The Chameleons performing in Bratislava in 2018.
|Also known as||The Chameleons UK|
|Years active||1981–1987, 2000–2003|
|Past members||Reg Smithies|
The Chameleons were an English post-punk band formed in Middleton, Greater Manchester in 1981. The band consisted of singer and bassist Mark Burgess, guitarists Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding, and drummer John Lever. They were called the Chameleons UK in North America because an American band had claim to "the Chameleons" name.
The Chameleons released their debut album, Script of the Bridge, in 1983. They followed it with What Does Anything Mean? Basically and Strange Times in 1985 and 1986, respectively, before abruptly disbanding in 1987 due to the sudden death of the band's manager. After the split, Burgess and Lever formed the Sun and the Moon, while Fielding and Smithies formed the Reegs. Burgess also had a short solo career with backing band the Sons of God. The Chameleons reformed in 2000, releasing Strip (2000), Why Call It Anything (2001) and This Never Ending Now (2002) before separating again in 2003. Burgess alone continues to play Chameleons songs live under the name ChameleonsVox. Lever died in 2017.
Known for their atmospheric, guitar-based sound and passionate lyrics, the Chameleons are regarded as one of the most underrated Manchester bands of the 1980s. They did not attain the commercial success of other groups from the Manchester scene but developed a cult following.
The Chameleons were formed in Middleton, Greater Manchester, England in 1981 by Mark Burgess, Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding. Burgess previously played with the Cliches, while Smithies and Fielding had performed with Years. They started as a trio—Burgess as vocalist and bassist, Smithies and Fielding both on guitar—without a drummer. They later recruited fellow Middletonian Brian Schofield, who was soon replaced by Dukinfield-based John Lever, previously of the Politicians. Former Magazine drummer Martin Jackson briefly replaced Lever during 1982–83 while the latter was on sabbatical.
After performing several radio sessions for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, the band were signed to Epic Records, then a subsidiary of CBS Records International, and in March 1982 released their debut single, "In Shreds", which was produced by Steve Lillywhite. The single's cover – a harrowing painting by Smithies, who created the artwork for all of their releases – mirrored the band's tense, atmospheric sound. During this time, the Chameleons' independent style clashed with their label's visions for the band. Wary of the loss of credibilty Altered Images had suffered due to buckling to CBS' demands on packaging, the Chameleons were protective of their image and consequently were dropped by the label soon after the release of "In Shreds".
The Chameleons subsequently signed to UK label Statik Records, a subsidiary of Virgin Records, on which they released their debut studio album, Script of the Bridge, in 1983. Script of the Bridge, featuring the singles "Up the Down Escalator", "As High as You Can Go" and "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days", showcased Burgess's strong vocals and the band's guitar-based sound, with careful use of synthesisers. Statik's status as a subsidiary of Virgin prevented the band from qualifying for the independent charts, which resulted in reduced coverage by the British music press. MCA Records released the album in the United States in an abridged form, minus four songs, which angered the band. However, the US release and a 1984 American tour did earn them significant college radio airplay and a loyal fanbase.
Their second studio album, What Does Anything Mean? Basically, was released in 1985 by Statik, which also reissued "In Shreds" and its B-side "Less Than Human" as the 12" Nostalgia EP, adding the previously unreleased track "Nostalgia".[page needed] Basically established the band as a promising, guitar-based group.
Regular touring after the release of Basically, along with efforts by the band's manager, Tony Fletcher, persuaded David Geffen to sign the band to Geffen Records, which released their third studio album, Strange Times, in 1986. A dark, complex work, it contained the singles "Tears" and "Swamp Thing", but proved to be their final record of the period. A rift existed within the band, particularly between Burgess and Fielding, and Fletcher's sudden death in 1987 due to cardiac arrest led to the group disbanding.
After the breakup, numerous spin-off bands emerged, none of which achieved much success. Burgess and Lever formed the Sun and the Moon, recruiting Andy Whitaker and Andy Clegg to replace Smithies and Fielding. They released an eponymous studio album on Geffen in 1988, but separated the next year. Burgess then embarked on a solo career, while the remaining members briefly continued on as Weaveworld. Smithies and Fielding formed the Reegs with the help of vocalist Gary Lavery and a drum machine, and released two albums, Return of the Sea Monkeys (1991) and Rock the Magic Rock (1992), on the independent label Imaginary Records.
Burgess released his debut solo album, Zima Junction, in 1993, and toured America the following year with his backing band the Sons of God. He released another studio album, Spring Blooms Tra-La (1994), as well as a live album, Manchester 93 (1994), before partnering with Yves Altana in 1995, releasing Paradyning the same year. Afterwards, he founded Invincible with Altana and drummer Geoff Walker. They self-released their debut album, Venus, in 1999, with most sales being digital. He also worked with Bird, the Messengers and Black Swan Lane. Lever later joined Bushart, who released the album Yesterday Is History (2008).
In 1990, the Chameleons posthumously released an EP, Tony Fletcher Walked on Water.... La La La La La-La La-La-La, with the title paying tribute to their former manager. They also issued numerous live albums and compilations.
