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chameleons2014 mark3Interview with

Mark Burgess (vocals) from The Chameleons Vox

Led by Mark Burgess, one of the most important singers / songwriters / poets in the history of rock (and one of my "heroes"), THE CHAMELEONS have marked the '80s by producing beautifully crafted psychedelic post-punk, for instance on the jewel albums ‘Script of The Bridge’ or ‘Strange Times’. Unfortunately, the band called it quits in 1987, after the death of their manager Tony Fletcher. After attempting several projects solo or with other musicians (The Sun And The Moon, Invincible...), Mark Burgess decided in 2000 to go back to the roots under the moniker THE CHAMELEONS VOX (the voice of the Chameleons), together with original drummer John Lever and other musicians.

I had the unique opportunity to meet Mark Burgess in Leuven (Belgium), where his band was playing the first album ‘Script of the Bridge’ in its entirety. Mark is a very likeable and brilliant man, with a typical British humour. The interview lasted more than one hour: here are the most interesting parts of it.

Reflections of Darkness (RoD): Hello, Mark. Thank you for this interview. You are in the middle of a tour, in which you're playing the complete album ‘Script of the Bridge’. How is the tour doing?
Mark Burgess (M.B.): It's been going very well overall. I'm kind of surprised of the reaction that we're getting for this. It began because we were asked to play at a festival in Manchester that's gonna happen next week...

RoD: At the Academy?
M.B.: Yeah, at the Academy. With NEDS ATOMIC DUSTBIN and THE WEDDING PRESENT doing their albums. We agreed to do this and then we were asked by our agents to do it everywhere. That's how it came about really. But I was really surprised by the interest.

chameleons2014RoD: Was it a sort of challenge to play these old songs again?
M.B.: It has been, yeah. The good thing is that the band that I'm playing with are very familiar with it. They were very influenced by it in their own musical history. It was a very big record for them.

RoD: Who is in the band right now, besides John?
M.B.: Yves Altana, with whom I've been working for 15 years, he's producing new stuff that I'm trying to record. He plays both drums and guitar. And Chris Oliver, who's been involved since the beginning. And Neil Dwerryhouse, with whom I've been working since the 90s: he has taken the role of Dave Fielding.

RoD: Are you really trying to emulate the songs this time?
M.B.: We have been, for the last couple of years. When we first started with THE (CHAMELEONS) VOX, that wasn't really the point... We didn't want to emulate the sound, we just wanted to play the songs. And I wanted the people to bring their own interpretation. It gave the whole thing a edgier, Rock’n’Roll kind of feeling, which I liked. Then, things kind of mushroomed, we started playing bigger stages and people were responding to it positively and we felt if we're gonna play this stuff we ought to play as it was written. So, we developed into doing it a bit more authentically.

RoD: If we go back in time in '83, when you recorded it, do you remember the mood that you were at that time?
M.B.: Yeah, it was a really good time, probably our best time. We had just been kicked out of CBS because we wouldn't work with any of the producers, who wanted to edit the songs down; they didn't seem to get what we wanted to do. But we weren't depressed about that. We were very sure of ourselves.

RoD: You didn't want to sound like anybody else...
M.B.: We definitely didn't want to sound like anybody else. If there was anything in our music that hinted at what was going on, we'd deliberately decide not to use it. All our influences were 60s and 70s with a little bit of punk, that came from me really...

RoD: The influences were more psychedelia, THE DOORS,...
M.B.: Yeah, we all brought different things. I was into T.-REX, DAVID BOWIE and stuff like that. Reg's and Dave's favourite band was THE WHO. And obviously THE BEATLES and stuff like that. And John was completely different; he was into GENESIS and stuff like that. So we all brought those different things. And the punk thing was an influence...

chameleons2014 mark1RoD: More for the attitude? And the energy?
M.B.: Yeah, the attitude and the sound, for sure. But we were trying to avoid what was going on around us. We were trying to find a niche of our own. But it was the best time for the band because everyone was getting along very well. It was our first record, our first album, it sounded exciting. There were lots of ideas floating around. We recorded in a place and with an engineer that we were familiar with. All those things kind of came together and it's my favourite album that we did.

