“Knock knock, who’s there, it’s Chubby and the fucking gang and we ain’t no fucking joke,” explains Charlie “Chubby” Manning-Walker at the beginning of Chubby and the Gang’s new single “Union Dues”. The West London punk band pack in so much lairy energy that listening to them is like experiencing several thousand boots to the face, but cheeky enough that it’s enjoyable.
Their debut album Speed Kills has the punk rock earworms of Rudi, the footy terrace chants of Blitz, the garage spirit of Royal Headache and the honest pub rock of Coloured Balls. It was originally released on Static Shock Records in January this year and the band toured the US off the back of it, but it’s getting a physical re-release on 20th November thanks to the band recently signing with Partisan Records.
The Chubbies are made up of members of hardcore bands such as Arms Race, Violent Reaction and Vile Spirit, but have swapped the aggy onslaught of their previous bands for something more rock ‘n roll influenced. The record was produced by Johan Falco from Fucked Up; there’s even some organ and harmonica on it. Obviously, it fucking rules. Hyperactive shout-along anthems like “All Along The Uxbridge Road” and “Moscow” are made for mosh pits and stage invasions, but their depth can be heard in the softer moments of the album, such as wistful London love song “Grenfell Forever”, which echoes Billy Bragg with its vocals and electric guitar.
VICE caught up with Chubby about London hardcore, his life as a minicab driver, police brutality and why it’s important to join a union.
VICE: Now then, mate. So, you guys grew up in the in the DIY punk and hardcore scene in London. Did that shape your ethos at all?
Chubby: Absolutely, man. I spent so long in the DIY scene that it’s all I know. I wouldn’t be able to tell you about mainstream music, or even stuff that’s not DIY. Stuff that’s on Partisan [Records] and that level of record label, I’m out of my depth in terms of knowledge. But if you ask me a hardcore band from London in 2004 I’d be able to tell you all about it, know what I mean? This whole experience of being signed by Partisan is really new to me. I’m experiencing a lot of new music and industry stuff.
Yeah, I hear you. I play in a band and I find myself often only listening to the bands that we’ve gigged with.
Music is all about context. Discovering a band is much better than being shown it. Music can be amazing but in the wrong context, it’s awful. The same as some music can be shit but in the right context it’s great. I think the human brain experiences music completely contextually.
There are several hardcore scenes in the city. You’ve got the LBU/Rucktion Records scene, the hardcore punk/squat scene, and the New Wave of British Hardcore/Static Shock/Quality Control HQ scene with bands like Game and your band Arms Race. Is the scene fractured or is there some crossover?
When I first started going to gigs, when I was in my mid-teens, the two big things for me to get into was the Rucktion and 12 Bar scene, and the more squat scene which was bands like Battle of Wolf 359 and Hello Bastards. I just dotted between the two. Those 12 Bar gigs would put on all sorts of stuff. There would be Youth Crew bands alongside a local Rucktion band, alongside a spikier punk band. The squat shows were more on the punk side, but there was some Skramz and sort of Powerviolence stuff. So there was people of my age group that sat in the middle and we went onto make bands that did New Wave of British Hardcore sort of stuff.
Coming from hardcore bands, what made you want to start a band like Chubby and The Gang?
I like to write music and a lot of it just doesn’t happen. I had a couple of songs that I really liked and I thought I’d like to do a band where I go on tour all the time and do all that stuff. A lot of people my age are settling down and… I’m not. [laughs]. I want to carry on doing mental shit, so I just ran with it and it took off!
I can hear some pub rock influences on Speed Kills…
I’m influenced by them naturally. I wanted to put in an organ, a handclap, a harmonica, a tambourine and the quick element of it comes from me only experiencing hardcore for 15 years. Because of where I come from it all ended up being 200mph. [laughs]
I read that you used to be a London cabbie. Taxi drivers go through some shit in London. What was that time like for you?
I was doing a 7PM until 7AM shift every day and I was in my early twenties. London was a different place back then. But yeah, I’ve seen some shit. I was doing Northolt and Harlesden, then I moved to south London and did it around there. People tried to carjack me a few times.
Yeah. I was driving down Harlesden high street and all the streetlights were out, fuck knows why. I was driving a businessman I’d picked up. I saw three tail lights ahead and I thought, what the fuck could that be? So I put my full beam on and I realised that someone had put these mopeds out in the road to stop the car. I turned around to the guy in the back and I said, “Listen, I think things are going to get really hairy, really quickly. We need to make a decision; do you want me to carry on?” He said nah, just get me home. I turned around and drove off and they chased me down on their mopeds but I speeded off and got away. That happened a few times, man.
