The first 7″ single release carrying the Chumbawumba name very closely followed the same year by a split 7″ single with A State Of Mind plus the very first A State Of Mind 7″ single.
Closely aligned these two bands, one from Leeds, England one from San Francisco, U.S.A., shared common views and goals in the mid 1980’s. The booklets that come with these vinyl releases are full of information on what those views and goals would have been. Third world exploitation, multinational companies, vegetarianism, sexism and so forth.
After Crass had effectively folded in 1984 many 1000’s of people who wanted to avoid the well trodden path of what mainstream society expected of them, took Chumbawumba to thier hearts and travelled up and down the country to witness the wonderful theatrical gigs that the band performed. Many 1000’s of people also followed Conflict around of course after the demise of Crass. I prefered Chumbawumba as I felt that band had a better chance of getting alternative views over to a larger audience in the long run, which of course they did, and continue to do so today as far as I am aware. *Please note that the first side of the first Chumbawumba 7″ single “Introduction To History And Where We Stand / Which Side Of The Fence” is recorded from my turntable and transferred to mp3 correctly. The tracks suddenly go very quiet
The text below concerning A State Of Mind was specifically written for this site by Robbie A.S.O.M. Thank you very much Robbie for putting this history together and for sending the photos.
A State of Mind’s roots date back to the Philadelphia punk scene circa 1982. One of its founding members, Robbie (vocals), had left his previous band, the Sadistic Exploits, due to a disagreement on the band’s direction. Inspired by Crass, Poison Girls, and other anarchist bands, he teamed up with Allison Raine (vocalist, founder of Savage Pink fanzine) and well-known local punker Kevin (synthesizer/tape machine) to form A State of Mind (ASOM).
ASOM played their first gig three weeks after their first practice. They warmed up for Crucifix, an anarchist punk band from the San Francisco Bay Area, at the Philadelphia Better Youth Organization’s first (and only) gig which was promptly shut down by the police. Robbie joined Crucifix on the remaining portion of their east coast tour, and during long stretches of road between gigs, mapped out what they envisioned to be an anarchist revolution in the United States.
“She’s your personalized whore / this woman your wife / you fuck her and fuck her but still want more / you tell her you love her so you can achieve your dirty deal / not giving a fuck about the way she feels / forced actions of submission, bondage, rape / HELP! / with your macho fucking hard-on her feelings can not be felt / you talk about her as if she’s just a slab of meat / something you bought from the store/used up and forgotten next week”
ASOM moved to the Bay Area eight months later in 1983 and lived with Crucifix in an artist warehouse commonly referred as “New Method”. Within six months the band had grown to include Rip (guitar), Mark (bass), and Greg (drums). Later that year, after reading a Chumbawamba interview in Maximum Rock and Roll, ASOM contacted the band and initiated what was ultimately to be an international recording collaboration.
In 1984, the band broadened their efforts to work with others both locally and abroad. They collaborated with local musician/artist Carolyn aka Cyrnai (guitar) to produce the Liberte’ / ASOM Don’t Vote…Subvert! flexi-disc (Thought 1). The flexi was recorded on a small 4-track recording device by Rip at New Method, and with that, their label – Mind Matter Records – was born. Some ASOM members travelled to England to meet with Crass, Flux of Pink Indians, and Chumbawamba that year.
“Voting on any scale large or small / does it really mean freedom for us all / does it really make a difference / does it really mean your free /shouldn’t the decisions that the government makes be made by you and me / does it really mean you’ve had your say / it’s just another one of the games they play / it’s a mockery of what your life’s become / it’s just a masturbation of a presupposed freedom / the system has failed us so many times before /so what the fuck are you voting for?”
Vinyl production stepped up in 1985. Assorted members, working together again as Liberte’, collaborated with MKultra (working class writer; bass guitar) to produce a second flexi-disc entitled Racism in America (Thought 2). Cyrnai produced a solo-EP entitled Charred Blossoms (Thought 3), while ASOM released their What’s The Difference? Animal / Humyn Exploitation EP (Thought 4). Mind Matter Records produced a spin-off collaborative effort between ASOM’s Juliet (backing vocals) and her sister Kathryn that year – a cassette tape entitled Totem Falls (Thought 5).