RoD: It's like a collection of hits...
M.B.: Well, at the time, I don't think we got a single good review for it. The press didn't get it. It's only when it was played on college radio's in America that things started. But there, they released an edited version of the record, they chopped things and rearranged things. It was on MCA Records.

RoD: Did you do a John Peel session in England?
M.B.: Yeah, we started on John Peel. He played us on the Forces radio in mainland Europe, Germany, which gave us an audience here. We were really surprised the first time we came to the mainland. We realized it was John playing us on British Forces radio. He syndicated the show.

RoD: Would you say it's a concept album or not?
M.B.: Not really, it wasn't meant as a concept album. There was no overriding thing...

RoD: What does ‘Script of the Bridge’ refer to?
M.B.: It was just one of those nonsense things someone said one night. We were tripping' and someone said that and we started laughing and I wrote it down. When it came to naming the record, it was stuck in my mind and everyone liked it, so. But there's no overall concept to it really.

RoD: Let's talk about ‘Second Skin’, which is one of my favourite songs ever. I've always asked myself what was the real topic of the song. I've read many things about the immortality of movie stars,...
M.B.: That's how it started. I was very much intrigued by the idea of immortality captured on celluloid. Those movie stars at the peak of their lives and captured for ever. And then it evolved from that after I started reading a lot of literature about people who had died...

RoD: The near-death experiences (NDE's)?
M.B.: Yeah, the near-death experiences.

RoD: Is the 'second skin' the skin that you take when you go out of your body?
M.B.: I don't really know. When I was doing the recording, I spontaneously put those lines in. I can't really remember what my chain of thought was. I just said: “drop me in again, 'coz there's something I want to do at the end”.

chameleons2014 mark2RoD: I thought it was the idea that when you go out of your body, you're “floating on air”...
M.B.: It probably was that idea, yeah. But you're transcending your existence at that moment, you know.

RoD: Do you remember which artist really touched you when you were young?
M.B.: Yeah, it was THE BEATLES, when I was four years old. I went to a kindergarten, a nursery, in 1963-64. They couldn't get me to eating porridge. And this girl, named Muriel, started playing THE BEATLES records and I loved it. So, she used it to bribe me. If I didn't eat the porridge, I couldn't hear the record... (laughs) So, I became completely obsessed with THE BEATLES. I don't think I was even talking at the time! I remember my parents took me to the Manchester premiere of 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964 and I remember everything, the screaming...

RoD: It was a flash?
M.B.: Yeah, and then they started giving me records. And I learned to talk by learning to sing. They were worried about me coz' I wasn't talking. So , I learned Beatles songs before I started to speak.

RoD: And the first record that you bought?
M.B.: It was a BEATLES album, 'Revolver'. I remember buying some Ennio Morricone music, even though I had never seen the films, because I was too young. I bought some James Brown. In 1970, I started buying records religiously, every week, when I was 10. I started buying T.-REX, THE DOORS,... I used to listen to Radio Luxemburg late at night. They used to play 'Riders On The Storm'. And T.-REX was really the one that excited me as a child. And then, DAVID BOWIE...

RoD: The glam-rock, Slade and all this stuff?
M.B.: Yeah!

RoD: And then punk came. Was The Fall important for you?
M.B.: I think the first I heard were THE DAMNED. I couldn't hear THE SEX PISTOLS because they banned it. And then I finally managed to get a copy of 'Anarchy In The UK' and that was it. But THE DAMNED were the first punk band I saw because they opened for T.-REX in 1976. I used to go to the Electric Circus before it was a punk club. You had bands like Bebop Deluxe. I saw AC/DC there! I was too young but I looked older than I was.

M.B.: Yes, but it was a little later. I saw them several times.

RoD: But they weren't an influence for you. It was more The Fall?
M.B.: Not really. I didn't get it at first, to be honest. It wasn't until 'Closer' that I started to really like it. But I used to go and watch them and you never knew what you were going to get...

chameleons2014 mark3RoD: They were a bit messy on stage...
M.B.: The first times I saw them, they weren't called JOY DIVISION, they were called Warsaw. I saw them a couple of times at the Electric Circus. I remember it, so it must have been good.