Damn. Tell me about Union Dues and your relationship with the union you’re part of. A lot of people don’t know what unions are and why they’re important.
I’m part of Bectu. I’m an electrician on film sets - I rig up the lights, put in temporary installations and we do what we call crack lights - which is anything that is in-shot on a film. We have a union and I’m a member. For me it’s the most obvious way of us looking out for each other and for us to negotiate ways to progress. You’ve got to fucking remember that people used to not have a weekend. Someone down the line has fought for us to have a weekend and a 40-hour week. You forget about it and [the government] like it when you forget. They make out as if it was them that came up with the idea. If it was up to them we’d be working seven days a week! It’s important for us to rake it back and that’s why I encourage everyone to be part of their union.
Do the politics within your lyrics come out naturally or did you set out to try and catalyse change?
It’s political in the way like when you’re in the pub and somebody has had six or seven Guinnesses they want to tell you about something. It’s to the point – it’s got nothing to do with partisan politics. It’s, “yeah, I think this”. I didn’t want to make a record where people were trying to dissect what this or that means or put it under a magnifying glass. The record just says, this is how I feel about this specific situation that happened and if you’ve got a problem I don’t care.
As a lefty I’m a bit tired of having to pussyfoot around stuff and walk and talk on eggshells. If somebody comes up to me I’m going to give them my opinion, and if they don’t like it then fuck ‘em, know what I mean? I’m not in the mood to apologise for anything. I’m tired of it.
You’ve got an anti-police song. What are your thoughts on the calls to defund the police and abolish prisons? Can you expand on what the song is about and what needs to change and how?
I can only talk about the Met and London, because I’ve only ever lived here. I remember when the riots happened after Mark Duggan was murdered and it really got to me. The media were saying, “He had a past”, I thought it doesn’t matter if he had a past, he is a human being who has the same rights as everybody else and you’re trying to defame a dead person. They weren’t seeking justice in the situation, they were seeking justification of it. That’s the complete wrong way to look at the system. If the system is not working it should be changed. I don’t understand why people feel the need to protect a system that doesn’t work for all of us.
So in the song I sing “Mark Duggan wasn’t the only one, do you remember Blair Peach?” This is not a one-off situation, it happens all the time, especially to people of colour in London. I wanted to say this is where I stand on it. I can’t watch kids and young adults being persecuted by cops, we need to have some kind of reshuffling. I don’t want to get too deep because I don’t think I’m qualified enough to say certain things. But I can stand here and tell you I do not support the killing of Mark Duggan and the countless other people, I think it’s disgusting.
People in this country tend to look at America and think, “Look at how crazy America is, but here is alright.” No. Here is alright for you, maybe. But not for people that live on Church Road, or Broadwater Farm, they’re getting persecuted by the police. I wanted to say we are not guilt-free in this.
I have a deep resentment for authority. A lot of the record is me, pissed, mouthing off at people. Probably only 15 percent of that is a coherent argument for social change, know what I mean?
You’ve now got BBC Radio 6 and the NME on your side. Do you think people will start questioning your ‘punk credentials’ like they do with Idles?
I’ll be honest, mate, I couldn’t give a fuck about what people question about me. [Laughs]. I still play in lots of DIY punk bands. I play in The Chisel, I play in a band called Lowest Form and a couple of others. I’ve been doing that for a long time. Everyone round me in the DIY scene has been nothing but supportive, so if some dude on Twitter thinks I’m not punk or something, I just couldn’t give a shit. I’m still churning out punk records. I think with Chubby and the Gang you can hear where we’ve come from, in a linear way, from other punk bands. You can see that we sound like The Kids and like Johnny Moped. I tend to not pay attention to anyone else apart from my immediate circle.
That sounds like a good way to be. You’ve recorded a second album, what can you tell me about that?
Fifteen tracks. There is five or six classic Chubby ragers, 200mph. There’s an acoustic song on there. There’s a 50s love ballad thing on there. Some of it sounds a bit more like Status Quo or something? There’s a couple of songs that are really pub rock-y. It’s a progression from Speed Kills but not enough for you to be concerned. I’m buzzing for it, to be honest, man.
What’s the best thing about the punk and hardcore scenes in the UK right now?
Rucktion is still kicking, all the squat scene is still kicking. In London it feels like the scene is becoming more and more of a monolith. I mean that in a good way. There’s an eclectic group of bands and they’re willing to play with each other. It feels less split down genre lines and people are willing to make music that is more out-there.
Does the world need punk music in 2020?
I tend to be a bit existentialist about it all and think, look, nothing really matters, so we should go out there and enjoy ourselves. I make music because I love it and I believe what I believe because I believe it.