Features Albums Concerts Singles What's On Archives Contact @ Leave Us
S o r t e d   m a g A Z i n eFeatures
Navigation Bar - Links at bottom


Chumbawamba - Fighters not Writers
Everyone's favourite anarchist, Alice Nutter, discusses anarchy in the music biz and in the UK.


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.

Say Cheese

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 album like?

"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 music."

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."

Say shit

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 unit.

"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 bad capitalism."

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 bastard'"

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 things involved."

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 wife".

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 ridiculous.

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 absolutely ridiculous.

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 the fucker.

Chumbawamba - Readymades
Chumbawamba - Tubthumper
Chumbawamba - WYSIWYG

by Donnacha DeLong