RoD: But as THE CHAMELEONS, you never really felt involved in the Manchester scene, did you?
M.B.: No, we knew we weren't part of that scene and didn't relate to it. We were not in the industrial look and vibe. There wasn't enough colour in it. We were taking acid, you know. They were taking “down drugs” while we were taking hallucinogens, mushrooms and acid. Different drugs and doing different things. We didn't hang out with them really.

RoD: And looking back, do you think these drugs had an impact on your inspiration? Like 'The Doors of Perception' stuff?
M.B.: The drugs definitely did, yeah. If you think drugs are a bad influence in music, then throw all your favourite records away because drugs have been a principal part of all of them. I'm not ashamed of having taken drugs, no.

RoD: It opened you mind and gave you inspiration…
M.B.: Yeah! It probably had the most impact than anything else. Taking hallucinogens was the best thing I ever did. I don't regret it at all. There's an irresponsible fact about drugs because people abuse it. I was never one of those people, you know. I come from a drinking culture, but I was never a victim of alcohol. And it's the same with everything else. I've tried everything; some have been interesting, some have been bad, but I've always been in control.

RoD: It was more for experimentation...
M.B.: Yeah, it wasn't so much recreational but not always. I tended to avoid things that kill your creativity like heroin. I heard John Cooper Clarke explaining how it completely killed his creativity. I'm not interested in this. Why would I want to get into something that kills creativity?

RoD: Let's talk about now. You've released an EP, called 'M+D=1(8)'.
M.B.: Yes, it became an EP.

RoD: What does the title mean?
M.B.: It's just a message to somebody. He understood it.

RoD: Had you been writing new stuff for a long time?
M.B.: Yeah, I had a lot of stuff. But I hadn't been entirely happy with any of it. That's why it has taken a bit longer.

RoD: 'Heaven' is a song that existed before?
M.B.: It's the first thing we kind of did. Yeah, we liked it but...

chameleons2014 mark philRoD: It's a typical CHAMELEONS song while 'Sycophants' shows a sort of new direction, doesn't it?
M.B.: You have to take each song as its own thing. It's not an indication of any kind of direction because you can do something like 'Sycophants' and then do something completely different. That's why these songs are on the EP, it's because I wanted to have them out, but I can't see them fit into a new album. So we released them as their own thing. 'Sycophants' is just something I did with Chris and I like it because it reminds of the kind of records that made me want to be in a band. I think it's a great Rock’n’Roll record. But it's not an indication of the direction.

RoD: You're preparing a new album right now...
M.B.: Yeah: I'm working with different people, with different writers on it. Some songs I'm doing on my own, some I've been writing with Yves and a couple of other people. All of them are really different kinds of people so there's not gonna be any definitive kind of way. Even we don't really know how it's gonna turn out coz' the ideas are so different. We even ask ourselves the question: should we even call it a CHAMELEONS VOX record because there's nothing typical about it.

RoD: Maybe it should be a new band?
M.B.: Well no, I mean, we thought about it and then we thought: whatever I do is gonna be identified as CHAMELEONS anyway, so... Before THE CHAMELEONS VOX, when I was doing my other projects, they were putting stickers with “ex-Chameleons” everywhere anyway, so I thought: I might as well utilize the name, and create THE CHAMELEONS VOX, the voice of THE CHAMELEONS. It makes it easier. And it also gets easier to find gigs! (laughs) Because bookers go “Ah, it's The Chameleons, ok!!!”.

RoD: It opens doors...
M.B.: Yeah, it makes it easier. Why make things hard for yourself? The guys I founded THE CHAMELEONS with have chosen not to do it anymore. Nobody has been kicked out or f*cking sacked. They each in their own way decided not to do it anymore.

RoD: So, when can we expect the new album?
M.B.: I don't know. It should have been out over a year ago! (laughs)

RoD: You're not pushed by anything...
M.B.: I should be. The label should be on the phone everyday but to be fair, they know we're having a tough time. The music has never been tough, the music's easy, playing the shows is easy. It's all the things around it, politics, etc...

RoD: Thank you, Mark!
M.B.: Thanks!

After the interview, we went outside to smoke a cigarette and we talked about UFO's, Near-Death Experiences, extended consciousness, anthropology,... A great moment!

Web: / / /

Concert accreditation via Het Depot (Leuven) and

To watch the full video of the interview:
- part 1:
- part 2:

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