Chumbawamba – Shhh (1992)

we’ve long since been tagged as pop’s ungrateful spoilt brats, cowering in the wings and sniping endlessly at pop culture and its playschool politics. mama cass carrion crow squadron at 3 o’clock it can get a bit obsessive, admittedly. i mean, there’s more to life than slagging off u2 and live aid. so swapping the anti-rock & roll venom for a cocktail of blasphemy, obscenity and stolen chorus lines, our fifth lp, originally called “jesus h. christ”, was all done and dusted when uh-oh! the objections started to arrive. publishers representing millionaire rock scum, in paroxysms and piques, demanding that we remove from our record any sample or version of their darlings’ golden greats money money money saying they “didn’t like the tone of the songs”. some requested 75% of royalties for about 10 seconds worth of music. abba, kylie, bolan, beatles and so on. not having a huge multi-corporation record company to foot the bill, we gave it up as a bad job. “shhh” is the precocious bastard offspring which “christ” bore. hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing, say nothing. just when you figured it out someone lets you down. us, usually and unashamedly who’ll make all the wrong decisions when the judge is up for trial? no-one has the cure for all our daily hurts – least of all this rock & roll, it’s wannabee christs all dead and dying. truth, get stomach and wings! mama cass carrion crow! dream a little dream of cass elliot, sweetest voice strangled on a mouthful of sandwich pecking at the tongue of a still-warm body. shut your mouth; or laugh out loud! “er, what does it all mean?” for a few brief words and a few short lines i was taken to the coliseum, fed to the lions – and lions aren’t the type you can really love enough, but you can turn ’em into rugs! “ow mate, can you spare some change?” too much… are you down on your fashion, or down on your luck? sometimes questions never get dropped: hey mick, are you dancing? “i never stopped!” l.a.u.g.h.i.n.g. – laughing.

by the time students across the western world were wetting themselves to monty python’s flying circus, lenny bruce was long since dead and buried. first in the courts, and finally in the toilet, elvis-style. so i was fortunate in having a hero that no-one around here had heard of. sometime in the late seventies, ian martindale, “the video, joe! don’t tell them about the video, joe!” who later went on to own a pit bull terrier named after jah shaka, gave me a book of bruce’s comedy routines and i fell in love with it. i read and re-read the book, laughed out loud on buses, and wished i could die in the toilet just like lenny. i practised using words like “motherfucker” and “bullshit”. it was no use. this was leeds, england, and i was already a cynical punk casualty without half of bruce’s style, wit or amazing ability to say the wrong things at the right time. rock n roll – it’s easier lenny bruce was repeatedly arrested for “obscenity”, a word whose meaning he consistently and continually challenged. so in homage to the man i got arrested for having a piss in a public place. i caught you with your head down the toilet as you were gulping up dirty words, and then later dressed in suit and tie, whilst playing to the laughing crowds, you were gargling, spitting, fingers down your throat – making yourself so sick. vomiting the words that you’d sucked and slurped all over the cops at the back! big mouth strikes again… mc fusion: censored! “to” is a preposition, “come” is a verb. “to come” is the verb intransitive; to come – to come. did you come? did you come good? don’t come in me, don’t come in me… it takes technique to thrill me! did you come? did you come good? these are words for which bruce was arrested big mouth strikes again… stepford husbands, stepford wives; with longer scissors, snip snip snip sharper knives. so sugar sweet, they spend their time as censors, working overtime. this good-good culture – welcome christ, judges, lone ranger, padres, pastors, popes, priests, critics, comics, you, me! big mouth strikes again…

basically the message is: steal it! culture, music, art, the odd book and slab of cheese… the new will be built from the ruins of the old. buenaventura durruti, give me a d minor! same seven notes and some slag poet’s quotes: stick them together with glue; you can mix a fine cocktail from memories, and pretend what you’re drinking is new. but there’s nothing that’s new under heaven – there’s nothing that hasn’t been done. pour me another double cliché; you can’t write a song that’s never been sung. take it away… and don’t bring it back everyone’s stealing from someone. burglars get burgled as well. there’s nothing that’s new under heaven; there’s nothing unique over hell. there’s nothing that’s new under heaven – there’s nothing that hasn’t been done. pour me another double cliché; you can’t write a song that’s never been sung.

