“It’s nice not to be talking about throwing water over John Prescott.”
Boff Whalley’s tone is warm. The ex-Chumbawamba lead guitarist is referring to the well-worn story of how his former band greeted the then deputy Prime Minister at the 1998 Brit Awards, with drummer Danbert Nobacon throwing a bucket of ice-cold water over Prescott.
It’s a prank that wouldn’t look out of place in a Pulp or Oasis retrospective. Coming on the back of ‘Tubthumping’, the single for which Whalley’s old colleagues are largely known, it’s an incident which has perhaps also helped to cast the band in the mould of Britpop stereotype, at least to the uninitiated.
The reality is rather different. Formed as a Burnley-based ‘anarchist collective’ in 1982, Chumbawamba’s back catalogue, spanning anti-war protest songs, support for striking miners and fierce animal rights advocacy, is about as far removed from ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ as you can get.Embed from Getty Images
Perhaps the only similarity between Whalley’s former bandmates and the Gallagher brothers lies in support for their respective local teams. Whilst the latter’s devotion to Manchester City is heavily documented, Chumbawamba’s allegiances are less well-known.
Whalley is a lifelong Burnley season ticket holder and has seen the club play in every division of the Football League during his time on the Turf Moor terraces. As Sean Dyche’s team prepare for their final match of the current campaign, Whalley is reflective about end-of-season matches he’s witnessed.
“You think back to all the memories you have of being a schoolboy standing on the terraces and being able to jump over the wall at the front and run on the pitch and all that,” he says.
“I think one of the most memorable times was when they were going to rebuild the ground, so they knocked down what was then the Long Side.
“It was really sad because they played the final home game and people just stayed on the terrace, because we thought it’s going to be replaced by something that’s never going to have that kind of atmosphere.”
Whalley highlights the last game of Burnley’s 1972-73 Second Division Championship-winning season as another final day highlight.
“It was just when I first started going and I remember running onto the pitch after the last game and my mate Danbert (Nobacon), who was in the band, got a piece of turf which he kept in his room for years and years. It just feels like that kind of thing has gone now, hasn’t it really?”
Whalley and Nobacon were part of a Chumbawamba line-up which also included Lou Watts, Alice Nutter and Dunstan Bruce. The group were based in Leeds during their ‘Tubthumping’ heyday, leading to an unlikely alliance between the Elland Road faithful and Burnley-supporting Bruce.
“We were seen as a Leeds band, so Leeds got in touch and asked if we wanted to draw the raffle at half-time,” says Whalley.
“Dunstan and Lou went onto the pitch and the announcer said to Dunstan, ‘So, I’ve heard that you’re football fans’ and Dunstan said, ‘We are, but I’ve got to admit that none of us are actually from Leeds and we’re not Leeds United fans.’”
“There was some booing, but then he said, ‘We might all be supporting different clubs, but we’ve got one thing in common: we fucking hate Manchester United,’ and the place just erupted.”
‘Tubthumping’ was nominated for ‘Best British Single’ at the 1998 Brit Awards and, in the same year, the band were invited to write a song for England’s World Cup campaign.
Whalley and the rest of the band turned down the offer, but did record a single for the tournament, releasing ‘Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé)’ in June 1998.
Featuring the lyrics ‘I’m a taxi driver, I’m a postal worker, I’m an office cleaner, I’m a striking docker, I’m a ballet dancer, I’m a Zapatista, I’m a pop singer, I’m a winner’, the track reached number 21 in the UK Singles Chart.
The song also gave the band the opportunity to record a video featuring what Whalley describes as a ‘30-a-side game’.
“We were on tour in Italy and we just said, ‘Why don’t we record it here, in a village square where everybody plays football?’” recalls Whalley.
“It kind of turned into a 30-a-side game in the middle of this lovely little town.”
Since Chumbawamba’s break-up in 2012, Whalley has split his time between writing plays – recently penning ‘Homebaked’, a musical about an Anfield community battling to save a local bakery – and fell-running, a passion he discovered as a hunt saboteur.
“We went to one (a hunt saboteur event) in the Lake District and the hunters were on foot,” says Whalley.
“The guys that were hunting were running up these mountains and we couldn’t keep up. I remember thinking, ‘That is fantastic’ and gave up being a saboteur to concentrate on running up mountains!”
Whalley’s passion for activism extends to sport, which he felt was sometimes overlooked by politically-conscious bands during the 1980’s.
“Sport was the big thing that nobody sang about. All these political bands were talking about huge cultural and social issues, like war, education and government, but no-one was writing about sport, yet it’s so important to everybody’s lives,” recalls Whalley.
True to form, Chumbawamba took on the challenge by recording an album called ‘101 Songs About Sport’, although Whalley admits that the band’s motives for producing the collection weren’t entirely politically-focused.
“We went to the pub and someone said, ‘Oh, Napalm Death are releasing an album with a hundred songs on it,’ so we said, ‘Why don’t we do one that’s got one hundred and one songs on it, so they can’t say their album has got the most tracks.’”
The concession is in-keeping with Whalley’s honest, self-deprecating style. With stories like this, it shouldn’t be long before that John Prescott yarn is put to bed once and for all.