The Chameleons reconvened in January 2000 to prepare for a series of concerts in The Witchwood, Ashton-under-Lyne, one of the band's favourite venues, in May. May 2000 also saw the release of the album Strip, which featured old material in an acoustic format. The concerts were a success, and they expanded the reunion tour to include European dates in the summer and two California dates that fall. They released a new studio album, Why Call It Anything, in 2001, followed by another unplugged album, This Never Ending Now, in 2002 and a full American tour. Renewed tensions led to the band dissolving once again in early 2003.
In 2009, Burgess and Lever reformed to play Chameleons back catalogue material, under the name ChameleonsVox. They issued an EP, M+D=1(8), in November 2013. In addition to Burgess and Lever, ChameleonsVox line-ups have included guitarists Roger Lavallee, Justin Lomery, Andrew Abernathy, Neil Dwerryhouse and Chris Oliver; bassists Frank Deserto and Jessica Espeleta; and drummers Glenn Maryansky, Yves Altana and Stephen Rice.
In 2014, Lever and Fielding reunited to record an album, Endless Sea, as Red-Sided Garter Snakes. The album, featuring contributions from vocalist James Mudriczki of Puressence and Clegg, was released in July 2015.
During the Chameleons' early career, the British music press often used terms such as "sonic architects" and "sonic cathedrals" when describing the band, due to their atmospheric sound. Smithies and Fielding provided shimmering guitar riffs, while Lever and Burgess on drums and bass, respectively, gave the band a solid, rhythmic foundation.
The Chameleons emerged as Thatcherism was beginning to have its effect on England's former industrial towns, and their music was imbued with a sense of anxiety and a longing for the security of innocence. Burgess's impassioned vocal delivery complemented his lyrics, which touched on the alienation created in many British communities by the decline of manufacturing and industry, and the consequent disruption of social order. Despite the bleak landscapes they were surrounded by, the band were not weighed down by their environment, but attempted to triumph over it. Burgess said in 2013 that, though growing up in a post-industrial, northern town must have some influence on one's music, he felt the Chameleons would have sounded similar regardless of where they originated from.
- Mark Burgess – vocals, bass (1981–1987, 2000–2003)
- Reg Smithies – guitar (1981–1987, 2000–2003)
- Dave Fielding – guitar (1981–1987, 2000–2003)
- John Lever – drums (1981, 1983–1987, 2000–2003)
- Brian Schofield – drums (1981)
- Martin Jackson – drums (1982)
- Kwasi Asante – percussion (2001–2003)
The core quartet were augmented by keyboardists Alistair Lewthwaite and Andy Clegg for live shows in the 1980s, and by percussionist-vocalist Kwasi Asante during their reunion period.
- Script of the Bridge (1983, Statik Records/MCA Records)
- What Does Anything Mean? Basically (1985, Statik Records) UK No. 60
- Strange Times (1986, Geffen Records) UK No. 44
- Strip (2000, Paradiso)
- Why Call It Anything (2001, Artful Records)
- This Never Ending Now (2002, Paradiso)
- Nostalgia (1985, Statik)
- Tony Fletcher Walked on Water.... La La La La La-La La-La-La (1990, Glass Pyramid)
- "In Shreds" (1982, Epic Records)
- "Up the Down Escalator" (1983, Statik Records)
- "As High as You Can Go" (1983, Statik Records)
- "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days" (1983, Statik Records)
- "Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In)" (1985, Statik Records)
- "Tears" (1986, Geffen Records) UK No. 85
- "Swamp Thing" (1986, Geffen Records) UK No. 82
- Tripping Dogs (1990, Glass Pyramid)
- Here Today... Gone Tomorrow (1992, Imaginary Records)
- Live in Toronto (1992, Imaginary Records)
- Here Today... Gone Tomorrow/Live in Toronto (1992, Imaginary Records)
- Aufführung in Berlin (1993, Imaginary Records)
- The Radio 1 Evening Show Sessions (1993, Nighttracks)
- Free Trade Hall Rehearsal (1993, Imaginary Records)
- Live Shreds (1996, Cleopatra Records)
- Recorded Live at the Gallery Club Manchester, 18th December 1982 (1996, Visionary Communications)
- Live at the Witchwood (2000, self-released)
- Live at the Academy (2002, Paradiso)
- Live at the Hacienda (2017, Radiation Reissues)
- The Fan and the Bellows (1986, Hybrid Records/Caroline Records)
- John Peel Sessions (1990, Strange Fruit Records)
- Dali's Picture (1993, Imaginary Records)
- Dali's Picture/Live in Berlin (1993, Imaginary Records)
- Northern Songs (1994, Bone Idol)
- Return of the Roughnecks: The Best of The Chameleons (1997, Dead Dead Good)
- Acoustic Sessions (2010, Blue Apple Music)
- Dreams in Celluloid (2013, Blue Apple Music)
- Live at the Camden Palace (1985, Jettisoundz)
- Arsenal (1995, Jettisoundz)
- Recorded Live at the Gallery Club Manchester, 18th December 1982 (1996, Jettisoundz)
- Resurrection Live (2001, Paradiso)
- Live at the Gallery Club & The Hacienda, Manchester (2002, Cherry Red Films)
- Live from London (2004, Demon Vision)
- Singing Rule Britannia – The Chameleons Live (2004 Cherry Red Films)
- Ascension (2006, Scourge Productions)
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