i can’t remember how we stumbled across “the hit man and her”. a two-hour television programme, shown between two and four in the morning, based around the idea of sitting at home watching other people get drunk behave! and enjoying themselves, in a nightclub somewhere in the north of england; we were hooked. it’s one of those programmes that you just can’t stop watching. hosted by pete (of stock, aitken and…) waterman, talentless millionaire, no personality, awful grey suit; and michaela strachan, talentless bimbo, no personality, mini-skirts and giggles. behave! the whole thing is a vehicle for waterman (the “hit man”) to play his label’s new releases. and his catchphrase is: “behave!” sa&w typify pops’ ability to avoid talking about sex whilst filling the charts with endless oohs, aahs, and carry on-style euphemisms. ooh er missus, pump it up, let’s spend the night together so i can sex you up… behave! it’s the same unreal glossed-over crap you see in penthouse. sex without the… well, without the sex. macho bragging or little-girl whimpering, staple pop under brown wrapper. tee-hee. behave. five fingers holding four wise angels; little heads float by on clouds of goodness. they’re playing voodoo with their kylie dolls – sing it right or don’t sing it all.

fascinated by the hills of hebden and halifax, it was inevitable that i’d stumble across the legacy of the calder valley coiners: a huge network of coin forgers and counterfeiters who, some 200 years ago, cost the government dear and shared out their profits among the poor of the region. this was too good to be true: a thousand robin hoods virtually on my own doorstep. i’d seen an advertisement for a fell race up n down x country called “the coiner’s seven” – a seven mile slog around the coiners’ eighteenth century haunts – and began looking for any writings on the coiners. precious little is left: the history of these coin clippers is writ small, usually by wet liberal historians who fail to understand the radical nature of coining. what little there is led me to heptonstall church graveyard where “king” david hartley, one of the leading coiners is buried. finding his rainswept tombstone, one desperately stormy sunday afternoon, was as exciting as the childhood annual visit to blackpool pleasure beach. it was up in the tiny village of heptonstall, too (i later read) that a local woman called mary newall had killed an informer by putting hot coals down his trousers a flame for your pants, a poker for your eyes in a local inn. great stuff. as coincidence had it, the summer of 1991 saw a spate of forged tenners and fivers hitting the streets of england, with shopkeepers and bankers across the country discovering they’d been conned by counterfeit notes. respect due to mickey thomas, wrexham footballer ha! well madam how’d you like it, maybe plenty off the back? i heard the coiners took the snippers to the union, jack, with a snipper and a clipper and a bloody close shave making fivers, tenners, twenties, change. what’s your size? what’s the hours? tufnelspeak no, you don’t need the hassle – take the new short cut to the old clippy castle with the ramblers and the scramblers and the loiners and the tykes and the punks and the hippies living over by the pike. skyline-dominatingstoodley pike, built to commemorate the end of the napoleonic wars, now a phallic haven for twolegs and fourlegs pick a coin, any coin, and with a snip snip snip you turn a portuguese guinea to a threepenny bit; and every last watermark just curled up and died, haircut sir? and now the king and the queen got a bit on the side. don’t be bloody silly – keep away from bloody billy notorious government informer – cause he’s shopping all the chopping going down along the valley, and supergrassing catches like a plague, to be sure: but it’s nothing that a bullet in the belly couldn’t cure. please to put a penny in the old man’s hat, then roll ’em over! roll ’em over! lay ’em out flat! just deliver us kicking from our pokes and sacks to the hills of hebden, hell and halifax. and the next bugger blabs is the next bugger dies, got a flame for your pants and a poker for your eyes… where every hot guinea is another hot dinner, with the weavers and the spinners and the reverends aye, even the reverends were involved! and the sinners.

whilst “kicking back” (a term we picked up from chris and janis) in the states a few summers ago, we had the privilege of visiting one of the most inspiring shops I have ever come across. this was prior to the alice nutter/roger ahlforth bout (one round, one punch, and he’s down!) and so it was with roger as holy guide that we trooped off like a big happy partridge family to this christian music superstore and bookshop rolled into one. “jesus loves you” cowbells! i was in heaven. surrounded by icons and crosses and flagellation devices we filled our pockets with the joys of the lord. on the counter of the book store we came across a small pile of badly developed photographs come on baby, do the camera shake accompanied by the following explanation: “picture was taken by meta battle while flying from indiana to florida. the lord impressed her to take a picture of a cloud formation and, developed, this was the result. upon seeing the picture, a deacon from her church gave a prophecy of the soon return of jesus. at the end of it were the sic words to this effect: you think that you have lots of time, but you only have a moment to get ready to meet jesus! copies of this picture were sent to a friend, miss may miller, who was visiting in oakland. a negative was made so that more copies could be given out to be used for god’s glory. people out with polaroids all around town rev hal herman, a former professional photographer of hollywood, gave his opinion that it was authentic and not contrived in any way. jesus is coming soon! (matthew 24:30)” well i believe it. amen! (ahem). look, no strings: just paper-glue and card. hark the angels sing: paste the lord! high above the streets and houses paint the whole world with a rainbow mrs meta battle, with one hand on the valium and one hand on the bottle. somewhere over indiana, eight miles high, meta battle sees the good lord wandering across the sky. have your fun whilst your alive… you won’t get nothing when you die. have a good time all the time because you won’t get nothing when you die… gobsmacked, william shatnered, twilight zone doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo monster-on-the-wing-episode meta does a double take: come on baby, do the camera shake! half expecting from the aisle a certain mr hated jeremy beadle watching you, watching us, watching mrs meta battle (can you see what it is yet?) accompanied on the stylophone meta battle shot her lord load and watched him tumble down; and now there’s people out with polaroids all around town. and who knows, that jesus on the church near your house may well be the original – kiss it as you pass!

