Andy Warhol made his famous quote about "everybody being famous
for fifteen minutes", he could have been musing directly about
Chumbawamba. Except, in their case, he may have elected to add "on
spasmodic occasions" to the end of the prophecy. They are undoubtedly
best known for two things - The I997 number two hit single "Tubthumping"
and for drenching Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott after New Labour's
refusal to support the striking Liverpool Dockers. Aside from this,
they have managed to upset and infuriate a multitude of quiver lipped
journalists and various stuffily conservative record company executives,
amongst a deluge of other walks of life from the capitalist hierarchy.
Guitarist Boff took some time out to speak to Atomicduster about their
forthcoming long player.
AD: Your new album, "Readymade" seems almost like a "folk
dance" record, particularly "Jacob's Ladder" and "Don't
Pass Go'. You certainly like to be different! What do you think the
main factors were that made the album turn out that way?
Boff: We just sat down and talked about what we'd done in the past,
and decided what would be a completely different direction for us. The
idea was to build the album on classic and obscure folk music, by adding
drum beats of our own. Some of those folk samples were really old, but
just about everyone was really cool about it when we asked for permission
to use them, which was nice because sometimes people can be really snotty.
AD: The band will be a gigantic twenty years old this year, a feat
that you will be celebrating with a gig at Leeds Irish Centre. How have
you managed to sustain your originality and appetite for making music
over such a hefty period?
Boff: Because we constantly thought, since we started, that we should
change all the time. For example I used to be obsessed with The Fall
because they used to change consistently. Then, when it got to the point
where they kept the same idea and just tweaked it a little, I switched
off. So we started using dance beats. We've always been adamant that
we had to change. It's interesting for us and it stops us getting stuck
in a rut.
AD: Talking about the Leeds gig, what can we expect from your forthcoming
Boff: We're going to play a load of really old songs from I987 and have
lots of people we've worked with on albums in the past coming to join
us. There'll be plenty of people who don't really know what they're
supposed to be doing on stage with us!
AD: Last year, you completed the autobiographical film "Well
Done, Now Sod Off!", winning the audience award at Leeds film festival.
Was the film something you felt you needed to do, in order to answer
those constantly recurring questions once and for all?
Boff: It WAS a way of answering those questions, but that's not why
we did 'it. We just thought it would be good fun, but we needed to get
an angle on it. Originally we were just going to do a film that was
like 'We did this, then we did that", but we couldn't really sell
the idea to ourselves. Then we came up with the idea of interviewing
Journalists who really hated us, so we sent a friend of the band to
do the interviews. It turned out great because some of them really let
rip about us. It was very funny.
AD: The band historically is steeped in controversy. Have you always
made a conscious effort to look for adversity in the projects you've
dreamt up, or is it just something that followed you around unexpectedly?
Boff: We've looked for 'it. If you go looking for trouble it tends to
come your way. The fact is though, that if someone wants some music
writing for something "safe", it's unlikely they'll be asking
Chumbawamba. If, on the other hand, it's something a bit more cutting
edge, such as a controversial or fiercely political film, they probably
will - and we preferit that way.
AD: Which leads us neatly onto Alex Cox, whose new film "Revengers
Tragedy" has a soundtrack written and performed by Chumbawamba.
So what's the film like?
Boff: Well I like it anyway! It's a kind of Shakespearean tragedy set
in Liverpool, using Bard like language - which is a really unlikely
thing to do. Alex Cox was great. He had no airs and graces and wasn't
your typical "di'recTOR". He was really passionate about his
work and it was an honour to have completed the work for him.
AD: Why do you think EMI were so frightened of "What You See
Is What You Get"?
Boff: First and foremost because it wasn't that radio friendly, and
the record company were worried that there wasn't one commercial track
on it. Also, we did a single about Tony Blair and the head of EMI was
really REALLY unhappy with it. One of the lines was "I actually
think Tony is really fab", because we just thought that anyone
that would use the word "fab" strikes you as someone who is
totally out of touch with reality. Then after the Prescott thing, EMI
really wanted us to apologise and they actually sent flowers to John
Prescott and his wife. They didn't want to upset the applecart and they
asked us to sign the card, so of course we refused.