“It ain’t just animals locked away in cages / And the profiteers don’t care for them or we / Yes we’re also bound if we don’t act now / It’s time we all fought to be set free / Animals exploited by murdering madmen / And it ain’t much different for you or me / Money’s to be made off the lives of the innocent / Despite who’s pain and agony / Monkeys and men are turned into machines / Vivisected loonies in a lobotomized life / Whether caged and bound or mind-fucked with lies / There is no difference this is all our strife.”
ASOM’s collaboration with Chumbawamba resulted in the We Are The World? EP (Agit-Thought 2) which was released in 1986. ASOM, with new member Verm (guitar), did an abbreviated West Coast tour with LA anarchist-punkers Iconoclast; and some members travelled to England to tour with Chumbawamba. Meanwhile, Mind Matter Records released vinyl for two Bay Area anarchist-punk bands: Christ On Parade’s Isn’t Life a Dream EP (Thought 6) and Think Tank’s What Now? EP (Thought 7).
“Burn the flags, tear them down / They’re part of the system which holds us bound / Break down the walls that separate us / Destroy the system which promotes distrust / Nation against nation, team against team / They divide up the people into those extremes / Commie or capitalist, which is your choice?/Either way you choose you haven’t got a fucking voice / So it’s time to fucking act /A united people in the attack / Working together freed from their grasp /Act now….act fast!”
The group played a few more gigs through the first half of 1987 with Greg S. (bass), Andrew (drums), and well-known Los Angles peace punk Lord Jim (acoustic guitar). Meanwhile, Mind Matter Records released Chumbawamba vocalist Danbert Nobacon’s 7” Bigger Than Jesus 45 (Thought 8 ) and Christ on Parade’s A Mind is a Terrible Thing LP (Thought 9). The band was evicted from New Method in the summer 1987 and band members decided to try new things.
The text below concerning Chumbawumba is courtesy of kipuka.net/chumba/history/show.html and the photographs of Chumbawumba performing at Wood Green Arts Centre squat in 1985 courtesy of Graham Burnett.
“Now if only pop (I mean POP) and politics DID mix…” – Robin Gibson reviewing Chumbawamba’s “Never Mind The Ballots” LP, Sounds July 1987.
“Suspended above the courtyard of the Pompidou Centre in Paris is the Genitron, an electric sign-clock flashing the number of seconds left in the twentieth century. Inaugurated in January 1987 by Francois Mitterand, the Genitron is a time machine that conducts its relentless countdown over the heads of the international fauna of Les Halles, the hustlers, punks, dealers, con men, mystics, musicians, strong-men, fire-eaters, rappers, breakers, addicts, sidewalk artists and sidewalk dwellers who seem already to represent the spectres of the apocalypse.” – Elaine Showalter, from “Sexual Anarchy – Gender and Culture At The Fin de Siecle” (1990)
FIVE OR SIX YEARS before the countdown began and Chumbawamba is being born out of that beautiful mess of street performers. Chumbawamba is the trio in the corner busking Clash and Gene Vincent songs on acoustic guitars – fired by punk logic, punk as change, hanging about in Paris during that knife-edge decision-time when rebellion turns into either part of your growing up or part of your life. Politics or “attitude” to come into it sooner or later.
Back a bit further. Legal Aid and Optical Illusion are the drummer and singer in a Barnsley punk band. Legal’s granddad is taking a Polaroid. They’re called `The Threat’ and their music starts and ends this record; the photograph becomes it’s cover. Later they’ll change their names to Harry & Mave and meet up with the others in Leeds, and end up living in a huge squatted Victorian house making pop (I mean POP) records.
Alice Nutter, art school drop-out, is playing drums badly in a group called `Ow My Hair’s On Fire’. Lou Watts operating computers for Burnley Building Society, Dunstan singing Velvet Underground cover versions in a Billingham group `Men In A Suitcase’. Teams that meet in cafes… and in the background, a woman Prime Minister running her own War in the South Atlantic, kills, maims, parades and gloats for half of 1982. England is dreaming alright: and somebody has to shout about the nightmare even if they are to be damned into obscurity for their pains. Usher in the Never-Has-Beens!