oi jesus, what you looking at? guilt, shame and fear… twelve years old and i’m being told that masturbation is unclean. jesus is watching. all the time. both the youth club leader and later the boss at the church who drilled this into me got sent down for molesting children. presumably jesus was watching them. so when boy george and his drug rehab mates pop up chanting the hare krisna mantra on top of the pops, everybody’s on to-oh-op of the pops telling me that “jesus loves you”, i get the urge to nut him where his third eye should be. rich pop stars have always had this thing for religious mysticism – egos looking for justification, spoilt brats wanting surrogate mothers to wrap them in cotton wool. i wouldn’t care if they didn’t try to convert the rest of us into their funky freak show. fine, if lennon wants to float off to india to sit cross-legged in front of some smirking joker in a loin cloth, chapman put a stop to that! but frankly most of us haven’t the time or inclination to spend what little money we have on buying flashy cars for sexually repressed gurus. i thought that sort of rubbish went out in the sixties. walking down lands lane in leeds can be a nightmare – not only do you have to dodge the revolutionary communist party’s maniacal paper sellers, you have to run the gauntlet of bald-headed, woolly hatted, clip-board wielding krisnas wearing their false smiles and trying to screw money out of you on the pretext of some “poor children”. liars! the money-grabbing mansonite “friends of the family” call this technique “transcendental trickery”. true! it means lying through their teeth in the name of the lord to get cash. heroin, jesus – same drug in a different syringe. mainline some escapism. “i can handle it…” i’m having a wonderful time drunk on communion wine; one sin over the seven, sick all over the stairway to heaven. bullshit, bullshit, priests without a pulpit, shake shake shake your blessed bells. ding dong! heaven calling! buzz buzz buzz… haircut sir! you put your whole self in, your whole self out – in out in out, shake it all about with a pop song, pop song, smothering love bombs, you’re great i’m great everybody’s great! happiness is just a chant away. georgie got a needle and georgie got a hit. georgie got religion and a saviour on a stick. a thousand georgies all posing in a field mimickingfrench situationist madman who joined a convention of people all claiming to be jesus. he interrupted the mass meeting by descending from a light aeroplane dressed as christ. touché! – which are false and which are real? you put your whole self in, your whole self out, in out in out, what’s it all about? pop song, pop song, smothering love bombs, you’re great i’m great everybody’s great! (chants the harry roberts mantra:) harry roberts, harry roberts, roberts roberts, harry harry. a popular football terrace chant of the seventies was the non-sectarian “harry roberts is our friend.” harry was incarcerated for shooting a cop… everybody got a good deal, everybody got a guru, everybody got a love bomb, everybody got a hit song.

an extract from the ransom note, written in cut-and-paste newspaper style (ref: jamie reid). a phonebox rendezvous, don’t whisper a word. half a million by monday – or roger waters gets it! (as spoken by roger waters’ mother:) “my little baby! they cut off his ear!” hooray! half a million by tuesday, then – don’t whisper a word…

