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Reviews
English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 CHUMBAWAMBA
English Rebel Songs 1381-1984
Mutt Records



Proactively engaged in the all-round undermining of what we know as democratic civil government, Chumbawamba's ethos has generally been far closer to that of subversive San Francisco punks The Dead Kennedys than genteel folk revivalists Steeleye Span. However, the soil-toiling earthiness of English Rebel Songs 1981-1984 (tales of insurrection, class-struggle and insubordination) is patently far closer vocally and musically to Maddy Prior than Jello Biafra.

In present company, of course, that's a relief. Purist folk afficionados who prefer their genre unadulterated by pop scene modernity (and sung in lusty, bellow-chested a capella) can indulge themselves without fear of peer-group ostracisation. Furthermore, those same roots devotees who remain liberally sensitive to the social and economic injustices of 700 years of English history - Machine-breakers (The Triumph Of General Ludd), Machine slaves (Poverty Knock), Chartists, Diggers and the generation of Tommies who were lost forever at The Somme (Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire) - but who now privately concede that they've "never had it so good" can work themselves up into a boiling lather of righteous historical indignation without leaving the cossetted comfort of their 21st century armchairs.

These are songs of working men (and women - the truly wonderful and hitherto unknown Idris Strike Song is a piece of suffragist, picket-line vitriol sung in the Edwardian music hall style of the day and rescued from the dry dust of the TUC archives) who got their hands dirty for people whose shoes always stayed clean. Their livelihoods were expendable, as were, sadly, their lives. Somehow, upon listening to English Rebel Songs, one is minded to think that Chumbawamba missed their true activist calling by a few centuries.

Still, far from sounding like feral soap-box polemicists, Chumbawamba sing English Rebel Songs sensitively and with harmonious beauty. Strangely, given the confrontational upheaval of the subject matter, it's probably one of the least controversial records they've ever made.

Kevin Maidment - July 2003

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An excellant collection of protest songs and some superb harmonies, but on some songs I think they could have used the musical experimentation of Readymades to enhance the performances. Still as protest albums goes, its one of the best.
James Turner, Sheffield
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