LONG BEFORE Chumbawamba release any records of their own, they pull off a successful guerilla attack which results in their first appearance on vinyl. In response to Garry Bushell’s inane patronage of Oi Punk (before Gary wrote for The Sun, he practiced his homophobic brand of tabloid sensationalism in music weekly `Sounds’), Chumbawamba fabricate a completely bogus Oi band called `Skin Disease’, complete with press pack and four-track demo cassette. Some few weeks later and Bushell lists Skin Disease as “Burnley’s premier Oi band”, and letters appear in Sounds lumping Skin Disease in with “other Northern Oi bands”, as proof of that “good Oi music is not exclusively a London phenomenon.” All this despite the fact that the “band” never actually exist. Eventually Bushell invites the band to appear on an Oi compilation single. Playing the role of Northern oiks, Skin Disease travel to London to record a special-written song called “I’m Think”, a bog-standard punky thrash with the words “I’m Thick” repeated sixty-four times. It appears on the single “Back On The Streets”.
Meanwhile, back to the twentieth century countdown. The first Chumbawamba demo tape is recorded in Hulme, Manchester, a few days after the band’s first gig in January 1982. A snippet of it ends up on a Crass compilation album “Bullshit Detector 2”, alongside a song about nuclear war by Barnsley band Passion Killers. Passion Killers are what became of The Threat. (As in, “1, 2, 3, 4, Let’s Go!”). The two bands meet. Small-town punks in Leeds, with a desire to rise above the mundane, to avoid a lifetime career at the Building Society or down the pit at Barnsley Main, sidestepping the alternative of college education. But instead of just escaping those roots, it becomes more and more important as the eighties progress to take them along, to re-write the endings of the Hollywood teenage rites-of-passage movies, to balance the fine line between everyday boredom and rock n roll’s petulant ignorance of real life; and to have fun doing it. Growing up to a soundtrack of punky, alienated noise – religiously watching The Fall, Wire, ATV, Clash – turns everything after it into a choice between safety – with all it’s inbuilt insecurities and emotional cancers – and challenge. Change or go under. The bad ship Chumbawamba sets sail.
“Chumbawamba: the message is more important than the music.” – Full extent of first ever live review, New Musical Express.
AT THIS POINT CHUMBAWAMBA are fast becoming unmovable flag-burning pacifists, a reaction against Thatcher’s election campaign involving nuclear stockpiling and stepping over dead bodies in the Falklands. This is the decadent 60’s and 70’s hangover, the Pistols’ “No Future” etched across a Boy George mirror. In the early eighties the choice seems straightforward – Brit-pop as complete escapism (Lady Margaret’s “Me, me, me” culture) or the sub-culture of resistance that is burrowing it’s way from underground. Chumbawamba play gigs at peace camps, turning up at demonstrations and rallies like they’re going out of fashion. (Which they are). The band’s home is raided twice in under a year by ten burly drugs squad officers who ask, “You lot them Socialist Worker types, right?”. No wonder the likes of the Guildford Four got banged up for fifteen years with authorities like this on the case.
The entries on the Special Branch files get longer. Raids, obstruction, breaches of the peace, even “theft by housebreaking” – twenty-six hours in the custody of the Strathclyde police in December 1983 charged with “removal of dogs, mice and files” from a research bucket load; for single parents, local hospital closure campaigns, hunt saboteurs, the ALF, anti-Sizewell campaign, nurseries. Nine people, three cats and a dog living under one roof, fledging anarchist politics mixed with too-hefty doses of idealism and organic vegetables. The dog, Derek, appears on a couple of the early records and includes in his CV the greatest accolade bestowed upon a canine: that of biting members of the police force (forcing one to have hospital treatment).