i grew up on the never-never; everything was bought on a tick and had to be paid for every friday night weavin’ and a-bobbin’ when the tallyman called. my dad got paid thursday and by monday my parents were hard up again. my mum always made sure she paid the bills; there was supposed to be virtue in being “poor but honest”, but all it gave us was less than everybody else had. thirty years of married life to the holiest joe, ex-footballer and possibly, an armchair without ever taking a penny that didn’t belong to her. she was sixty when my dad died, and after she’d paid for the funeral she’d a grand total of £200 in the bank; and she still thought that honesty was the best policy. years after i’d left home i met a group of women from a council estate who’d chucked that idea out the window and had taken to shoplifting, managing to get videos and decent clothes for their kids as a result. they’d hire a van and set off for a city and descend en masse. you could order anything from three pairs of kids’ knickers to a nikon camera and they’d let you have it at a third of the price. if the girl’s got to have it, then the girl’s got to have it nobody buys from catalogues on that estate. shoplifters of the world unite! two little ducks sank with a knock knock knock; she got twenty on tick and she smoked the bloody lot. the fridge was bare, the dog was bones: weavin’ and a-bobbin’ when the tallyman calls. mary, mary, she went up the wall and she kissed bye bye to the holiest joe: played the wild rover and climbed on board, says, “it’s all that the lady of the manor can afford.” you sometimes plunder, and you sometimes plunder… meet ms morrissey, fingers light, she lifted up his hat a hatful of hollow rhetoric. all aboard for maudlin street! and he wept all night. she’s the woman with the granny bag dressed to the nines – the pleasure and the privilege mine all mine! candid camera watching you, watching us, again. on every bloody wall – all the cameras under heaven couldn’t catch ’em all. fill those pockets and lift that grail; lead me into temptation, girls. (interlude): everything i do, i do it for you. everything i do is driven by you. driven by you? you don’t have a clue… i make your songs better and you always try to sue! money, money, money – it’s gone to your head. i sample too much and you say “the music’s dead”. dead? huh! you’re the one that’s dead – lots of money spent on someone with a hollow head. new kids, minogue, all those sort of rogues, making lots of money for those scheming little toads. then you come to us and say we made the music worse; look at the beatles and stones – who made their music first? all the threes and all the queen bees singing “does the driver want a wee wee?” wicked ladies, malicious intent: “but your honour, i was only trying to pick it up for lent.” roll up for the magical miss tour, step right this way! does the driver want a wee wee? ’cause we want a wee wee too! why waste change? why change the habit? if the girl’s got to have it then the girl’s got to have it. easiest pickings, wall to wall, in england’s piped ceramic malls. by the dickens! and the devil’s daughter – bingo! full house! everyone’s a winner! the lady works in mysterious ways: all because the lady loves christmas every day… you sometimes plunder, and you sometimes plunder. and here’s the moral of this story you can make a living sometimes plundering.

we were driving down to london the other day listening to magic 828 (ray stroud playing “what have i got in my hand?”) when on came “the streak” by ray stevens. vivid memories of sprinting naked bodies came flooding back – that guy who leapt over the stumps at lords, or blaine ward, who, whilst out camping in our back garden, agreed to streak down whitehouse road in return for an orange. then there was of course bert bacon comma, though, in the middle of the night, down to the post office to post a letter, stark naked, for a bet. so, this dutchman when he got all his clothes nicked during a heavy session at the launderette around the time of the lean years of the nazi occupation of holland, took the only possible option: a brave walk home in the rain, wearing only a hat, shoes, and carrying an umbrella. suffice to say he was spotted and photographed and the rest, as they say, is history: “a daring dutchman strolls naked through the streets of amsterdam to protest against strict german clothes rationing.” i’m not so brave and i’m not too crazy, and i’d rather be a coward than pushing up daisies. never rocked the boat. never tipped the scales. never got off the fence. never had that much to say… so when i get a leather glove across my face, i say “yes sir, no sir, whatever you say sir.” and when the nazis stop me, shouting “get out your pass book!” i say “yes sir, yes sir” – i don’t trust to luck. blimey! who’d adam and eve it? they’re rationing clothes; and where they find a molehill a mountain grows. so please, no pictures! ’cause the snap they took – they’ll take it as a sign, jesus h. christ! shhh just my luck! i’d stay at home and sit it out, but in a dirty world you need a launderette. gene kelly, played by paul simenon, whistling “singing in the rain”… two short minutes, i look the other way – some bastard robbed me blind! you can’t trust anyone nowadays.

who’s on this recording? alice nutter vocals, habit, rabbit bert bacon vocals, elastic band, foam lou vocals, keyboards, granny bag mave bass guitar, vocals, trumpet harry drums, percussion, octopus’ garden boff guitar, vocals, refrigerator dunst vocals, percussion, hammering with: commonknowledge keyboards, accordion, voice mc fusion vocals neil ferguson guitars, keyboards, engineering geoff slaphead fiddle howard storey vocals, a good time thanks: brian and sam typesetting geoff clout live sound cobie hard work, no money, memories mick sexgod guitar southern hard sell jimmy mullen’s claret & blue army the mighty turf moor roar written, performed and produced by chumbawamba march 1992
southern records po box 59 london n22 1ar england fax: 44 81 889 6166
published by southern songs

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