The West London hardcore darlings who aren't interested in pissing in the wind
“Funny story,” says Maegan Brooks Mills after a long sip from her pint of Amstel. Pausing slightly for effect, she glances again at the faded interior of Walthamstow Trade Hall, just to make sure. “I used to come here every weekend with my grandparents – I remember dancing with a man with only four fingers, I think he’d had the others blown off in the war.”
This revelation, delivered with a combination of perfect timing and studied nonchalance, stops Chubby and the Gang in their tracks. The rest of the band had been chatting excitedly about watching Metallica and their drive to Latitude Festival that next morning, but now, they erupt in surprised laughter. “No fucking way,” laughs guitarist Tom Hardwick, “London really is smaller than you think!”
Sat around a pub table, flipping beer mats and chatting shit, Chubby and the Gang feel weirdly at home in a place like the Trade Hall. A band that manage to straddle both the past and the future with ease, The Chubbies’ sound may be the streetwise, mosh-pit anthems of New York hardcore acts like Agnostic Front and Madball filtered through classic pub rock influences like Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods, but it’s also a vehicle to tackle subjects that feel distinctly relevant to these uncertain times. Whether it’s dealing with police brutality or the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower, the band’s music captures the experience of life as an inner city, working class kid.
“There’s a tendency to see London as this expensive shit hole,” says drummer Joe McMahon. “There’re certainly parts like that, but there’re also parts of it that are cheap shit holes. I think we really wanted to tell stories from those kinds of places.”
While Brooks Mills and singer Charlie ‘Chubby’ Manning Walker hail from East London and West London respectively, the three remaining members – Hardwick, McMahon and guitarist Ethan Stahl – have roots in Guildford and Huddersfield. So, like almost every other group of friends sat around any other pub table, everyone has their own view on the matter.
“I think West London, in particular, is one of the most misunderstood places in England,” says Manning-Walker, throwing his hat into the ring. “You’ve got very posh shit and very not posh shit in really close proximity to one another. I mean, Latimer Road and, say, Holland Park are literally so close you can look into one another. It makes for an interesting culture.
“People always talk about the same old shit and reminisce about how it used to be, but I wanted to talk about West London as it is,” he continues. “I don’t know if it’s all that original, but I’ve always thought it’s more interesting to talk about what’s happening in Acton over, say, some abstract shit that no one can understand. Not that I’m saying that there can’t be something for everyone, but sometimes people just need to know how it is.”
Chubby and the Gang’s connections to London’s DIY scene run deep. Growing up as part of the ramshackle hardcore scene that formed around the 12 Bar Club in Soho’s Denmark Street, Manning Walker has been in one band or another for a little over 15 years now. In fact, all five members remain active participants in South England’s hardcore circuit, splitting their time between Chubby and acts such as Violent Reaction, Boss, Abolition and Big Cheese. In many ways, it’s this sense of close-knit community that’s the bedrock band’s hard working spirit.
“I think I got into hardcore mainly because I wanted do something that was way more extreme than what my parents listened to,” Manning Walker tells me, as we discuss the band’s route into music. Growing up in a household that loved classic punk bands like The Clash and The Damned, in a way, hardcore was the next logical step. “I think in England, bands like the Clash are so ingrained into the mainstream narrative that it’s only just one step away from pop music,” he says. “I mean, you can pick up a Sex Pistols shirt in H&M these days. So I think the natural reaction is to go a little bit deeper and get into things like Crass and Discharge – those bands are always harder, more extreme. It’s everything you want as a teenager.”
The band’s debut record Speed Kills definitely ticks those boxes. Produced by Fucked Up drummer Jonah Falco and released in January 2020 to almost instant acclaim, it’s mix of breakneck punk and singalong melodies catapulted Chubby and the Gang to overnight cult success.
On the back of a handful of UK shows, the band headed off to the States for a string of headline dates in early 2020 and it all started to snowball from there. Glowing features in Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Paste magazine meant that the 50-person crowd they’d played to in New York at the beginning of the tour grew to almost 500 by the time they came back. Safe to say, it was all looking great until the pandemic struck.
“Speaking strictly for myself, it’s been good to have a little bit of time to work out what this band is really about rather than just cracking on,” explains Manning Walker discussing Chubby’s experience of the lockdown with typical down-to-earth bluntness. Determined not to rest on their laurels, the band spent the better part of 2020 working on a second album – The Mutt’s Nuts (out August 27 via Partisan). “Speed Kills was always kind of this stream of consciousness thing, and I wanted this record to be a bit more reflective,” continues Manning Walker before going on to describe the band’s vision for its follow-up. “It’s actually been good that we’ve had the chance to sharpen the knife a little bit. I think that where the first record was meant to be a statement, this record is meant to be more of a reminiscence. ”
On the evidence of the advance singles, Chubby and the Gang’s edges are looking as sharp as ever. ‘Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice’ is a both a classic slice of shout-along hardcore and a sharp response to social inequality. “I wrote this song about social inequality. Not mine but the people I saw around me.” Manning writes in the track’s accompanying statement. “I feel like the whole premise of poverty is presented like this game in which if you play your cards right you can escape. In reality, it’s more like playing a game of dice when they’re loaded against your favour. Constantly being struck by lightning and being told that it will never happen again.”
June’s ‘Coming Up Tough’ covered similar turf; telling the story of one of Manning Walker’s family members who, through a stint in jail at a young age, found themselves locked out by a world that too often turns it back on young offenders. The band wanted “the song to feel like a snowball effect. The character gets thrown out of his house at first and it feels almost juvenile, but then as it progresses you realise the real trouble he’s in. Too often, once you’re in trouble you can’t get out.”
“I’ve always seen introspection as a privilege,” Manning Walker explains as we talk about the social issues that have been the backbone of the band’s output so far. Although he doesn’t describe himself as political, he’s certainly not afraid to call it as he sees it. “How can you not talk about what’s going on? It’s like when you hear people talking about this Covid shit like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened because they’ve had to work from home or whatever. I’m like, ‘For once, talk about someone other than yourself.’”
What makes Chubby and the Gang different, though, is that they actually appear ready to ante up when they need to. Earlier this year, the band contributed a track to the second Group Therapy compilation, with profits going to Black Minds Matter and Help Musicians, raising awareness for those struggling with poor mental health. Manning Walker, a London cabbie turned electrician, is an active member of Bectu, a union made up of workers in non-performance roles in the creative industries. Speed Kills even ends with a song called ‘Union Dues’, which serves as both a rallying cry for organised labour and keeping the far right out of the punk scene.
“I feel like a lot of politics in music is very top level. It’s almost like people are trying to make infographic music – small bitesize shit that doesn’t really get anyone anywhere,” he tells me, summing up Chubby and the Gang’s take on politics in his own ‘no bullshit’ fashion.
“I want to make music that gives people something to do, and the most effective thing most people can do is organize your labour, because it’s the only leverage you really have. You can sit there until you’re blue in the face and say ‘capitalism is bad’ but unless you actually start doing something about it, you’re just kind of pissing in the wind.”
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