Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #13

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#13: Chumbawamba
Bierkeller, Bristol – 8th June 1992
Support: Shudder to Think, Sweet Thangs

I joined the good ship Chumba the night I saw them live for the very first time; the night I climbed onstage and danced with them; the night I finally found my edge.

I’ve actually seen Chumbawamba more times than any other band. Well, any band that’s ‘well-known’, anyway. It all started in 1992, nearly 10 years after they’d formed, at the Bristol Bierkeller. One of the local bands I followed, Torrington’s very own Sweet Thangs, had landed an opening slot and I tagged along to support the Thangs in what I (wrongly) believed was a step toward their inevitable domination of the global music scene.

I knew little about Chumbawamba other than the press’ depiction of them as anarchist troublemakers who shouldn’t be taken terribly seriously. A mate had played me some tracks from their third album ‘Slap!’ a week or two before the show and I was instantly taken by how they sounded completely unlike how I expected. This was no polemic-ranting hardcore punk band, this lot had tunes. Like, proper pop songs. Their lyrics, however, provided a fascinating counterpoint: the Hungarian Uprising of 1956; surviving Auschwitz; the left-wing militant journalist Ulrike Meinhof; and the story of a police dog turning on one of its handlers. This wasn’t the overly-serious anarcho-punk of Crass and Subhumans - this was fun; this was anarcho-punk you could dance to.

But you can’t claim to have experienced Chumbawamba until you’ve experienced Chumbawamba live, and that night I witnessed a show I had never before seen the likes of. Eight people, six of them vocalists taking turns to sing lead, tight four-part vocal harmonies, a multitude of costume changes, and lots and lots of dancing. This wasn’t so much a band as a theatrical troupe with bonafide characters: Alice Nutter as fag-smoking, whiskey-swigging, Northern Soul-dancing nun; Danbert Nobacon as naked man with umbrella.  

I was, quite simply, blown away. I knew hardly any of the songs, but I didn’t stop moving from the moment they began. In fact, being in the crowd wasn’t enough and I joined a handful of similarly enthused souls and rushed the stage where we were warmly received and permitted to remain for the rest of the show.

And so it began – my interest in radical thought and free-thinking ideologies had been sparked by nothing more sinister than pop music. When it came to a Chumbawamba concert, anarchy had never been more fun!


1 comment:

  1. If for nothing else they should be revered for the title of their album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records