TWO EVENTS WHICH RE-ROUTE the agit-pop politics of Chumbawamba, both from 1984. Firstly, the Brighton Bomb. Half the Cabinet covered in rubble, and suddenly political violence – of the type which defeated Hitler, freed Mandela, ended slavery, and overthrew the state communist dictatorships – blows a hole in the pacifist edge to the band’s polemic. Secondly, and more importantly, the beginning of the great Miners’ Strike. From early on, the Armley (Leeds) Miners Support group is twinned with Frickley put in South Elmsall – Armley Socialist Workers make the connections and Chumbawamba supply the van and the street collections on Saturday mornings. The band mix playing benefit gigs for the miners with traveling down to the picket lines at five and six o’clock in the morning. And during this bitter winter some of Chumbawamba join a theatre group who travel from village to village putting on a Christmas pantomime for miner’s kids, down to South Wales and around Yorkshire. Coming from places like Barnsley and Burnley in times when the coal mines were part of the very fabric of these towns, it doesn’t take much effort to know which side of the fence you ought to be standing on; the band makes and sells a fast-selling three-track cassette for the Miners’ Hardship Fund, and Sounds writes:
“The Chumbas, as they are affectionately known, are refreshing and genuine pop anarchists. And no, they won’t go away…” (December 1994)
“What we’re given is any old rubbish that won’t upset the apple cart. The only choice we seem to be left with it to play the part of the bad apple.” – from Chumbawamba’s first single sleeve notes
ON JUNE 1ST, 1985, Chumbawamba are recording their first single “Revolution”, whilst at the same time the Travellers Convoy is being attacked and wrecked in a beanfield adjacent to Stonehenge. Cracked heads, massive publicity, and the start of an era of political change: when the marginal’s begin to come out from the underground.
The Clash, hastily re-formed in new street-cred guide with Joe Strummer passing round the music business hat to pay for his cocaine habit, play rebel chic outside Leeds University. Danbert Nobacon arms himself with a hydraulic-action paint-gun and splatters band and audience before legging it. This is Chumbawamba discovering their real talent: refuting the idea that rock n roll is some huge back-slapping family business where everyone “pulls together”. Putting spanners in their own works, pigheadedly refusing to lie down and become another servile record business lap-dog.
THE HOUSE IS RAIDED AGAIN, this time with sledgehammers. They’re looking for “explosives and bomb-making equipment”. Everyone is hauled down to the station, questioned relentlessly, kept separately, diaries and books confiscated – huge plastic bagfuls of pamphlets, posters, even song lyrics… twenty-three hours in a Leeds cop shop. Meanwhile, the first single sells out.
“We haven’t got a master plan – we react to things as they come along. As Anarchists we live with the contradictions that socialism doesn’t allow.” – From an interview with Melody Maker, Dec 1986
Chumbawamba mocks up as an April Fool’s SDP/Liberal Alliance pop group, calls itself The Middle, and records three tracks for a spoof demo. The Libs love it. Mike Harskin at the Liberal Whips Office in the House of Commons writes to invite the band to play at MP David Owen’s birthday party at Stringfellow’s in London; Chumbawamba are busy playing their own gigs. The single “Smash Clause 28” attacks the government homophobia pushing through a law which, amongst other things, demands the teaching of hetro-only family values in schools. This single is received as “unwashed ghetto grumbling… rock n roll won’t even notice” by Sounds magazine. (Shortly after, few people notice the demise of Sounds.) “Smash Clause 28” is the first of several recorded attacks on homophobia by the band, and significantly it isn’t until 1994’s “Homophobia” that the issue becomes “acceptable” enough to make it into the pop industry’s frame of vision, along with active anti-fascism (as opposed to a general nod in the direction of anti-racism) and anti-sexism. This year’s thing, last year’s thing, next year’s thing.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1985 Live Aid gives Sir Bob Geldof an excuse to get pissed and shout “fucking give, you bastards!” on live TV. Everyone waits to see if they’ll exhume John Lennon’s body and sit it in front of a white piano. Showbiz razzamatazz and displays of public generosity before McCartney sings “Let It Be”. Let what be? Have a party, celebrate decadence, and send a few bob to Africa? The £80 million raised amounts to a little more than half Michael Jackson’s personal fortune, or about what the world spends on arms every two hours forty minutes. And not one of those has-beens up there on the global pulpit ever mentions why there’s a famine in the first place – no-one asks who rips off the African crops and gives only MacCoke culture in return. Band Aid: a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. Revive those flagging careers! And U2 get their first taste of stadium rock…
Chumbawamba’s response is an LP catchily titled “Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records; Starvation, Charity and Rock n Roll – Lies and Traditions”. Which says it all, really. On the home front, Chumbawamba get involved in mass pickets both locally, at the Silentnight factory in Barnoldswick, and nationally, outside Fortress Wapping in London, where Rupert Murdoch mixes upgrading production of The Sun and The Times with all-out attacks on unions. Bundles of newspapers sitting outside newspaper shops across Britain are repeatedly stolen and burn, and several nights in Wapping end in a celebratory and almost ritual battle between cops protecting newspaper lorries and thousands of pickets and supporters. The band plays benefits for both sets of strikers in addition to gigs for Gay Switchboard, Prisoner’s Support group, Leeds Bust Fund and even an Anti-Freemasons concert in Keswick which has to switch venues twice due to local Masonic council threats. Chumbawamba are described in the Keswick press as “the worst of the american satanic backwards message bands”. And a gig with arch-punks Conflict at Leeds University ends in a mini-riot, missiles and riot cops and running battles… and Chumbawamba earn a lifetime ban from the University.
