Chumbawamba's Dunstan Bruce Starts Kickstarter to Fund 'Untold Story' Documentary

Evan Agostini/ImageDirect
Dunstan Bruce and Jude Abbot from the band Chumbawamba at the premiere of "The Virgin Suicides" in New York City. 

The members of Chumbawamba may have gotten knocked down, according to their massive 1997 hit “Tubthumping,” but they are getting up once again via a documentary that will chronicle the British band’s rise, fall and all-too-brief moment in the spotlight.

A Kickstarter campaign activated July 1 has already raised nearly half of the £40,000 ($63,000) the band’s former singer and film’s director, Dunstan Bruce, is seeking to tell the anarchist collective’s story from its beginnings in the early ‘80s to its controversial decision to sign with EMI, its political activism and its legacy in I Get Knocked Down (The Untold Story of Chumbawamba).

It’s a tale that Bruce, who left the band in 2005 and has produced and directed a number of documentaries, including A Curious Life about British band The Levellers, has wanted to make for years, but didn’t feel he could tell while Chumbawamba was still together. After the group ended in 2012, he started thinking seriously about the film, and Britain’s May elections, which saw Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party handily re-elected, reinvigorated his effort. “I became aware that there didn’t seem to be a mainstream voice in music that was saying anything about the election and the parties involved and that made me really sad,” he says.

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While “Tubthumping,” Chumbawamba’s global hit, hardly seemed like a political missive, it gave the band a platform to espouse its anarchistic views on such shows as The Late Show With David Letterman and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. The group also funneled the money it earned from its success to causes the members supported. “We realize that a lot of people didn’t understand what Chumbawamba was and probably still don’t,” Bruce says. “I think there will be a whole generation of people who remember that song without knowing the whole story.”

Formed in Burnley, England in 1982, Chumbawamba released albums with little commercial success until the group signed with EMI in the mid-‘90s, a decision for which it was accused of selling out. “I remember all of us having a meeting about signing to EMI,” Bruce says. “I wanted to sign to a major label and EMI was the label that was going to give us the most freedom and control, ironically, over what we were doing and that was weird.”

Following the success of “Tubthumping” in 1997 -- the anthemic song peaked at No. 2 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart and No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., while spending nine weeks at No. 1 on both the Radio Songs and Pop Songs charts; The Village Voice named it the second best single of the year in the paper’s Pazz & Jop Poll -- the group gained further notoriety when band members dumped ice water on then-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the 1998 BRIT Awards. Far from regretting that radical act, the band members still embrace it and in a comical moment in the film’s trailer, vocalist Alice Nutter expresses her dismay that everyone credited the band’s Danbert Nobacon with the dousing, when she was in on it too.

Producer Sophie Robinson, who has helmed a number of documentaries, including My Beautiful Broken Brain, which will air on Netflix later this year, thinks Chumbawamba’s story will appeal to the same people who made The Story of Anvil, a story about a little-known heavy metal band, a hit. “Whether people have heard of Chumbawamba or not, it’s going to be one of those complete feel good films that will make people feel better and make people want to fight again and have a voice again,” she says. “It’s a story of friendship.”

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Despite the film’s strong start at Kickstarter, a funding medium Robinson has used successfully before, she admits that “every morning I wake up and think we’re absolutely not going to get there…The whole Kickstarter campaign is 29 days of feeling completely anxious.”

Vowing to find the money other ways even if the Kickstarter campaign isn’t completed, Robinson says the goal is to start shooting interviews with the eight main band members and others this fall, edit by the end of the year and have the film ready for viewing by distributors and at film festivals by Spring 2016. Part of the public campaign is to also ask fans to submit any footage and memories they may have of the band -- especially from the pre-EMI days -- for inclusion.

One of the questions Bruce seeks to answer in the documentary is if pop music can change the world. He admits the jury is still out when it comes to Chumbawamba. “You only know from your legacy when you’re dead and gone whether you’ve changed the world,” he says. “I’d like to think that we did make a difference and that we did inspire of people and we were part of a community and still are part of a community of people who were trying to do something different, something radical or something against the mainstream and that’s really really important.”