News Flash: Chumbawamba Singer Evades Charges

Chumbawamba member Danbert Nobacon may have gotten away with his biggest stunt yet after Monday night's water-chucking attack on British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the 1998 Brit awards.

Arrested at the awards ceremony for dumping a bucket of ice water on special guest Prescott while yelling "That's for the Liverpool [England] dockers!" -- a reference to a long-running labor dispute over the firing of striking dock-workers -- Chumba singer Nobacon was later released without being charged, according to a spokesperson for Scotland Yard.

"He was released with no further action," said the spokesperson, who preferred to remain anonymous, adding that no action would be taken against Nobacon unless future allegations arose in connection with the incident.

Nobacon pulled the water trick during a set by the reunited '70s rock act Fleetwood Mac. Tension between Chumbawamba and government officials was rumored to have been running high since London's Times newspaper reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair was boycotting the awards because of Chumba's appearance there. "Amnesia" (RealAudio excerpt) -- the band's follow-up to their international smash single, "Tubthumping," off of their multi-platinum album, Tubthumper -- is a track expressing dissatisfaction with Blair's Labor Party.

"If John Prescott, as a representative of the government, has the nerve to turn up at events such as the Brit awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy," read a statement released by Chumbawamba on Tuesday, "then he deserves all we can throw at him."

The statement went on to explain that the attack is dedicated to single mothers, pensioners, sacked dock-workers, people being forced into "workfare," people denied legal aid and students denied the free university education from which the Labor Party benefited, as well as the homeless and underclasses "suffering at the hands of the Labour government."

Prescott's office called the attack "cowardly" in a statement issued after the incident. "It now appears that it was a publicity stunt designed to draw attention to the group's act," read the statement. "[Prescott] thinks it utterly contemptible that his wife and other womenfolk should have been subjected to such cowardly, terrifying behaviour simply because they were accompanying a public figure at an event designed to support the British music industry."

Not only was this not the first act of rebellion at the Brit awards -- in 1996, Pulp's Jarvis Cocker was arrested for disrupting a Michael Jackson performance at the ceremony -- it's also not the first controversy for the 15-year-old anarchist band. Virgin Megastores in the U.S. recently pulled the band's Tubthumper album off shelves and stored them behind sales counters after member Alice Nutter made remarks on the "Politically Incorrect" television show that appeared to promote the shoplifting of Chumbawamba's albums by those who could not afford to buy them.

It's also possible to see the attack on Prescott as a reaction to longtime fans' recent criticism of Chumbawamba. Some say the group's multi-platinum breakthrough abandoned the band's more politically strident songs in favor of pop tunes.

This is also not the band's first run-in with the government. Just three songs into a free October concert in Washington, D.C., the band had the plug pulled by city officials who claimed that the show's sponsor, WHFS-FM, had not filed for proper permits. A sympathetic soundman, however, cranked up the volume for a go-through of Chumbawamba's breakthrough sing-along, "Tubthumping." Later that month, Chumbawamba started a mini feud with electronica stars Prodigy by telling a British news outlet that Chumbawamba had an idea to record a track entitled "Smack My Keith Up" in a twisted, backward homage to Prodigy singer Keith Flint and their perception of Prodigy as a band with nothing to say.

Nobacon is also no stranger to the inside of police stations. In December, Italian police arrested him for wearing a skirt, hauling him in when the artist was unable to produce a passport. The singer was released without charge after an officer recognized the band's name on a note scribbled by Nobacon. -- Gil Kaufman [Tues., Feb. 10, 1998, 5 p.m. PST]