Jacob’s Ladder ~ Chumbawamba

chumbawamba-h-150x100Chumbawamba are a British alternative music band who have, over a career spanning three decades, played punk rock, pop-influenced music, world music, and folk music. Their anarchist politics exhibit an irreverent attitude toward authority, and the band have been forthright in their stances on issues including animal rights, pacifism (early in their career) and later regarding class struggle, feminism, gay liberation, pop culture and anti-fascism.

The band are best known for their song “Tubthumping”.

Over the years, the band have been asked many times what “Chumbawamba” really means. While there are many speculations, the band generally answers that it’s a gibberish word, meaning nothing. According to Chumbawamba’s official FAQ :

Chumbawamba doesn’t mean anything. At the time we formed (early ’80s) there was a rush of bands with obvious names. It was the time of ‘peace punk’ and you couldn’t get across a youth club dance floor without bumping into a Disorder, a Subhumans, a Decadent Youth or an Anthrax t-shirt. We liked the sound of Chumbawamba because it wasn’t nailing ourselves down. Thatcher On Acid were a good band but it’s lucky for them that Thatcher stayed in power for 11 years. If her influence had only lasted 18 months Thatcher On Acid’s sell-by date would have come and gone a lot sooner. We wanted a name which wouldn’t date

Other explanations which have been given include the following:

On an episode of BBC Two’s pop music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks the answer to the question was that they got it from what a monkey wrote on a typewriter when an experiment took place involving monkeys and typewriters (as in the infinite monkey theorem).

In an interview on a German website with Alice and Boff, the members claimed that the “Chumbawamba” was the mascot of a football team, Walford Town, which they found in the Rothman’s Yearbook, a collection of old facts and figures about British football. Boff said:

“…And we just thought it was funny, so we used the name”. There has never been a team in English football called Walford Town, although the name has occasionally been used to represent the local team in the BBC soap opera EastEnders.”

In Boff’s autobiography he claims that the name was derived from the chanting of African street musicians which he and Danbert heard while busking in Paris. However, in a footnote he goes on to state that this is a lie, as is every other explanation that the band have given over the years.

According to a Pop-Up Video on VH1, the name “Chumbawamba” is derived from a dream that one of the members had, wherein men were called “chumbas” and women “wambas”.


Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is basically the story of political expediency and class; 541 British sailors drowned during WW2 because Churchill took a decision that their lives were of the less worth than that of the Norwegian Royal family.  The story is that Haakon VII had sailed to the UK on HMS Devonshire, which was the only ship to receive a distress signal from the aircraft carrier Glorious.  She had met two German battleships and was sunk.  The Devonshire had to observe radio silence because the British could not take the risk of losing the King.*

50 years later Russian submariners drown because President Putin puts national pride before the lives of those on the Kursk and refuses to ask for international help.

This is the original version of the song.  Chumbawamba later changed the lyrics and re-recorded the song as Jacob’s Ladder (Not in my name) as a political protest to the US unilaterally attacking Iraq and occupying that country.

This version, and the story behind it, is almost impossible to find anywhere on the Internet any more.  I find the original version to be far more interesting than the second protest version, although it is good too.

Jacob’s Ladder – Chumbawamba

Like rusty old nails
At the bottom of the sea
Telling no tales
For the good of the Admiralty
You jump when you’re told to
Through the open door
And the King of Norway
He’s the man you all died for

On this Jacob’s Ladder
The only way up is down
Three days in the water
Watching all the secrets drown
Jacob’s Ladder

A thousand lifetimes
Left standing at the docks
In the bar down in Whitehall
They’re sure the boat won’t rock
In a file marked ‘Secret’
In a drawer kept closed
Nobody wonders
Because nobody knows

About this Jacob’s Ladder
The only way up is down
Three days in the water
Watching all the secrets drown
Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder

And they sent him to the wars to be slain, to be slain
And they sent him to the wars to be slain

And they sent him to the wars to be slain, to be slain
And they sent him to the wars to be slain

* There are some who say this is nothing more that a conspiracy, that the Devonshire never did actually hear a weak signal from Glorious, or even if it had, there was no way the Devonshire could have stood up to two German battleships.

Another group say that even if the Devonshire had responded and tried to come to the rescue of the Glorious, it was simply too far away to get there in time.

However, there were other ships in the area that could have gotten there in time to try and effect a rescue.  But nobody was ever notified.

It remains one of the great mysteries during WWII  The British immediately classified all records and have refused to release them even seven decades later.  This does nothing to silence those who are accused of being “conspiracy-minded” about this.

Audio from the 2002 album, Readymades:


Play Jacob's Ladder - by ChumbaWamba