Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Oliver: Chumbawamba - Revolution/I Never Gave Up (8 February 1992)

Revolution is also known as The R'n'R Factory Strike.

At the time of Peel's show on 8/2/92, Falmouth School's production of Oliver was still 2 months away from its production week.  It would take me another 5 years and another 4 musicals before I would conclude that they took up too much time and stopped doing them.  So lengthy were the rehearsal schedules for the musicals that I did, that I often had time to fit another show in before they got to stage.  In the last 19 years, I've only done one musical, Little Shop of Horrors, in 2007, withSt Austell Players.  That at least had the decency to take a summer break rather than flog us all the way from late March to early October.  Nevertheless, I was still loving every minute of Oliver and found the rehearsal process fascinating.  Another layer of interest was added from about this time onwards when Jane Stevenson's husband, Mike, who I knew as a bloke who ran a carpet store on Killegrew Street, started overseeing rehearsals away from the main hall in another part of Falmouth School's Lower School site.  While Jane looked after the big set pieces, Mike worked on the acting between the songs, and it was here where I first learned about putting some depth into the character of Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker.  We're still talking school play level here and an hour and a half crammed
in after a school day, but it was all very useful and gave me plenty to consider.  It also had an effect on what drama was going to mean to me as a past-time, because Mike and Jane would clearly see enough in what I was doing to invite me to take part in a Shakespeare production that they were directing for A-Level and GCSE drama students; myself and a few others being brought in to make up the numbers, which was staged in July 1992 at Pendennis Castle.  This was crucial to me because it meant, I had something to follow up my enjoyment of Oliver with and it was in something hugely different.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves, it's going to take ages to get to The Comedy of Errors, and there's plenty of Oliver-era Peel selections to go yet.

I decided now was as good a time as any to recap on my acting adventures after hearing Chumbawamba's stabs at amateur radio acting in Revolution, as we'll call it here because Peel did, but I think the other title is better.  Maybe because a general election was in the offing, Peel gave us a double bill of Burnley's contribution to anarchism, bringing together a track from their first vinyl release in 1985, though they had released some cassette recordings just after forming in 1982, followed by their latest 12-inch release.

 I always regarded Chumbawamba as a band that were hard to love, but difficult to ignore.  That
seems to have been the band's intention , I reckon.  Revolution is a mini-opera in four and a half
minutes complete with pamphleteers, rapacious bosses, down-trodden masses and explosive revolutionaries.  Anarchy is a word which gets banded about as freely as genius now, but there is an
edge to this track which makes it feel like the genuine article.  The lines about struggle and defeat/revolution and capitulation brought about either by being beaten down or bowing to concessions would have felt very raw in '85.  With the trade unions reeling from the double whammy of losing the miners' strike and Rupert Murdoch uprooting operations from Fleet Street to Wapping - all brought about or supported by the Conservative Government, the police and other sections of the media, the closing Day in the Lifeesque ending casts Chumbawamba as revolutionaries, desperately trying to suck bath water back out of the plug hole as the opportunities to improve the lot of the
working man gets sucked away, but as they make clear, they can't do it alone and need us all to fight. It's a song from the end of days in some respects, they know the jig is up, but they have to hope.  It's a track whose time has come again in recent years, and just as then, there are forces lined up against the revolution and redistribution, that's so desperately needed.  Can you tell I've been reading a lot of
Owen Jones?

In such a context, it's difficult to regard I Never Gave Up as anything other than a letting down of their guard.  From it's opening drum shuffle through to its strident guitar pattern, this is a song of celebration and joy.  It is nothing less than the sound of a movement that believed the keys to power were about to be returned to it, and why wouldn't they have believed it?  The witch was dead and in her place was a man who didn't strike as someone who could inspire the masses at large.  There would be long memories about the Poll Tax, a developing recession and grumbles about Europe starting to make themselves heard.  Surely this was the left's moment - all those who had came through the battles of the 1980s, mocked, derided, disenfranchised by the Iron Lady, surely the Grey Man would be no barrier....they were coming back to take the keys of the castle.  It's a song that really believes in something, which could be passed from one person to another.  Survivors of the ideological war of the 1980s congratulating themselves and each other on coming through it.   But alas, it was as premature as Neil Kinnock in front of the masses at Sheffield on April Fools' Day, 92.
I can't believe Chumbawamba repeated such folly themselves, and those reading this who are better acquainted with their discography than me are most welcome to correct me.  My conviction about that stems from the belief that they had turned on Tony Blair, as every right thinking individual should do, before he had unpacked his suitcases at Number 10.

Videos courtesy of ikillChildren01 & fred166

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