Chumbawamba - English Rebel Songs 1381-1984

Long before Chumbawamba became an international name with "Tubthumping" and soaked John Prescott at the Brit Awards I would be seen wearing the infamous blue T-shirt with the "Nobody Is Completely Useless. They can Always Serve As A Bad Example" slogan on the back and Natural Born Troublemakers on the front. In fact I nearly got beaten on several occasions by people wanting the very T-shirt off my back. But I digress from my original point. The first I heard of Chumbawamba was with Credit To The Nation on "Enough Is Enough" and I promptly went out an bought my first Chumba album from the ever commercial Our Price (we didn't have a Independent Record Shop in our local town although one promptly came and was bought out because it didn't fit the image of trendy wine bars the town is now promoting) - it was the original release of English Rebel Songs and although it wasn't what I expected it was a revelation.

The decision to re-record "English Rebel songs" was taken after "Readymades" which fused old folk samples with ambient dance and was a departure from the shouty in yer face choruses of old. It was also a chance to tell the history of the ordinary people through song and take us back to a time where we sang heartfelt songs about politics and issues affecting our brothers rather than "Wonderwall" by Oasis. "The Cutty Wren" takes us back to 1381 when the King introduced a Poll Tax which crippled the people already suffering daily poverty, the result was that the tax collectors and Lords and Bishops ended up getting murdered one by one. Not exactly stuff you're taught in history lessons at school is it. "Poverty Knock" is a song which links the factory workers of the past with the call centre workers of today and explains how the threat of unemployment is always enough to keep the workers in their place and calls for a change in the master / boss relationship. The most recent song, and one not featured on the original release, "Coal Not Dole" was written in 1984 and covers what for most people is still a recent memory of the time the government tried to crush the unions.

While "English Rebel Songs" is perhaps a release for only the hardcore Chumbawamba fan and also fans of traditional folk it certainly question exactly where are our modern folk songs. Indeed is our history being transcribed at all in music and if so where should we be looking. Are we to believe that in a few hundred years people will be listening to Chumbawamba and Billy Bragg to find out exactly how the people opposed the government in the War Against Iraq or how people will literally work to their deaths because there's no spare money for pensions but plenty for corporate hand outs.

Alex McCann

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