Originally called The Mirror Boys, Chumabawamba were formed in 1982 from two other bands based around the Yorkshire area in the North of England, The Passion Killers and Chimp Eats Banana. Inspired musically by The Fall and the anarchist politics of Crass, Chumbawamba's activities in their early years were based around a communal house in Armley, Leeds. Stalwarts of the cassette culture scene, Chumbawamba were at the forefront of the 1980s anarcho-punk movement, frequently playing benefit gigs in squats and small halls for causes such as animal rights, the anti-war movement, community groups and so on.
By the mid 1980s Chumbawamba had progressed to releasing their material using vinyl format on their own Agit-Prop record label, which had evolved from an earlier project, Sky and Trees Records. Their first LP, Pictures Of Starving Children Sell Records (1986) was a scathing and articulate critique of the then current Live Aid concert organised by Bob Geldof, which, they argued, was primarily a cosmetic spectacle designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chumbawamba (now signed to the larger but still independent One Little Indian record label) had begun to absorb influences from techno music and dance culture. Moving away from their original anarcho-punk roots and evolving a pop sensibility, releases such as Slap (1990), the sample-heavy Shhh! (1992) (originally intended to be released as Jesus H Christ!, this album had to be withdrawn and re-recorded due to copyright issues) and Anarchy! (1994) lyrically remained as politically uncompromising as ever, continuing to address issues such as homophobia, the Criminal Justice Act and the rise of fascism in the UK following the election of a British National Party candidate in South East London in 1993.
Chumbawamba drew criticism from their original following in 1997 when they signed to the major label EMI or sold out as it is technically known, particularly as much of their earlier output had explicitly attacked this corporation, going so far in 1989 to being involved with a compilation LP called Fuck EMI. However, the band argued that this move brought with it the opportunity to communicate their message to a far wider audience and make some money, although ironically their biggest chart hit, "Tubthumping", features what are probably the most apolitical of any of their lyrics. It was also during this period that Chumbawamba gained some degree of notoriety when male vocalist Danbert Nobacon childishly poured a jug of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the 1998 The Brit Awards.
Chumbawamba parted from EMI in 2001, and in 2002 released their eleventh official album Readymades, as well as Sic- Adventures In Anti-capitalism, a paperback book of political and musical writings by friends and aquaintances of the band.
General Motors provided Chumbawamba $100,000 to use their song, "Pass it Along" for a Pontiac Vibe television advertisement in 2002. Chumbawamba then gave the money to anti-corporate activist groups, IndyMedia and CorpWatch.
The band membership has varied over the years. The longtime members are Alice Nutter, Lou Watts, Danbert Nobacon, Boff Whaley, Harry Hamer, Dunst Bruce, Mave Dillon (left 1995), Neil Ferguson and since 1996, Jude Abbot.
(Original releases dates and labels given. Some material has been re-issued on other labels in the US.)
- "Three Years Later" - track on Bullshit Detector Volume 2 compilation LP, Crass Records, 1982 (Nb, Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whaley (Boffo) also has a solo track, "Garageland" on this LP)
- "I'm Thick" - track on "Back on the Streets" compilation EP Secret, 1982 (Chumbawamba recording as 'Skin Disease', a mock skinhead/Oi! band)
- Be Happy Despite It All, Sky and Trees, 1983 (Cassette only release, joint with The Passion Killers, featuring hand coloured cover)
- Another Year of the Same Old Shit, Sky and Trees, 1984 (Cassette only release)
- "Common Ground", Sky and Trees, 1984 (A benefit 'cassette single' for striking miners)
- The Unfairy Tale, Sky and Trees, 1985 (Danbert Nobacon solo release)
- "Revolution", single, Agit Prop, 1985
- "We Are The World", single, Agit Prop, 1986 (Joint release with US band A State of Mind)
- Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Agit Prop, 1986
- "Destroy Fascism!", Loony Tunes, 1986 (Collaboration with Dutch band The Ex under the name 'Antidote')
- Never Mind the Ballots, Agit Prop, 1987
- "Let It Be" single, no label stated apart from Anti-copyright, 1987, (Released under the name 'Scab Aid' following the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster)
- "Smash Clause 28!Fight the Alton Bill!", single, Agit Prop, 1988
- English Rebel Songs, Agit Prop, 1988; re-recorded 1998
- Sportchestra: 101 Songs About Sport, Agit Prop (Chumbawamba collaborations with various other musicians recording under the name 'Sportchestra')
- Slap!, Agit Prop, 1990
- "Whoopee, We're All Gonna Die", EP, Rugger Bugger records, 1991 (3 members of Chumbawamba recording under the name 'Passion Killers'
- Jesus H Christ (unreleased due to legal issues (see above). Bootleg copies are in circulation however)
- "I Never Gave Up", Agit Prop, 1990
- Shhh, Agit Prop, 1992
- "Behave", single, Agit Prop, 1992
- First Two, rereales of Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records and Never Mind the Ballots, Agit Prop, 1990
- "Enough is Enough", single, One Little Indian, 1993
- "Timebomb", single, One Little Indian, 1993
- Anarchy, One Little Indian, 1993
- "Homophobia", single, One Little Indian, 1994
- Showbusiness, One Little Indian, 1995 (A live album)
- Swingin' with Raymond, One Little Indian, 1995
- Portraits of Anarchists (Book and CD collaboration with photographer Casey Orr), AK Press/One Little Indian 1996
- Tubthumper, EMI, 1997
- "Tubthumping", single, EMI, 1997
- "Amnesia", single, EMI, 1997
- The ABCs of Anarchism, Seeland Records, 1999 (Collaboration with Negativland)
- WYSIWYG, Universal, 2000
- Readymades, MUTT, 2002
- "Jacob's Ladder (Not In My Name)", Limited Edition anti-war single, MUTT, 2003
- Shhhlap!, double cd of Shhh and Slap!, MUTT, 2003
- Revengers Tragedy, MUTT, 2003
- "Home With Me", single, MUTT, 2003
- "Salt Fare North Sea", single, MUTT, 2003
- English Rebel Songs 1381-1984, MUTT, 2003
- un, MUTT, 2004
- "On eBay", single, MUTT, 2004