Strange Things are Afoot at the Circle K.

Friday, July 18, 2003

One of my favorite bands is Chumbawamba. They're the band that did that "Tubthumping" song that was so popular. But if that's the only song you've ever heard by them, you're really missing out, and you don't know what Cumbawamba is. That song is NOT very representitive of their usual musical style. There's a reason that that is pretty much the only Chumbawamba song that's ever been played on the U.S. radio. The only one I've ever heard, anyway. The reason is that their music is very political. They are anarchists, and their music usually reflects this. It is usually anti-government, but they are from England, so it's usually things to do with English politics, which is another reason they aren't very popular in America. The Tubthumper album as a whole wasn't very good for Chumbawamba, I really suggest you give their album, "WYSIWYG," or the album "Readymades" a listen. All their songs have a meaning, they are usually based on a certain event. The liner notes of their CDs usually feature not just the lyrics, but also essays on the meaning of the song. WYSIWYG featured an essay ranging from a few sentences to two or three paragraphs for each song. Readymades was a little more restrained, having only a sentence or two for each song. On both albums the essays made for pretty good reading, if you're into that kind of thing. Here are a few of my favorites from the album Readymades.

Salt Fare, North Sea -- The British Navy, guardian of the seabound British establishment, almost became its destroyer when sailors demanded rights in the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797. Sailors were always the archetypal enemy within; the word strike comes from militant sailors’ tendency to strike the sails when warring with the Admiralty.

Jacob's Ladder -- Political expediency versus class; Winston Churchill let 1591 ordinary sailors drown after their ships were sunk off the coast of Norway in WW2 by German battle cruisers. Churchill thought a rescue attempt might have alerted the Germans to the evacuation of the Norwegian royal family, so ordered ships in the area to abandon the drowning men. Today’s footnote would be the sinking of the Russian Kursk submarine; sailors drowned as President Putin put national pride before the need to call in foreign rescue teams.

Don't Try This at Home -- The global anti-capitalist movement reaches back to the late eighteenth century. In the back alleys of history, insurrection, like the common cold, spread quickly, inspired by the French and American revolutions: as the Sans Culottes garotted, British conspirators plotted.

Don't Pass Go -- In 1986 Satpal Ram defended himself against a racist attack and his attacker died. Although he's served longer than his original sentence he's still locked up, still refusing the role of repentant convict, still maintaining that self-defence is a legitimate response to racism.

One Way or the Other -- In 1986 Satpal Ram defended himself against a racist attack and his attacker died. Although he's served longer than his original sentence he's still locked up, still refusing the role of repentant convict, still maintaining that self-defence is a legitimate response to racism.

Sewing Up Crap -- The Factory Act of 1892 outlawed child labour. Behind the modern glass and chrome shopfronts of present-day capitalism are invisible sweatshops stitch-stitch-stitching the profits together; sweatshops employing child labour.

This song ends with a vocal sample of a small child singing an old traditional english song about the harsh realities of child labor. The effect is very moving. The lyrics to this part are:

"One up the chimney goes
Two hawks a tray of matches
Three braves the weaving floor
All pray for the life of Four

Five down the pit descends
Six ploughs in fields and meadows
Seven spins the handloom round
Eight lies in th’ burial ground"

After Shelley -- During the Irish potato famine of 1845, London’s Parliament decided who would eat and who would not; as over a million people starved to death, Irish crops were being exported to England. And now? Over twelve million children will die of poverty-related illness in 2002. Words based on a poem by Shelley.

Without Rhyme or Reason (The Killing of Harry Stanley) -- On September 22 1999, an unarmed Harry Stanley was walking home when he was shot dead by an armed police response unit. Someone had rung the cops claiming that “a man with an Irish accent” - Harry was Scottish - was carrying “a sawn-off shotgun in a plastic bag” - the bag contained a table leg which needed mending. Harry’s family are still pursuing the case.

This is my favorite song of the album. I really love the vocal sample it opens with. An English man says, "It is a great thing that we have an unarmed police force in this country. It is perhaps an even greater thing that a force that is unarmed is able to shoot so many people" England has an unarmed police force. Only in the event of an emergency do they call for a back-up group of armed officers. But, somehow, this doesn't stop them from accidentally killing several innocent people a year. The lyrics to this song are also good:

I wish, I wish, but it’s all in vain

On hands and knees
Floors like these
Washing away
Red from grey

Hearts will ache
Shotgun-shaped
No remorse
Of course, of course

Of course there’s an explanation
Why you sing without reason or rhyme
Without reason or rhyme

Everyone
Must be wrong
This explains
Where he lays

Hearts can kill
And they will
Filed reports
Of course, of course

Of course there’s an explanation
Why you sing without reason or rhyme
Without reason or rhyme


Convictions cause convicts.