A quarter century of protest

Chumbawamba put politics first big choruses second

Every time Chumbawamba enter a room in North America they bring with them a large unspoken elephant. The band will be forever tied to their late-’90s hit “Tubthumping” which is now synonymous with the term “one-hit wonder” — big chorus great hook fun to sing along to. And then the band supposedly disappeared. This is a pretty accurate account of the band’s career in this half of the world. What most people fail to realize is that Chumbawamba have been going strong for 25 years. The band is still very well-respected in their native U.K. as one of the most overtly political and activist-oriented bands of their generation. They’ve written songs blatantly critical of Tony Blair and the Queen and advocated everything from animal rights to anarchy. Even though most of their Canadian audience isn’t familiar with their political past singer Jude Abbot doesn’t imagine it will take them long to get the picture. “Oh it becomes really obvious within a couple of songs that there’s politics going on” she says with a laugh. Chumbawamba don’t waste an opportunity to discuss politics when they’ve got a crowd which is something that Abbot wishes more bands would do. At the Glastonbury festival this past June in Somerset England she was disappointed by the lack of personality some of the other bands displayed. “In some ways there are politics going on (at Glastonbury)” she says. “But in a way nobody who’s onstage does anything with that; it’s just a wasted opportunity really. We made one or two references to Mr. Blair and it became quite obvious that the audience is quite politicized. People were up for it and yet the bands just don’t do it. “That bloke from the Killers whatever his name is if he got onstage and said something about George Bush and Iraq the place would’ve erupted.” The members of Chumbawamba grew up during the time of Margaret Thatcher when politics were overt and protest songs were on the radio. Abbot believes the current political climate calls for the same response from artists. While she concedes that it isn’t the job of every band to play the politics game she wonders why more bands aren’t doing it. “The times now should be politicizing people the same way” Abbot says. “It seems that pop stars don’t mind talking politics in interviews or whatever so you know they have that but once they go onstage they don’t speak about it or sing about it. With Iraq and George Bush and Tony Blair it’s just like ‘why isn’t this happening?’” While Chumbawamba are an aggressively outspoken band they are careful to point out that they aren’t necessarily the source of solutions to all the world’s problems. Abbot has a tendency to ask thesis-style questions aloud to herself before admitting she can’t answer them. Chumbawamba aren’t holding their collective breath for one of their songs to change the world but they continue with the conviction that every stone they throw is a dent in their enemy’s armour. “What brings about change and makes people think is all sorts of things: it’s the songs you hear the books you read it’s the films you see the people you talk to” Abbot says. “It’s a steady trickle of things that can bring about change. I don’t think a song in itself has a massive impact. But there are all sorts of people doing all sorts of things that are political or critical of things and our aim is to contribute to that — to be a small part of a big thing.”