Iconic dream-pop/post-punk outfit THE CHAMELEONS (UK) have announced their First Ever Australian headline dates. Fronted by founding member, vocalist and bassist Mark Burgess, the tour will showcase the band’s genre-defining body of work, instigated with their 1983 debut Script of the Bridge.
Script Of The Bridge featured key singles Up The Down Escalator and Second Skin, with follow up releases containing gems such as Perfume Garden and The Fan And The Bellows, star performer from 1985’s What Does Anything Mean? Basically, Swamp Thing, found on 1986’s Strange Times, and many more. It was a real honour talking to the legendary Mark Burgess about this upcoming tour.
Great news that The Chameleons are coming down to Australia for their first tour. I guess better late than never?
I guess so, yeah. It’s only taken like thirty years.
Has it always been a matter of timing, or is it just life getting in the way and it’s just never kind of worked out?
I think it’s been more due to logistics than anything else. Somebody did approach us about playing two or three years ago and we just couldn’t logistically make it work. I think with us being in China, with that happening, I think it was a good opportunity for somebody to bring the band over for the first time.
Do you still feel blessed in many ways that that the legacy of the band lives on and it’s stronger and just as relevant now as it was when you were starting out?
Yeah, to me it is. I think it’s more relevant than it ever was, which surprises me a little bit. I’ve actually tried to do other things but always seemed to get pulled back to doing Chameleons because people still want to hear it and people still have so many questions about it. While that’s true I’ll continue to do it. I couldn’t define this music if it wasn’t relevant and I couldn’t do it in a perfunctory way. So if I didn’t feel it was relevant I wouldn’t be able to perform it.
People just seem to be going back to the bands that were good back in the seventies, eighties, nineties, or whatever the time period. Compared to what’s out now people will always resonate towards good music?
That feeling’s always been around. I remember when in the eighties when we were doing this it was very much people harking right back to bands of the late seventies and mid-seventies. Saying that how much better those bands were. It’s always been that way, it’s always been that way. When we were making music it was a struggle to make it, to keep making it. I don’t get excited by a lot of contemporary bands to be quite honest. I haven’t really got excited about bands since the last five or six years. When I have got excited by them, they’ve been very underground bands that nobody’s ever heard of. They tend to, kind of stick it out for a while and then break up.
I know a lot of young people are really into Chameleons and still come and see us. So that’s a good thing. It’s not just nostalgia it’s a lot of young people going and see the band by various ways either with their parents who had our records, or their older brothers and sisters who had our records or whatever.
Have you noticed a generational shift in fans? As an artist that must be really exciting to see the kids of these parents, and possibly even their kids coming to the shows?
Yeah, it’s great. It’s really, really good. I think someone sent a photograph the other day of their boy and they’d brought him to the show, I think about two, three, four years ago and going backstage. They sent me a photograph the other day of him on stage in his own band. So now he’s in his own band playing shows and stuff! It’s really, really gratifying. I really like it when our fans represent a wide range of people, not just one particular generation. It’s not just people who were around when we made the records. Most of the people weren’t, and quite a few of them are really, really young themselves. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen in some cases. So yeah, it’s really great. I like that very much.
Do the songs sound just as fresh and exciting to play now, more than ever?
They do! I couldn’t play this music if that wasn’t the case. I have to get excited by it, otherwise I just can’t do it. I mean, there’s been periods where I haven’t been excited about it and I’ve stepped away from it for quite a long time and done other things. That’s how I feel about it. If I can’t be excited about it how can I make anybody else excited about it. There’s nothing perfunctory about it at all. I wouldn’t be doing it, I’d be doing something else.
I guess you probably get asked this question million times, but is there the temptation there to try and do some new songs?
I have been writing new songs and I will be recording new songs although it won’t be a Chameleon’s record, it can’t be. It can’t be a Chameleons record. It’s not the function of this band. The function of this band is to present and perform Chameleon’s music. That’s what we’re doing for people who want to hear that. I have made other records outside Chameleons and I will continue to do that though. That’s not what this is.
The Australia tour coming up, is that going to be mostly focused on Script Of The Bridge? Or is it going to be a bit of everything?
We’ll probably be doing a mixture of everything seeing as though we’ve never been there before. Yeah, it’s hard to tell because I have no idea how it’s going to go in Australia. I tend to vary sets and we don’t go out to play each exactly the same set every night we play. We always tend to shake it up and vary it around a little bit. So, I suppose we’ll see how it goes down and take it from there.
When Script Of The Bridge came out what memories from that period stick out most for you?
Just the fact that it was a really exciting period, we were making our first album, our first LP. That was always going to be special. For somebody who’s bought records, or been listening to records from a very early age to actually be in the studio making one, especially that one was a really special time. I think it was great that everyone was getting on, we all had one focus and that was to make it as good a record as we could.
We were a little bit full of ourselves because we’d had started writing in the studio and then ended up making the record ourselves because we didn’t trust anybody else with the kind of vision that we had for it. Nobody else that we talked to seem to understand what we were doing except us. So we were very much in control of it and I’m very, very proud of it. I don’t think it’s our best album but it’s my favourite one for all of those reasons. Just the process of making it and touring around they were the golden times then. They were special times. It was a really good time. Everybody was feeling good and it comes across that way, it’s there in the music, we captured that.
Interview by Rob Lyon
The Chameleons playing the following Australian tour dates…