Chumbawamba frontman Dunstan Bruce performs a one man play
Dunstan Bruce was on vocals with the Leeds Chumbawamba anarchists who were the most unlikely pop stars of all time, and who can forget when they threw an ice bucket at Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the Brits.
Dunstan was at the heart of their journey from West Yorkshire squats to the top of the charts with the anthem Tubthumping, which despite all odds lifted him to number two on the charts.
The band broke up ten years ago and now they’re back with a new solo piece, Am I Invisible Yet?, which visits Leeds Playhouse. Unsurprisingly, written by an anarchist living in our messy world, it’s presented as a rollercoaster ride of despair, anger, love, and ultimately hope. Dunstan Bruce says it offers audiences a tumultuous journey that will resonate with anyone who once thought they could change the world.
So what is a one man show?
It’s basically my personal journey around the idea of, ‘What do you do when you reach middle age, when you’re still angry and want to stay relevant and visible? Where is your place in the world?’ I take people on an existential journey through poetry, prose, music and film. To be clear, it’s not a cozy fireside chat that reminds me of my “Tubthumping” past, but rather a vital outburst of angst, anger, and desire. It’s a love letter to hope, to humanity, and to the disordered heart. It’s humorous too – it’s not a lecture.
Does playing in a regional theatrical powerhouse like the Playhouse feel like a homecoming?
Coming back to Leeds still does. Whether it’s playing with Interrobang – the band I formed in the mid-2010s – or doing this show. It’s weird, I still feel like a northerner, it doesn’t leave you. This is where I grew up for the second time, this is where my peers are, this is where my closest friends are, this place is full of so many lasting memories.
But Dunstan, you’re based down south now.
I want people to see that I didn’t lose that fire, that desire after emigrating south. I’m not going to lie; I want to impress people with the show. I want to blow their socks off. And I still want to be considered one of them, one of the community that continues the continuum of dissent.
Were you surprised by the level of mainstream success achieved by the band?
It was completely crazy. We never wanted to have a hit single, to be famous. We were happy to be an indie band that made a living from constant touring. It was an absolute blast. We had found a way to make it work and it was amazing. When ‘Tubthumping’ happened as we seized the moment with both hands, we jumped in, we took the risk because we had nothing to lose. We wanted adventure, we wanted to do something different, we wanted to see what it was like to be in the mainstream, trying to change the world from within. Turns out it was a pretty depressing place, but hey, we tried to do something with this platform, with this fame that quickly turned into infamy!
Do you still feel like you can change the world?
In a word, yes. I think we are changing the world every day in small, small ways. Maybe the goal posts moved, maybe the bar got lower, maybe my expectations changed, maybe I became realistic, but yeah, I realized that change can happen in different ways. It doesn’t have to be a huge, beautiful gesture or a massive seismic shift to feel like it’s making a difference.
Touring the show and doing the Q&A after the show helped me realize that maybe I’m contributing every day, nudging people, nudging them, inspiring them, even irritating them so that they get back into the fray.
The words ‘I get knocked down but I get back up’ from this hit single are displayed in neon on the side of Leeds Playhouse, how does that make you feel?
Ridiculously proud! Alice Nutter once said, “It’s better to be a successful wonder than an unsuccessful wonder,” and that always made me laugh. She responded to people who accused us of selling like having a hit was something we should be ashamed of.
You describe your play as “a roller coaster of desperation, anger, love and hope”, would you say that you are more optimistic than angry these days?
I would say I’m a bit of a swinger. One day, I’m incredibly depressed by the news; the next day, I see a small action that a group of people have done, and I think: “Yes! Things can change!” Part of the show is about a young generation of artists and activists who give me hope. Lots of hope. It’s not over yet.
So Dunstan, should we be angrier?
What is this slogan? “If you’re not angry, you’re not really paying attention.” I think it’s more than we can let go, we have to keep going. We must!
What kind of conversations do you hope the show will spark?
One of the things the show manages to do is create a sense of community; that we are literally all in the same boat. Not in the condescending, bullshit way that conservatives try to make us believe. The post-show Q&A in particular is incredibly rewarding because it becomes a conversation, a discussion that we all share, it’s not just me preaching to converts. It’s about all of us sharing our experiences and feelings about getting older, how we stay relevant, stay engaged. And that means people don’t feel alone.
Dunstan Brice Am I still invisible? is at the Courtyard Theater at the Leeds Playhouse on Saturday 26 November. Book online at www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk or at the box office on 0113 213 7700.
You can follow Dunstan Bruce on Facebook and Twitter
Lyrics by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here
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