West London five-piece Chubby and the Gang are unabashed in addressing society’s ills.
Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photo: Pooneh Ghana, Sirus f Gahan.
It’s a few days after Latitude, and the text from Chubby and the Gang’s frontman pings in. “I’m getting a Covid test,” it reads, politely (and sensibly tbf) asking to push our interview back a bit. As a little post-festival snapshot of this weird summer of 2021, it’s pretty fitting. We’ve already missed a couple of chats, once down to the actual ‘rona and the second due to a combo of Dork getting stuck on a motorway and the band still being ‘on one’ from a performance the night before. But a short while later, we finally catch up with Charlie ‘Chubby’ Manning-Walker to talk all things Mutts and Nuts. Because their new album’s called ‘The Mutt’s Nuts’ you see, not because we like dogs and snacks. Anyway.
When their debut ‘Speed Kills’ landed last January, it was an explosion of riot and rage that tantalisingly promised ridiculous live scenes to come. It was carnage, and it was fun, a parcel of rapid riffs and social justice wrapped up in songs that raced past at the speed of light. But when you-know-what also made an appearance a couple of months later, and the world went to sleep, it seemed to take on new life as the world looked for something to raise the pulse in a life of lockdown.
With the band signing to Partisan Records later on in the year, an air of mystery still seemed to hang around them as people still waited to catch their first glimpse of the band. High profile live streams might have followed, but it was still a weird time to be in a hardcore-meets-punk band that’s breaking through. Even now, with Chubby and the Gang moving straight into the festival circuit, things haven’t settled down into any sort of normality. For Charlie, someone who’d never even been to a big festival before this year, it’s still something to get your head around.
“It is so weird,” he begins. “The first ten shows we did were pre-Covid, and it was all sweaty backstreet bars, basements and squats. And then a long period of empty rooms with cameras in them. And now we’re playing to fucking 6,000 people and Download. I feel like we’re yet to cut our teeth really as a live band, but people seem to be like, ‘oh that was amazing’, so I’ll take it.” He finishes with a laugh, pretty obviously taking all the praise and plaudits in his stride with a healthy disinterest. “Success and failure, you’ve gotta try and take it as the same thing, you know? Not get too ahead of myself, and be like ‘oh, I’m amazing’,” he says with a shrug. “It’s all circular. The amount of people I’ve met who gas themselves off of doing ten songs or something. Come on, mate? No!”
Still bemused at fans approaching him with any idea of who he is, he laughs that it took him a while to realise it was because the label was paying for adverts. Did he feel pressure to live up to that this time around? “Nah, man, not bothered. It is what it is,” is his straightforward answer.
He soon might find he has to deal with the praise even more, though, because if speed kills, then so does standing still for this band. ‘The Mutt’s Nuts’ takes everything about that debut, and turns the dial even further. A ferocious and vital record, it takes the UK hardcore and punk scene as a starting point, switching the gears through 50s doo-wop and classic rock, folk-punk and beyond. Go in expecting your expectations to be messed with and blown away.
Of course, the last year has hardly seen society’s leaders step up in any meaningful or positive way, so it’s no surprise that this socially aware band have certain elements in their sights. Inequality, police brutality, in-built societal injustices and racism are the fuel that fires the band, as well as a disarming and obvious love for their city. London almost becomes a character itself, the hidden dangers and beauty that reside in the parts of town that the majority live in and will recognise, coming to the fore.
It’s not the picture-postcard stuff, nor is it the cartoon violence you find in Guy Ritchie movies. It’s realer, somehow, capturing the edgy moments in time when you can feel, almost see, the tension hanging in the air like a knife and know it could kick off at any point. Far from glorifying the violence, it is simply the truth of life in the boroughs. “I’m not saying that it is good or it is bad; it’s more that it happens,” he agrees. “People can misconstrue tracks like ‘Someone’s Gonna Die’, but it’s not about that. It’s about the tension beforehand rather than a threat.”
But, in the earliest stages of writing, Charlie wasn’t sure he knew what to write about. “I was talking to a few friends, and I was like ‘I don’t know what to write about, I don’t think I’m very interesting?’,” he explains. “And they were like, ‘you drove a mini-cab for five years, you should talk about some of the stories on that’.” ‘On The Meter’ and ‘Beat That Drum’ were born from those experiences, the former almost tenderly telling of the romance of moonlight on London’s streets before the gut-punch of the latter strips all of that away. For the frontman, driving a cab was the best way of juggling ‘life’ and being in the punk scene for years – not that he’d recommend it. “It’s not good, mate, but I can see why people are lifers in it,” he says. “I just wanted to get out. When you grow up in the punk scene, then you’re a lifer in that, and you build your life around what allows you to do that.”
“Fucking give it a rest and stand up for shit”Charlie Manning-Walker
Our chat drifts naturally on to being your own boss, something that Charlie has always chased. “No-one’s fucking dragging you because you’ve got a fucking tattoo or whatever,” he states, warming the swear-box up nicely. “I just fucking don’t want a boss telling me what to do. Retail’s hard; they expect the world from you. I don’t fucking CARE whether you break even; I’m still getting paid fucking minimum wage regardless.”
