‘Tubthumping’ Chumbawamba are the anti-homophobia anarchists we need in 2021

Hilary Mitchell
·4-min read

When you think of Chumbawamba – if, indeed, you think of them at all these days – the thing that probably springs to mind is their iconic, boozy ’90s anthem “Tubthumping”, a traditional staple of bad, small-town gay clubs with sticky floors.

It’s not that surprising that they’re best known for that song, given the extent to which it flooded the airwaves in the late ’90s and early ’00s. It reached number two in the UK and number six in the US.

“Tubthumping” was even chosen as the theme song of the FIFA World Cup ’98 video game: not something you’d necessarily expect to happen to a tune about a drunk neighbour written by an anarchist punk collective.

“Tubthumping” and its runaway success made overnight celebrities of the band, while also obscuring their left-wing political origins. Far from being some flash-in-the-pan one hit wonder, Chumbawamba were full-on activists who used their music to explore their anarcho-communist political leanings, as well as occasionally taking matters into their own hands, like in 1998 when vocalist Danbert Nobacon poured a jug of water over John Prescott saying: “This is for the Liverpool dockers.”

Nigel Farage is an a*se.

No wonder, then, that they were so furious when Nigel Farage adopted “Tubthumping” as a UKIP anthem in 2011. Band member Dunstan Bruce said his reaction to the news was one of “total and absolute outrage and horror”.

Former singer Alice Nutter, now a scriptwriter for theatre, radio and TV, released a statement at the time saying: “If ever there was gross misuse of a band’s music this is it. As a former member of Chumbawamba, I would like it to go on record that we do not support either Nigel Farage or UKIP. In fact we would go further and say that Nigel Farage is an a*se, his party is mainly made up of bigots and its policies are racist.”

If UKIP had taken approximately two seconds to google the long history of the band, they’d have learned that Chumbawamba spent a lot of the 1980s playing benefit gigs for causes close to their hearts, like animal cruelty, the UK miners’ strike and gay rights. They regularly spoke out about inequalities faced by the LGBT+ community and even penned a song about the scourge of homophobia called, unsurprisingly, “Homophobia”.

The fact that Chumbawamba wrote a song about the brutal murder of a gay man makes a lot more sense when you look at the band’s long history as political activists and passionate LGBT+ rights advocates who lived in a commune together.

According to the album liner notes, “Homophobia” is “the true tale of a young gay man who was kicked to death outside a toilet in Bradford”. The single was recorded with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a worldwide charity and protest group who use drag and street performance to highlight various LGBT+ issues, including abuse and intolerance.

The lyrics are far more hard-hitting than the light, poppy tune might immediately suggest:

Up behind the bus-stop in the toilets off the street
There are traces of a killing on the floor beneath your feet
Mixed up with the piss and beer are bloodstains on the floor
From the boy who got his head kicked in a night or two before
Homophobia
The worst disease
Love how you want to love and love who you please.

To say that this song didn’t perform as well in the charts as “Tubthumping” is a bit of an understatement. It didn’t rank in the US, although it did reach 76 in the UK singles chart

However, it has had a lasting legacy, as you can see from the comments underneath the YouTube video. Plus its message is still, unfortunately, just as relevant today as it was three decades ago.

One person wrote: “I am one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who sang in the church… this was almost 30 years ago! Scary we are all getting so old and still the issue stands in 2020!”

Another comment reads: “I love this song, gave me the courage to come out of the closet.”

chumbawamba homophobia, brit awards, 1998
Chumbawamba at the Brit Awards Ceremony in 1998 (Getty)

“Homophobia” wasn’t the band’s only foray into the world of LGBT+ activism. In 1992, Jason Donovan took music, fashion and culture magazine The Face to court for alleging he was gay. Jason Donovan argued that, as he had always presented himself as straight, The Face committed libel by alleging he had deceived the public about his sexual orientation.

He won £200,000 in damages and the magazine had to pay £100,000 in costs, leading to a backlash accusing Jason Donovan of being homophobic.

Chumbawamba responded to the controversy by printing hundreds of Jason Donovan – Queer As Fuck T-shirts and gave them away for free with their single “Behave”.

The band broke up for good in 2012, which is, frankly, very unfair of them as we need their brand of punky, confident, loud-mouthed, gay-friendly agit-pop in 2021, possibly more than ever.

In the absence of a reunion (ideally involving a 16th album all about Donald Trump’s attacks on LGBT+ rights, QAnon and the rise of white supremacy) you can revisit their tubthumping back catalogue on Spotify.