Dear Mark. I think I’ve been doing interviews for more than 30 years now. In the recent years it strikes me how many artists seem to quote The Chameleons as being their influence, and especially young people who weren’t even born when the first stuff came out. How does it feel to be an inspiration for a new generation?
It feels great actually. I mean, so many bands and artists influenced myself when I was young. Being part of that chain gives me a tremendous sense of pride, especially when I really like what they’re doing. Nick McCabe sent me a CD of their first album when it came out along with a really nice note and I became a big fan of The Verve over the following years. Yeah it’s a good feeling.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but isn’t it so that now your music has more impact than it used to be then. I mean you’re considered now as the band who influenced massive bands like Editors.
Another one of my favorite bands. Well I don’t know, I mean the themes in the music are more relevant now that’s for sure. With songs like ‘A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days’ I profoundly wish that wasn’t true, but it is. The more existential themes are pretty universal, regardless of which generation you belong to. So in that aspect, possibly. New people are discovering the band’s music all the time and the attendances are still gradually getting back to what they were when we wrote this stuff back in the 80’s, so all in all I’d say that was a fair comment.
Never had the thought that you were born too early? I mean I can’t think of any other band, apart from The Sound, that has such a timeless sound.
Heavens no! If I’d been born later I would have missed some great live experiences, T.Rex, Roxy Music with Eno, Hawkwind with Lemmy and Michael Moorcock, Queen as a Support band at Manchester Opera House, The Clash’ White Riot tour at the Electric Circus along with The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Adverts, The Sex Pistols, The Birthday Party, Joy Division debuting ‘Closer’. I was lucky to be a kid when I was!
The 80’s, some say it was a golden era, but there was someone like Thatcher around. OK, now we have a bully named Trump, but apart from that: were the 80’s that brilliant? Would you ever like to go back?
No I didn’t think the 80’s were all that, to be honest. I mean some great records were made, sure, but for pop music it was dire, especially in the wake of Punk. If I were to go back, it’d be to the mid to late 70’s or early 60’s, catch a Beatles show on the Reeperbahn, haha.
Do you follow the current music scene and which bands are worth checking out?
The only truly impressive things I’ve heard lately are a band called Girls Names from Belfast. And I’m a huge fan of the American band Beach House too. And I really like that last album from Brighton band The Last Cry. But my favorite albums of last year were from Sparks, who were amongst the first bands I ever saw back when I was like 12, and the Iggy Pop album.
A bit of a strange question perhaps, but I think I need to ask. The Chameleons are from Manchester. During decades this city was the Mecca of all good music, but it seems (at least for me) that these days are a bit over, or am I completely wrong?
Well just like Liverpool Manchester has a strong heritage. So there’ll always be something good coming out of those places, but it’s hard these days to get people to go out and see bands they’ve never heard of. In Manchester’s heyday it was relatively cheap to go hear bands play, I’d go to two or three gigs a week. There are still really good bands around Manchester. Cabbage, The Evil Poor, I think are working again. But people need to stop gassing in pubs about fuckin’ Joy Division or whoever and actually get out and support these venues. I used to go to the Circus and The Factory and I wouldn’t have a clue who was playing, it was often just pure luck.
The music from The Chameleons has a dark feel, has this something to do with Manchester? I’ve never been there, but in music literature the city is often seen as a grey industrial city.
No, it didn’t have anything to do with Manchester. I used to refer to Joy Division as Joy Depression actually. We were very apart from all that. No the dark nature of the music probably came from all the drugs we were taking and as the lyricist I was still very much into the Punk attitude. That’s what Punk was, an attitude and I brought that attitude into the music. The music itself was very ethereal in my view and not depressing at all.
Were The Chameleons part of the Mancunnian scene or was it more something that every band was on its own?
No, we didn’t want to be part of all that. I mean we liked what was coming out of the city, but we wanted to do our own thing and not be influenced by all that. And a lot of those people didn’t know what to make of us. We found it all to be very cliquey and up its own arse to be honest.
Hope you don’t mind for saying, but I always thought Strange Times was your best one, because it was so different. From one part it sounded like a new beginning, but it was in fact the end for a while. How come?
Well we were definitely maturing as a writing unit. I think that’s evident on the album, but tensions were through the roof about the direction the band should take and where our opportunities lay. Then Tony Fletcher died and he’d been a big stabilizing influence on all that, so things began to go downhill. We were recording demos for the fourth album when John suddenly quit and I followed about a month later.
Kill your darlings, which are your favorite Chameleons songs?
It really depends on my mood. In Shreds was always my favorite record, Second Skin was always a favorite, Is It Any Wonder, Singing Rule Britannia, it really depends on my mood.
Again I must come up with The Sound, but along with them, The Chameleons were the only band who could write such effective lyrics. Never thought that at times you were going too deep, as some lyrics are really made to make you cry.
No I never think about it. I work on it until it feels right and then out it goes. It’s really as simple as that.
Are you a melancholic person?
I can be yeah, but not by nature. But it’s not that I enjoy my own melancholy. I think I have a deep sense of reality, the reality we easily perceive and what lies beneath but I’m not a miserable person by nature, no.
The Chameleons never had it easy with the music industry. At this times it’s dead because of Spotify and other media as such. How does it feel?
Well it doesn’ t really affect me. I never got paid fairly for my work when the music business was thriving so now that it’s on its arse, it’s no different. I got into this to make records and that’s what I try and do. People come to the shows, or contact me, and buy them directly, so for me personally business has never been better. But the music industry has been stealing from us for my entire career so fuck ‘em I hope they all go under.
Is there any chance we will hear new material from you, Mark?
I hope so. I mean I have about 26 new arrangements that I’m sure I want to do. And I’m in talks with a studio owner and label manager who’s keen for me to do some work at his place. I’d like to make a record in America because I’ve never done that before and I think the current climate would be perfect creatively, so I’m working toward that.
This year you’re in Belgium at W-Fest. What can we expect this year on stage?
You’ll have to wait and see. No I don’t know what we’ll play yet. We don’t usually decide on a set until the day of the show based on what we’ve done in rehearsals.
Any acts you want to see yourself at W-Festival?
Sadly it’s rarely I get the opportunity to watch a band when I’m due to perform myself because so many people want selfies and photos, or get something signed, or just want to chat. It’s impossible and I’m much too polite to tell them to fuck off cause I’m trying to watch a band. Treffen was good this year because they had a closed off balcony you could watch from, but that’s rare.
What do you prefer on a festival : ice cream, beer or French fries ?
I’d choose ice cream, haha.
What is your favourite record of all time and please state why.
DAMN! That’s an impossible question. Well if you mean album I’m going to go with Please Please Me by The Beatles because it was the first album I ever owned. It was recorded in a single day, which is great, and it was the Hamburg set, which is my favorite Beatles period. If you mean SINGLE I’m going with ‘Are Friends Electric’ from Gary Numan because I’d NEVER heard a record that sounded like that. It’s the perfect pop record and it still makes me tingle when it kicks in.
With who would you want to be alone in an elevator for 8 hours and what would you do then?
Well that’s easy, my fiancée Lydia and we’d probably fuck each other’s brains out over and over until the elevator got fixed.
The last words are yours…..
Be cool to each other.
Interview by Didier Becu - Luminous Dash