Once you get the frontman onto subjects like this, it’s a case of just having to hold on tight and try and take in everything he says. Talking about ‘I’m Gonna Pay’, a track about how capitalism is pretty crap actually, he puts it simply. “Don’t fucking throw all your time into your job, because without time, your money is useless! Do all the overtime, stack up loads of money. Fine. But you haven’t got a day a spend it, so then what?” he points out. “You work ten hours, and your labour produces you two hours worth of your value, so you’re not given the right amount of money, and some cunt who’s NOT doing the work is? Shit rolls downhill, and we’re standing at the bottom of the hill. There’s gonna come a point when you’re tired of just being the shit.”
Dismissing outright the view that Chubby and the Gang is a political band, he reckons it is more about getting his views on everything across rather than ascribing to any political science. “Politics is almost some science shit that people came up with, and it’s not how I view the world. It’s just, if I’m getting exploited for my labour, it’s a very, very simple equation. I WANT MORE!” he laughs.
Whether he likes the label or not, Charlie’s tendency to speak up and call bullshit where he sees it does mark him out as much more politically aware and active than many of his peers. He might get mad, but he breaks each subject down so perfectly and so quickly that you are left with no doubts about the truth of what he says. Previous single ‘Coming Up Tough’ details the challenges facing society where some areas seem to have a ready-made pipeline from school to prison. Written about a family member, it’s a stark portrayal of how the current system is built to cage rather than rehabilitate. “He went in as a kid and was given a sentence longer than the life he’d lived,” Charlie says angrily. “Where’s the justice in that? Something happens, and then all of a sudden, you’re away for fucking twenty years. It’s not fair.”
Railing at the use of ‘joint enterprise’ sentencing in the courts, something that disproportionately affects young Black men, he continues with another example. “A kid in my school got done for a murder, just because he was there at the time. Imagine walking down the street, and all of a sudden someone you know happens to walk past at the same time,” he says. “They’ve just stabbed someone, and you’re just there. What does that mean? It’s bullshit; it’s just another way they can round people up.”
At this point, Dork makes the mistake of mentioning Boris Johnson and his suggestion of putting anti-social offenders in high-vis vests while they carry out community service. Chain gangs, anyone? This was apparently brand new news for Charlie, and the temperature of our chat reaches boiling point. “Fucking cunt! Fuck that. I’m fucking anti-social, but don’t put me in a fucking high-vis chain gang shit. Fuck that. Fuck them! What does anti-social even mean? This fucking lot…” He’s not finished yet. “These people, family values this and family values that. Listen to what they say, because what they’re saying is a whole other thing. It’s nothing about being anti-social. They mean people who oppose the government. When they talk about family values, basically they mean some anti-LGBTQ stuff. It’s all bullshit.” He’s still not finished. “They fucking hide their prejudice in soft language, and it fucking drives me up the wall. Priti Patel and shit, good God, man. I don’t know where these people come from. Recently when they were all like, ‘oh, it’s up to the football fans if they want to bend the knee’ and then loads of fucking racist shit happens, and they’re like, ‘oh why did that happen?’ YOU fucking stoked the flames! You literally told people it was up to them, and they could do it.” He takes a long breath, and then adds, somewhat needlessly, “I could talk about this all day.”
It’s not just politicians who have pissed Charlie off. On ‘White Rags’, he calls out those artists who didn’t speak up during the Black Lives Matter protests, snarling “Where are all the singers? They’re quiet, that’s strange / When it comes to talk of some real change” at the song’s climax. It’s obviously something that still winds him up. “Fucking too right man, I remember when it happened, and all the singers were just waiting. I was like, ‘oh man, you’ve been so fucking loud before’,” he spits, naming no names. “And then they get up and are like, ‘hey, racism is bad’. Is that where it ends for you? I don’t want to tell people what to do, but at least fucking amp it up when you’re needed. Because people were just being like ‘ah yeah, it’s bad. The end. Oh, and our album’s out next week’. Fucking give it a rest and stand up for shit.”
He admits that he is ‘quite sceptical’ about whether many of the artists who put black squares on their Instagram were as bothered about it as they seemed. “I just find it a little bit see-through when you get certain artists saying ‘yo, buy our album and also, racism’s bad’,” he points out. “And no expansion on that. ‘It’s bad that racism is there, isn’t it?’ Jesus, mate. Can’t we just say that the Metropolitan Police Force is racist or whatever?”
Talk eventually drifts back to the summer to come of festivals and a proper tour to come later in the year. Those live teeth are gonna get cut real quick. For Charlie, he is still taking it all in his stride – seemingly permanently bemused that people are paying attention, his heart still in the underground scene that Chubby and the Gang sprang from. “People have been deprived of this for so long; they’re buzzing for it,” he says excitedly. “I like doing all these big music festivals and stuff, it’s cool, and I’m so appreciative to be asked and to be there. New life experiences and shit. But give me fifty people in a basement in Tottenham. That’s my thing.” Whatever the size of venue, whether it’s in the basements and bars or the biggest stages, Chubby and the Gang are back in town, and that’s our thing.
Taken from the September 2021 edition of Dork, out now. Chubby and the Gang’s album ‘The Mutt’s Nuts’ is out 27th August.