxophone (1982-2004, 2012)
  • Jude Abbott - vocals, recorder, flute, trumpet, flugelhorn (1996-2012)
  • Phil Moody - accordion, vocals (2007-2012)

I get troped down, but they get up again/You're never gonna keep them down:

  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Defied, Chumbawamba are proud anarchists. Sometimes played with, like in Give The Anarchist A Cigarette (nothing burns down by itself).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: A large number of their songs have themes of that. Especially Farewell To The Crown and The Diggers Song.
  • The Alcoholic: The protagonist of A Man Walks Into A Bar, comparing his alcoholism to the codependent but disdainful relationship between the US and Cuba.
  • Blatant Lies: The official word on what their name comes from now is just that they didn't want to have a similar name to every other anarcho-punk band from the same era, but throughout their career they have given dozens of mutually impossible explanations of the name
  • Call-Back: In WYSIWYG, the track "She's Got All The Friends That Money Can Buy" ends with a part of the chorus of "Pass It Along". Also in WYSIWYG, "Dumbing Down" ends with an orchestral snippet of "I'm In Trouble Again"
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Appears a lot throughout their career, but in particularly Buy Nothing Day.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The UK Independence Party used "Tubthumping" at their 2011 annual conference, not realizing that the song criticizes politicians like them.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink and Conspiracy Theorist: Parodied in "Everything You Know Is Wrong"
  • Cool Shades: Lou wears them in the Timebomb video.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Recorded the EP In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher all the way back in 2005, finally releasing it when she actually died eight years later. Then again, one could also argue the real message the length of time between recording and release gives is less one of preparation, but more along the lines of just die already.
  • Determinator: Even though their biggest hit "Tubthumping" is supposed to be a song about a politician that jumps on a bandwagon, it's still very easy to consider the song as this trope - the singer noted it as a song "about us as a class and as a band" and the guitarist as about "the resilience of ordinary people", hence the political title can be detached from the lyrics. The triumphant horns help to a degree.
  • Epic Rocking: The ABC's of Anarchism is a collab they did with Negativland. The title track of this EP is 13 minutes long
  • Fading into the Next Song: The whole of WYSIWYG.
  • Hymn to Music: "The Wizard of Menlo Park" and all of ABCDEFG.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In their song "Fade Away (I Don't Want To)", their chorus is "I don't wanna fade away". Near the end, you can hear their voice fade into the background as they say this.
  • Genre Roulette: They've made ear-splitting anarchopunk, traditonal choral covers, doo-wop and jazz, gentle indie folk, punchy electroclash power-pop, Oi! and 80s pop parodies, country and western....
  • Knuckle Tattoos: The namesake for "Swingin' With Raymond" and its themes of LOVE and HATE is a man (called Raymond) who had "LOVE" tattooed on one hand and "HATE" on the other.
  • Long Title:
    • Their first album had the full title Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: Starvation, Charity and Rock & Roll Lies & Traditions.
    • They later topped it with The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother's Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don't Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try To "Guard" Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It's Over, Then It's Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won.
      • Which is reputed to be the world record-holder for longest album title, beating Fiona Apple's When the Pawn...
  • Looped Lyrics: The entire lyric of "Ugh! Your Ugly Houses" comprises the six words "Ugh! Your ugly houses look so..." over and over.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Lots of their songs are upbeat songs with dark or agressive lyrics, such as "Timebomb".
  • Miniscule Rocking: There's a lot of them, here's some:
    • Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records: "...and in a Nutshell".
    • Shhh: "Popstar Kidnap".
    • Anarchy: "On Being Pushed", "Doh!", "Blackpool Rock".
    • WYSIWYG: "The Health & Happiness Show", "Moses With a Gun", "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Jerry Springer", "Knickers".
    • The Boy Bands Have Won: "When An Old Man Dies", "Fine Line", "A Fine Career", "The Ogre".
  • Multiple-Choice Past: The origin of the name Chumbawamba.
  • Music for Courage: Subverted with "Tubthumping". It seems like an inspiring and motivational song, with its chorus being "I get knocked down / But I get up again / You're never gonna keep me down". However, the song is actually about a politician that jumps on a bandwagon.
  • New Sound Album: Most of them.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Tubthumping"
  • Odd Friendship: with novelty-song specialists Black Lace, via former Black Lace producer and latterday Chumba Neil Ferguson. They've even covered each others' songs (the Chumbas did "Agadoo", Black Lace recorded "She's Got All The Friends Money Can Buy").
  • Orphaned Punchline: The band's name is actually this for a dirty joke. Allegedly.
  • Protest Song: Much of their output.
  • Retraux: The song "Tony Blair" is basically a throwback doo-wop song.
  • Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue...: "Amnesia" has a more traumatized take on it with "burns are red, bruises blue, out with the old, cheated by the new".
  • Russian Reversal: "You don't tell time. Time tells you" from "Timebomb."
  • Sampling:
    • "Tubthumping" itself climaxes in the final chorus with the trumpets from "Prince of Denmark's March."
    • "The Good Ship Lifestyle" from Tubthumper mixes breakbeat techno with a heavy rock chorus, only to end with a sample of "Sailing By" by The Perry-Gardner Orchestra, which is pure easy listening music.
  • Self-Deprecation: This gem from Torturing James Hetfield, after one too many failed attempts to break him:
    Now, look what we brought for you, James
    Your favorite disc
    It's Chumbawamba
    Their greatest hits (there's only one)
    Turned up the volume
    You should have heard him sing (oh, how he sings)
    He cried like a baby
    And told us everything
  • Shout-Out: Just about every song in a 20+ year career.
    • "The Big Issue": The Non-Appearing Title makes perfect sense when you realize the song is about losing your home and that The Big Issue is a magazine printed to be sold by the homeless.
  • Spoken Word in Music: A lot of spoken word in Chumbwamba's songs are sampled from movies and broadcasts.
    • In WYSIWYG, only 5 songs don't have spoken word out of 22 songs (On the original release).
      • There are 3 bonus songs from WYSIWYG, having 2 out of 3 songs with spoken word. The bonus track "Just A Form Of Music" is a speech over an instrumental.
    • All songs in the original release of Tubthumper have spoken word.
  • Take That!:
    • In 2001, GM gave Chumbawamba $10,000 for a Pontiac Vibe commercial. Chumbawamba turned that into a donation to Indymedia and CorpWatch who used the money to start an information and environmental campaign against GM.
    • Their first album, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records was a big one against Live Aid, with shots directed to the organizers of the event, the musicians who took part in it, and the companies who sponsored the concert.
    • Special mention should go to "Slag Aid," a song they've rerecorded for every single subsequent Live Aid, which always ends with them declaring their plan to charitably crucify a very prominent performer from the event.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Invoked in their song about Wenseslao Moguel, a Mexican revolutionary who survived being shot 11 times by firing squad; once in the head, and lived to tell about it, El Fusilado .
  • Trade Snark: "All Fur Coat and No Knickers" has this line. And yes, they verbalise the "TM"
    Now it's a Theatre of Dreams™
  • Viewers Are Geniuses:
    • If yes, you know that the band name comes from the (extremely variously spelled) demon from Gilgamesh. If very yes, you know that the name means something along "buttface".
    • Many of their work samples, quotes and refers to a wide variety of other works, and their songs are often about specific incidents and acts that require a bit of research (for example, the song "I did it for Alfie" from "Un" is about the decapitation of a statue of Margaret Thatcher with a cricket bat in Guildhall in 2003).