- Mojo Magazine, September 2003 (*****)
"News that the guitarist from Chumbawamba has written an autobiography may not raise the
pulse of the regular Mojo reader, but Whalley's brilliant book deserves your attention. Approaching
the rock memoir much as Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch tackled sport books, Whalley tells the tale
of the anarchist band's rise to scarcely credible stardoms as part of a much wider musing on
modern life, its oddities and absurdities. Frequently hilarious, always warm and eminently readable,
Footnote* is a provocative, entertaining, insightful delight"
English Rebel's Story
- The Times 18 July 2003 by Jane Czyzselska
BOFF WHALLEY doesn't keep a stash of explosives in his cellar. Nor does he refer to his friends
as comrades. He isn't wearing army fatigues and he clearly has a sophisticated personal grooming
routine. This is disappointing. How dare he not conform to the stereotype of bolshy, unkempt
troublemaker? Whalley is a member of the anarchist pop group Chumbawamba, one of whom, you may
remember, tipped the icy dregs of a champagne cooler over the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott,
at the Brit Pop awards shortly after the Labour victory in 1997.
This event merits only a footnote in Footnote, Whalley's touching and surreal personal memoir
about growing up in Lancashire, the son of Mormon parents, and becoming a punk in the late Seventies.
Since then, Whalley has been a kingpin in the band that saw multimillion chart success in 46
countries with the hit single Tubthumping.
Whalley, now in his forties, has agreed to meet me at his home in west Leeds to talk about
his literary debut. I am hoping he'll explain his inclusion of a poetic fantasy involving Che
Guevara and the novelist Jeanette Winterson. No plodding rock memoir, this.
At Whalley's ranch-style farmhouse the first thing you notice is a vast wooden porch over looking
a tidy quarter-acre garden full of flowers. Then there are the plastic lobsters nailed to an
old beech tree, as if poised for their impossible journey skywards. Above the front door there's
a stained glass-window depicting a bright orange pretzel, while inside the walls are lined with
books on art and politics, and there's a white X embedded in the red vinyl kitchen floor. On
closer inspection, you realise that the white jumble of letters and numbers to the left of it
are in fact a single grid reference which reads SE 259 344.
This X marks the spot that is home to the football-loving father who describes himself as,
ridiculously happy. "I hate whingeing pop stars," he says.. "Radiohead's Thom
Yorke used to make me laugh with his moaning. Now I think it's pathetic. He's writing his own
songs and making good money from it. Millions of people work in jobs they hate earning a pittance.
What's Thom got to moan about?"
The lobsters and pretzel (designed by Casey, Whalley's American partner of 11 years) are a
window Into the Situationist-inspired sense of humour that has prompted him to pull off a riot
of satirical stunts over the years.
Politics are the subject of the band's songs. Not for them the tired tales of boy meets girl.
Chumbawamba sing about sweat-shop labour, racism and homelessness. Their latest album their
twelfth called English Rebel Songs 1381-1984 is the band's homage to six centuries of "troublemakers".
The grid reference refers to another of Whalley's passions: fell running. He discovered fell
racing in his early twenties when his stepfather, Jim, took him to see a race in the Yorkshire
Dales. The peculiar sight of gangly men in vests and studded boots racing over the damp peaks
and valleys must have had a lasting effect on Whalley; he now runs as often as he is able, his
lithe pale frame zigzagging across the rugged backbone of northern England.
There's a quote in his memoir that Whalley credits to one Martin Bagness, author of Mountain
Navigation for Runners. It goes something like this: "It rarely pays off to ignore map
and compass and follow a hunch. There is little evidence that human beings possess an inbuilt
sense of direction."
This is followed by another quote, this time credited to Che Guevara: "The true revolutionary
is guided by great feelings of love." It's a surprising coupling, at odds with the message
championed in so many simplistic self-help guides offering the path to a successful life. "I
love maps," The explains, brow furrowed, when we talk in his living room. "They're
about form and function and there's no room for the riddle, but life for me is also about contradictions
and the way you push through it requires intuition based on love as well as informed guidance."
Whalley grew up in the Lancashire town of Burnley, now indelibly associated in the public mind
with racial intolerance after the election of six British National Party councillors. "It's
really sad but Burnley's been ravaged by industrial decline," Whalley explains. "The
Labour Party, has never addressed unemployment and poverty in the area but the local football
team is doing a good job trying to stamp out racism,"
His childhood was a happy one, belting out Mormon hymns and playing on street corners with
friends and family three sisters at a time when, he remembers, people still sang together
in the pub at closing time. It wag a combination of bad television, punk's social awareness
and education that turned him into an anarchist. "Meeting good people who were setting
up non-profit music venues and magazines was inspiring," he recalls. "And wearing
black drainpipe trousers in that sea of denim flares, those people looked cool, too."
When Chumbawamba decided to sign to the EMI record label shortly before their Tubthumping hit
in 1997, they were criticised by peers who accused them of selling out "The name-calling
didn't really affect us. We wanted to sign because we thought it would give us the creative
kick up the arse that we needed in order to change. The Beatles discovered drugs, Bob Dylan
worked out where the electric socket was. They changed. But it also stopped us worrying about
scraping a living for a while, Which is the best reason for having money. With it we were able
to discover whether money was, the big corrupter of souls. I'm now convinced it isn't because
we were too aware of how to use it:
When Ford and Renault paid Chumbawamba for the right to use their song in adverts, the money
was sent to anti-capitalist groups in Italy, South Africa and Brazil. Last year General Electric
offered Chumbawamba £470,000 to use Tubthumping on an ad for an X-ray machine. But since, claims
Whalley GE manufactures engines for the military planes that were dropping bombs on Afghanistan,
the band refused the ad.
It's funny, Whalley explains, people equate getting money with selling out, no matter what
you do with it. We decided not to go around telling people about the fact that we were giving
it away because we didn't want to be using money as an apology for what we were doing with the
band and our lives."
Whalley decided to write his memoir after reading Primo Levi's The Search for Roots because "at
a certain point in the journey it is natural to draw up one's accounts". Whalley has no
intention of mimicking Levi by drafting his swansong but he's happy to have his past on paper
and looks forward to the next volume.
You're probably wondering about that Che and Jeanette story. Whalley claims that when he was
thing about love the role it has played in his life, he felt he couldn't write about it without
mentioning Winterson also raised as an evangelical whom he believes has written eloquently
on the subject.
Here it is then, paraphrased.
Che and Jeanette are lost in the Langdales in Cumbria, cold and tired, their balaclavas speckled
white with frozen breath. che is trying to convince Jeanette that they don't need a map, that
they can be guided by love. Jeanette is aware that they've tried this for hours to no avail.
She refers to her map and compass and leads Che down to a navigable path. Che is clearly impressed
and suggests that from now on, he'll only believe in the map and compass. Jeanette is frowning
and chides him: "Didn't you think that for a while, it was more exciting up in the blizzard?
- OK Magazine, Hot Stars 5.7.03
"Whalley is a member of real-life agit-rockers Chumbawamba, and Footnote*, a totally unconventional,
fascinating, funny and refreshing book, combines memoir, cultural commentary and observations
on politics and the music business. An excellent read."
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