The Chameleons: Elevated Living Live – album review

The Chameleons

Elevated Living Live

Cherry Red Records

CDx2/DVD available here from 24th September

8/10

The greatest band to come out of Middleton, Manchester, The Chameleons are as relevant now as they ever were and this release is a testament to a band that can never be put on the shelf. Wayne AF Carey steps back in time when the early stages of post punk were taking a stronghold on the Manchester scene and far beyond…

For the uninitiated The Chameleons consisted of Mark Burgess bass and vocals, Dave Fielding guitar, Reg Smithies guitar and John Lever (RIP) drums. Described as a sonic cathedral of guitars they still sound sublime today. If you’re a fan of The Horrors I suggest you get your fuckin’ money out now and invest in this only for the DVD coverage as it’s a testament to the gritty live feel of the Thatcherite Eighties.

Back when I was thirteen years old I had a mate in school who lived in Boarshaw who introduced me to post punk. I was into the Ska and Mod scene until I moved schools and when I met him he introduced me to the likes of Joy Division and a particular band called The Chameleons from my hometown Middleton. My instant thought was, fuck off! A band from Midd? At the time I thought they were moody and I didn’t get it due to the myriads of different music popping up and I was a massive Teardrop Explodes fan due to their exposure on Top Of The Pops, which was my only avenue at that time. When I hit 1991 I was delving into the past after reading interviews with bands in The NME, Sounds and Melody Maker and all these names started popping up that were an influence. The Chameleons were mentioned by so many people I just had to check out what I missed in those confusing years. Oldham library was my source for ‘try before you buy’ vinyl and I got a library card and found the whole Chameleons back catalogue. I devoured the lot over the next weeks and Script Of The Bridge, What Does Anything Mean? Basically and Strange Times just fucked up my mind with how good they were and still are. So reviewing this is like stepping back into what I missed and, as I was too young to see them live, watching this DVD footage now is stunning.

This whole package is worth it for the DVD as it basically covers all the tracks from the CD’s and shows two previously unseen live gigs, first being The Gallery in 1982. The footage is grainy and the venue itself had seen better days as you can see with the decor and the makeshift stage. It’s weird watching an audience sitting down for the whole performance. Was this an eighties thing? I can’t tell as I was too young and didn’t see a live gig until 4 years later. My parents never knew… The first and last time I saw this was Spiritualized at The Boardwalk when Jason Pierce bollocked the crowd, shouting at them to stand up.

As an early gig this looks like it was one to witness. I mean, just check out the setlist. Paper Tigers to introduce, Nathan’s Phase, Don’t Fall, In Shreds, Up The Down Escalator (I was told this was about Burgess observing the Langley young boys running up the escalators in Midd Arndale which turns out to be bollocks), the magnificent Monkeyland and more. I love the point where Burgess is fucked off with a song near the end for being out of tune, complaining about the heat in the place and having a breather before returning to complete a mesmerising View From The Hill. A slice of eighties history in all it’s glory, from the fashion of the times including Mark’s ripped and torn white shirt and the dressed down gothic look of Fielding, Smithies and Lever standing out from the industrial look of the audience.

The Hacienda gig just over a month later is a short set and a different affair. It looks packed and dark and Mark’s menacing bass strut and echoed vocals, backed by Lever’s tribal drums on Paper Tigers is compelling when layered with that double layered guitar rush. “I should have got my hair cut, I forgot this was The Hacienda man” says the sarcastic Burgess before airing Pleasure & Pain. Smithies rocks backwards and forwards, Fielding is barely visible and Lever thumps his large kit with an intense look on his face. Men Of Steel (which turned out to be A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days) sounds fuckin’ top, a mad rush of chugging riffs, bass, and Lever’s drum patterns holding it all in place. “Be good when it’s finished won’t it?” quips Mark before introducing a new one, Years Ago which turns out to be the prototype for Thursday’s Child. It’s great to see some moshing going on at the front during In Shreds and it’s strange when the audience go eerily quite before they launch into Don’t Fall which sends the crowd bouncing. You can even catch Burgess smiling there! During the last track Second Skin you can see a young lad proper fucked up at the front, his mates looking after him, which makes me wonder does he actually know he was caught on film? This is just pure solid footage from the IKON vaults.

Live At Camden Palace a year later (which was filmed for TV) shows the massive step up in audience size and live stature. Burgess commands the stage and the band have become a powerhouse. It’s a majestic set from the first two albums that shows the reason they were catching the eye of the big A&R guns of Geffen. He slags the dressing room off just after calling the place posh, “It smells of bad eggs down there, the bowels of the place” which gets a good laugh. You can take the lad out of Midd and all that…

Last but not least is their episode of Catalan TV programme Arsenal devoted entirely to the band. It starts with a swaying bridge falling apart to the sounds of Don’t Fall before it kicks in to a fuckin’ hilarious start to an interview with Burgess and Lever explaining why they’re called the Chameleons – (Lever) – “We change colour. I’m brown now. (Burgess) – When he drinks beer he goes green. (Lever) – When I have too much sun I go brown. (Burgess) – When he gets cold he goes blue. (Lever) – And when I live in Dukinfield I go white” Pisstaking at the highest level from the start. Some great footage going on here including a blistering Return Of The Roughnecks leaving what looks like a stunned Catalan audience. I’d love our Nathan Whittle to watch this as the interviewer is speaking pure Catalan and I’ve not got a clue but I’m sure he’s comparing The Chameleons to Joy Division, The Bunnymen and The Doors. If I’m wrong let me know Nath! Less Than Human show images of forest being cut down, historical buildings crumbling and Burgess pouring sweat with conviction in his live performance. Burgess makes reference at one point to someone he knows who just sits at home and pulls the blinds down and blocks everything out. Read into this what you like but I see where he’s going here… Home Is Where The Heart Is sounds so sinister and gothic it’s scary. Early Horrors anyone? Final track Splitting In Two sounds so menacing and punk it’s insane. A sonic wall of sound and The Chameleons at their ear shredding best. Watching Burgess toke a spliff from a fan at the front at the finale just tops it, especially when he goes bat shit crazy at the end. “My Baby’s on valium.”

If you’re looking for a piece of history then you can’t go wrong with this. If you’re looking for a piece of now just check Mark Burgess out live whenever you can. He’s still up their in the game and still commands the stage with his huge charismatic presence.

Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here

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"I'm a 50 year old man, and I like it!" A music nut from North Manchester residing in Northwich. If it's good I'm on it. Most genres covered but mainly alternative post punk indie with a love for all things psych.

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