AD: Actually my wife won a competition to have dinner with certain
politicians, John Prescott being one of them, a few years back. She
said he was not particularly friendly and blanked her when she tried
to speak to him, so she thought your little stunt there was quite hilarious....
Boff: Really? Dear oh dear - "Man of the people". I don't
know how he got THAT nickname, I really don't!
AD: According to the press release, when you formed in the eighties,
you were very much a "punk rock reaction to the Thatcherite foppery
of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet", and you have remained intensely
left wing to this day. How disappointed are you with New Labour?
Boff: I wouldn't say that I WAS disappointed with New labour because
I knew what they would be like all along. They have no roots in true
socialism after all. It was strange for us, as a band, to watch other
people dying for them to get in. I felt like we were very cynical thinking
"God we really are KilIjoys at the moment, but just give 'it a
few years", and now look at the Stateist government Labour has
become. I still totally think Labour are better than the Tories though.
It's just that now, when you vote for Tony Benn, who is a lovely, lovely
man, you are still unfortunately giving the vote ultimately to Blair.
It's funny because I went to the AntiWar thing at Trafalgar Square recently
and George Galloway was there as well as a load of other Labour MPs.
I thought that was a bit rich considering one of the reasons we're at
war is down to the Labour politicians.
AD: "Tubthumping" remains your biggest hit single to date
Boff: Ha ha. And shall remain so....
AD: Maybe. But do you see that as the pinnacle of your career or
does it hang like an albatross around your necks?
Boff: Neither. It was just something that happened. It was fantastic
when it did, and we just had a really good time. That's the way we look
at it - "It happened. Now let's move on".
AD: One Little Indian refused to put out your "Tubthumper"
album on the grounds that it "wouldn't sell". Did you ever
feel like going back and rubbing it in?
Boff: (laughs) We met the bloke who ran One Little Indian, Derek, a
few times afterwards. He was a really nice bloke and it wasn't really
his fault that it happened anyway. Anyway we were all laughing together
about it. We were laughing with him rather than at him, so there's no
AD: Quite some time ago, The Sun called you "heartless bastards"
after you released a flexi-single called "I Am Selling" as
a tongue in cheek reply to their Herald Of Free Enterprise charity single
"I Am Sailing". Are you?
Boff: No. But sometimes it's worth projecting that image. The difference
is that, with Live Aid, it had such good 'intentions. If you're well
informed, you can't just stand on the sidelines and let things happen.
You have to stand up and say "This is wrong", and then you
can get a debate going, which is very much what the band is all about.
AD: What was General Electric's reaction when you explained why you
couldn't permit them to use "Tubthumping" for their advert?
(NB The band turned down an advert for an x-ray machine on the grounds
that General Electric also made engines for military planes that were
being used to incinerate civilians in Afghanistan)?
Boff: No idea. We never heard anything back from them. You tend to get
that quite a lot. A little while back, Nike wanted to use it for one
of their adverts. They really persisted with us - they even offered
for us to go on a fact finding trip, and work with us to try and improve
the situation. Again we said no, - and then they blanked us. At the
end of the day, all they wanted was to use the music. It was obvious
they didn't really care about anything else.
AD: Finally, for some time now, I've been trying to get the word
"munter" into the Oxford English Dictionary. I've started
to hear it in Leicester of late, and I wondered....do you use it up
in Leeds at all?
Boff: Er .... no. I can't say we do.
AD: Well, can you start using it please? It's meant to be a derisory
Boff: Em .... what? As in "What a total Munter"? Yes, ok.
I'll use it on the band.
And it is at this point of the interview that I realise, if I wrap
things up right now, that this particular expression will be etched
in BoWs memory. So, with that in mind, I kick off my shoes, sit back
and contemplate just how I am going to spend my commission from the
eventual release of "Tubmunting".
Churnbawarnba's outstanding new album Readymade" will be
out very shortly, see them online at;
Interview and transcript by Tone E