Saturday 3rd December 2011
Bristol Folk House
The above video was taken from a gig by Chumbawumba at the same venue (The Folk House in Bristol) as the gig being reviewed below but just over a year before it.
I imagine most Chumbawumba gigs these days have someone like me in the audience. By which I mean someone who hasn’t seen them live for over 20 years when they were playing in a venue totally heaving with pogoing punks & people who we were about to learn to refer to as “crusties”. In my case the venue I saw them at was some 200ish capacity scout hut type affair in Derby – I’d travelled all the way from Nottingham to see them – & there were, on account of the “crusties” inside, roughly a dozen dogs tied up with bits of string outside barking rowdily & at such a volume as to be heard quite audibly & amusingly in-between songs.
To be honest Chumbawumba slipped off my radar pretty soon after that gig. I was even pretty unaware of their “Tubthumping” chart bothering ‘hit’ (if you search twitter for ‘Chumbawumba’ most references are referring to this so I’m obviously in a minority here). I was however, well aware of the “cowardly & contemptible” (ÃÂ© John Prescott) Brit Awards affair when they doused Prescott in a bucket of water as a protest “at the contemptible attempt to make new labour seem ‘cool'” (ÃÂ© Chumbawumba) – something that, along with Jarvis’s Jacko protest, seems still to be mentioned every time Brit Awards season draws near. To be honest though the first time the Chumba’s really returned to my consciousness was one Friday night during the summer of 2010 when, tuning into Radio 3’s as always splendid Womad coverage, I was surprised to hear the dj announce, following some rootsy African artist, that the next live recording from Womad was to be by none other than the Chumbawumba.
Chumbawumba of course have always been first & foremost a protest band (check their “English Rebel Songs 1381”â1914″ for proof thereof) so it should come as no surprise that they’ve ended up being accepted by the folk music community, which of course has championed protest songs for as long as the genre’s been around, most famously I guess by Woody Guthrie & Bob Dylan.
In fact ‘reinventing’ themselves thus has been accepted really well by “The Punk Community” & to validate that comment I’ll point you in the direction of this week’s Punk Show on Radio 1 where Tom Gabel & Frank Turner were in conversation together & chose to play a track from the bands aforementioned Rebel Song’s album on the program while also lauding the way they’ve reinvented themselves.
Catch a rewind of the program here if you missed it.
Anyway, to cut my ramblings short & to get myself back on ‘gig review’ message I checked out their last release (ABCDEFG) after hearing them on Radio 3, liked the more folky direction they’d moved in & decided to part with ÃÂ£16 to go & see them live.
And golly how times have changed. Chumbawumba themselves have been through quite a few personnel changes over the years & have ended up as a tight 5 piece, sans drums & bass & with ‘rhythm’ now coming mostly, if at all, from clapping, finger clicking, & hitting of the guitar’s body. The most immediate & obvious change I noticed though was the audience. Ok, so I wasn’t expecting pogoing punks anymore but also I wasn’t expecting a school assembly type scenario with the hall full of politely sat down, mostly greying people. During the show, which as far as I could tell everyone loved, there was an awful lot of hand clapping, head & body swaying, foot tapping & that special kind of hand waving that older people sometimes engage in to suggest that they think they’re conducting an orchestra.
During the intermission I met someone I knew & said to her “this is pretty weird innit?”, “I know”, she said “last time I saw them was 20 years ago ”Â¦. punks ”Â¦. pissed ”Â¦. dancing ”Â¦. mayhem ”Â¦. etc”.
Anyway, enough about the audience. There was no support act so it was straight down to Chumbawumba – obviously wanting to give value for money. They certainly did that as they split the show into two halves & must have played for at least two hours in total. Over the years Chumbawumba have dallied in many genre’s & have ended up as this sort of but not quite traditional contemporary folk band as already mentioned. It suits them well. In fact, proving they can do folk as well as anyone the highlight of the evening was a stunning cover of the legendary Mike Waterson’s “Stitch In Time”, something they pulled off brilliantly. They even dedicated the number to the great man who apparently they had occasion to meet & who, of course, sadly died last year.
To a certain extant it could be really easy to be lazy reviewing a Chumba’s gig. They precede every song with a spoken word introduction which more often than not veers off into really amusing territory. Never for a moment though does one think “we paid to hear you play music not talk” because a) they’re on stage for 2 hours & b) the spoken word bits are very amusing. I could therefore quite easily just fill this review up with these stories. I shall refrain from retelling them all but one I will mention was that apparently when they first played Glastonbury they were on stage bantering away & referred to the fact that although in front of the stage everything’s lovely & friendly, behind the stage it’s a nest of vipers with ego’s bouncing off ego’s. (They didn’t mention names but did say Oasis were following them on stage). Legend has it that Mike Eavis heard about this & stormed over to them shouting “You’ll never play Glastonbury again”. As people who were at Glastonbury this year will know Mr Eavis obviously relented as you can see from this video where they’re playing one of their better known number’s “Add Me”, which proves they’re as astute at witty social commentary as ever, poking (soz, unintentional Facebook ‘poke’ quip) fun, as it does, at Facebook generation:
Another rambling preamble to a song was about their still maintained ‘Thatcher after party’ list. Pay them ÃÂ£5, put your address on a piece of paper & within 48hrs of Thatcher dying they’ll post you a Chumbawumba EP full of songs to help you celebrate the end of one of the most hated figures from UK political history & “to play at all the parties you’ll inevitably be having”.
Mention of Margaret Thatcher leads me to point out that for some reason although they’re still bashing on about how much they hate Thatcher, Cheney, Prescott & all the old targets there were no reflections on contemporary politics despite the fact that the coalition seem hellbent on laying even more waste to our country, & in particular our welfare state, than even Thatcher did. I accept most of what they played was off their last album which was released over a year ago but even so you’d have thought they could have come up with at least one song poking fun at/expressing outrage at the coalition’s destructive policy’s. Maybe they’re awaiting their next release.
Without a question of a doubt one thing that Chumbawumba through all their transformations have been extremely adept at is writing good tunes. Good catchy tunes. That’s still the case. To be honest it surprises me they aren’t more popular (although it also surprises me they’ve been so popular to have a chart topping hit). Having said that this gig was completely sold out & a rip roaring success so obviously they have a massive fan base. I’ve been to very few sold out gigs this year. I imagine if they were to put their minds to it they could write/compose an excellent stage show/musical. Maybe that’ll be their next reinvention in another 20 years time! If you haven’t heard their last album I’d suggest tracking it down at wherever you like to stream your music from or just take a punt on it & go buy it outright on the basis of the embedded video’s above. And definitely if they come to a town near you go & see them live.
I can guarantee you an evening full of wit, self deprecation (during the song, Torturing James Hetfield, mention of the fictional “Chumbawumba’s Greatest Hits album” is made to which they all immediately refrain “There’s Only One”) & astute social/political commentary. All in all a great evening.