FEATURE: I Get Knocked Down | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s almost exactly 18 years since Chumbawamba surprised everyone – not least, one imagines, themselves – by having a huge, international, bona fide pop hit with Tubthumping. Number One in a host of countries, and a Top 10 hit in a lot more (including the UK and the US), the Leeds band suddenly found themselves on Top Of The Pops, with their song ringing out at chucking out time across the country. Meanwhile, the cries of sell-out grew in volume, partly because it was widely but mistakenly believed the band had signed to the same EMI label they had once campaigned against (they hadn’t, but it’s complicated). In the fall out, the band got on US TV to discuss anarchy, spoke out for the Liverpool dockworkers at the BRIT Awards and gave large cash donations to all manner of worthy leftist/green campaigns. It’s a fascinating story and vocalist Dunstan Bruce – now a film maker when he’s not fronting Interrobang – is the man who’s decided to tell it.

With a Kickstarter campaign to fund it more than three quarters of the way to its £40k target with a couple of weeks to go, it seemed like an opportune moment to ask Dunstan what on earth he’s up to.

Why now? Is this something you’ve wanted to do for ages and you were waiting for an opportunity, or was it a question of getting some distance from it all?

Well, Chumbawamba finally called it a day in 2012 and it was only at that point I thought it was appropriate to explore what had happened to the band back in the late 90s when Tubthumping went bonkers.

I really didn’t want to step on the band’s toes or undermine what they were still doing. I had been doing an illustrated talk called Belly Of The Beast which covered that whole period, that was full of the humour and irony and dilemmas we faced throughout the madness of Tubthumping. It was always very well received and I started to think, “this could be a film.” It has been a long process getting to this point where we are actually trying to raise the money via Kickstarter to get the film made. I was also weirdly inspired by the lack of political voices in the pop world throughout the last election; there seemed to be very little comment in the mainstream and I thought that Chumbawamba would have relished the opportunity to use that platform to say something contentious or insightful or funny. That made me think maybe it’s time to not only tell the story but also to try to inspire a new generation of musicians and songwriters and activists.

Without getting too much into the background and politics of the “madness of Tubthumping” – since that’s what the film is for – did you ever get fed up with justifying the whole era to people (the snipey anarkids especially) and is this film to some extent a belated response to that, a chance to get the record straight?

Tubthumping totally destroyed our anarcho-punk credibilities – if we even still had any by then! – in a lot of people’s eyes but as far as I was concerned we did something unique. We took anarchism into the mainstream, into people’s living rooms. We got into trouble, we talked about things no other pop stars were talking about. We had left the anarcho-punk scene behind anyway, so we no longer necessarily felt a part of that world even though we hadn’t changed what we were saying and were still championing the idea of anarchism.

The whole “sell out” thing doesn’t really interest me; there’s a far bigger battle to worry about as far as I am concerned. Signing to EMI wasn’t an easy decision but we collectively decided to do that because we thought that it would be interesting and challenging and different, and maybe it would be amazing and we would make a difference, or maybe we would become utter wankers and alienate everyone. We just wanted to take that leap in the dark and try something new, take a risk, see what trouble we could get into.

Do any of the band feel uneasy about the project, or refuse to be involved, and bearing in mind the endlessly democratic nature of Chumbawamba, do you feel free to editorialise or will it be as objective as possible (cue discussion about whether objectivity is ever possible)?

There’s a lot of mixed feelings about the film, I think. People have been very supportive of the idea but we were always quite private about the mechanics of the band and protective of the history and the legacy. We would always, always, present a Chumbawamba “line” to the outside world even if we didn’t all feel exactly the same. I always thought we were all into different strands of anarchism and felt differently about decisions we made and the functioning of the band and our experience of it all differed. It’s that sort of thing I want to explore and that sort of thing can make people feel uneasy at times. So, I feel as though I have at times attempted to assure everyone that I am not about to tear the band apart; I just want to make a film that is honest and revealing and interesting as well as funny and warm. It will of course be massively subjective (and yes, I don’t think there is any such thing as objectivity!) but you know, I was Chumbawamba’s biggest fan and biggest critic.

In the unlikely event that the Kickstarter doesn’t make the target, will you find a way to get this made anyway? And are you surprised at how well it’s gone?

Oh God yes! Sophie Robinson, my producer, is absolutely determined to get this made and I do whatever she tells me, so yes – this film will happen one way or the other! We have been completely bowled over by the response to this project. People have completely engaged and are excited about seeing the finished film; as I am. It has touched a nerve definitely; it’s amazing.


“Chumbawamba was always a band that felt it was part-owned by their audience; we never wanted to be separate from them although we would, of course, always do what we wanted to do regardless”

Do you see Kickstarter as an egalitarian, people-power, grass roots approach to getting a project funded, or is it just financial pragmatism?

The response from people who have funded and shared and tweeted and emailed has been vindication that this is the right way to go about this film. Chumbawamba was always a band that felt it was part-owned by their audience; we never wanted to be separate from them although we would, of course, always do what we wanted to do regardless. Reading people’s memories, anecdotes and tales is heart-warming and makes me feel as though I almost have a responsibility to tell the story in an honest way that respects their commitment and involvement. I would rather be thinking about those people watching the finished film rather than some number-crunching, viewing-figure obsessed media person. But I have been trying for three years to get funding for this film and despite loads of interest and support and enthusiasm, not one person or organisation has come up with any money at all. So, thanks to Canadian FCP editor Jim Scott putting me in touch with the director of My Beautiful Broken Brain, Sophie Robinson, we are now in the middle of a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Sophie had done a similar campaign for her film MBBB and she has just been amazing and brilliant – as well as her team of people at Brightside – in getting this off the ground and hopefully funded.

In a pithy sentence or two, explain why people should fund this. And are you prepared to personally kiss as many Kickstarters as possible?

It will be a hilarious and bizarre adventure about a bunch of Northern monkeys entering the belly of the beast. What’s not to like? And you know me; I’ll kiss anyone!

Find out more about Dunstan’s Kickstarter campaign here.

You never know, he might even kiss you.

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