Late 1986 and Chumbawamba link up with Dutch band The Ex for a gig-to-gig relationship which is to last several years. Anarchists, squatters, and die-hard musical experimentalists, The Ex introduce Chumbawamba to demonstrations, Amsterdam-style; in a protest against NATO warships being stationed in the harbour, thousand of people create a huge party on the shores with bands playing on warehouse roof-tops and people already in crash helmets and with scarves across their faces. The Dutch riot police repeatedly charge the crowd, there’s a scream, and it’s an English accent. Alice Nutter is caught in the panic and has a broken leg. She completes the tour sitting on stage on a stool with her leg in plaster.
“All good clean fun, and ultimately harmless” – Chumbawamba live review, Birmingham Mermaid 1987
THE “SCAB AID” SINGLE, released under the name “The Scum” in 1987, attacks The Sun newspaper’s hypocrisy and jingoism by parodying that paper’s charity single “Let It Be” – where a host of pop’s graying publicity-fetishists (McCartney, Boy George, etc) sing to raise money for people involved in a ferry disaster. The single, a spoken-word n’ piano piece narrated by long-standing Chumbawamba sidekick Simon Lanzon (later of Credit To The Nation) makes NME’s single of the week and sells out before anyone realizes it’s Chumbawamba. The Sun describes the record as “sick!”. And what more accolades could it get from a paper which described the drowning of hundreds of Argentine soldiers aboard ship in 1982 with the headline “Gotcha!”?
“NEVER MIND THE BALLOTS… Here’s The Rest of Your Life”. Another Thatcher election victory and another round of red-faced Labour politicians shifting further to the right. The Labour Party, sitting on the fence so long it can’t work out which side it’s supposed to be on. Scared to challenge the status quo, wooing big business, turning a blind eye to sexual politicsm to the dismantling of the Unions, to Ireland. For some of Chumbawamba, a few days in Belfast to see a little of what’s going on there. Saturday night chucking-out time, blacked-up squaddies creeping through peoples’ front gardens, in armored cars in daylight asking questions, taking detail at sub-machine gunpoint. And the British media’s propaganda warfare, relentless in it’s blanket-censoring thoroughness… you can sing “Free Nelson Mandela” until the cows come home, but sing a song about Bobby Sands and see what reaction you get.
1988 and trying to cross the border between Switzerland and France. Seven hours in the no-man’s-land between the two, the entire band strip-searched and questioned after being found to have some copies of “Class War”. Extra plain-clothes officers “looking for guns”, the band only managing to cross intro France when the Swiss refuse to have them back; and after signing papers agreeing to the destruction of the confiscated magazines.
BACK IN ENGLAND, and the Centre for Policy Studies has unveiled their brand new baby for the 1990’s – the Poll Tax. Contrary to previous form, this is an attack on the whole of the British working class in one fell swoop; having excelled at picking off sections of it, this time the state proposes to reinvent a sweeping poverty tax which last failed in 1381, the time of the infamous People’s Revolt. Chumbawamba reacts by releasing a collection of acapella songs dating from that revolt up to the present day: “English Rebel Songs” breaks the chain of guitar/drums pop and tells it’s history of trouble-makers, revolutionaries and rebels whilst around the land anti-Poll Tax groups begin to organise and educate.
“If I can’t dance to it… it’s not my revolution” – Emma Goldman
This post is dedicated with the greatest of respect to Iain Aitch who is enjoying his birthday today