The sign outside Manchester’s coolest gig venue reads ‘Sold Out’. There’s a large crowd milling around, most with tickets and a few poor sods without.

So what’s the difference between Chameleons Vox and the band of old? Well musically, almost nothing. Mark Burgess has handed his bass guitar to Raymond Bowles of Manchester band Bushart. Guitar duties are taken up by Bushart members Chris Oliver and Steve Foxcroft. John Lever is still pounding the backbeat and holding it all together.

As hometown gigs go, the return of the Chameleons (in any form) is pretty special and by the time Burgess and Co. arrive stage left, the venue is rammed.  Tonight’s show is dedicated by the singer to Sophie Lancaster, her family and all those who have had to deal with the worst riots in Manchester’s history. As a consequence, the lyrics to the set opener, ‘A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days’ have a much deeper resonance tonight. The song could have been written last week. It’s an open letter to Manchester, a ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ to England at large.

However, this is a night of celebration too and the mood of the show cannot be dulled by recent events and clearly responding to the warmth of the crowd, Mark introduces a sublime ‘Tears’ with the words, “There’s no place like home, ever.”

‘Nostalgia’ is one of the earliest songs recorded by the original line up and is introduced by way of an anecdote. “Someone once said to me”, reveals Burgess, “that they loved the (ChameleonsVox) shows for the nostalgia. I said to them, to quote The Buzzcocks Pete Shelley, Yeah, but it’s nostalgia for an age yet to come”

Tonight’s set is culled from all three original albums plus earlier tracks and ‘Soul In Isolation’ from their third ‘Strange Times’ is one of tonight’s ‘You had to be there’ moments.  The whole room sings the chorus, accapella style while the band looks on stunned by the reaction.  It’s a wonderful moment when audience and band are joined as one. As the song ends, Burgess declares “This music was made in Manchester, England!”

‘Singing Rule Britannia’ is the set closer tonight and Burgess ad-libs ‘White Riot’ and ‘Transmission’clearly relishing his freedom as frontman.

The obligatory departure from the stage follows, but the next ‘you had to be there moment’ was initiated by the waiting audience. Instead of the usual whistles and shouts for ‘more’ the crowd sings the ‘who-oh-ooh’ hook from ‘Second Skin’. As the band return the refrain is maintained throughout the song and Burgess ad-libs The Beatles, ‘Please, Please Me’. The encore ends with the classic ‘Swamp Thing’.  I’m halfway up the stairs heading out of the venue, when they unexpectedly return again with ‘Monkeyland’,’ In Shreds’ and  finally ‘Don’t Fall’.

For some bands success comes quickly and it’s fleeting. For The Chameleons (Vox) they never achieved the commercial successes of their contemporaries, Echo and The Bunnymen and The Cure and have often been described as Manchester’s best kept secret. It’s been a journey blighted by bitter acrimony, in-fighting and personal tragedy. Great song writing never diminishes, and those who know, love the Chameleons and now thanks to myspace, blogs and facebook they are legion.

Take them to your hearts, it’s been a hard road and they deserve your ears.


Hello Robbo here, DJ at T.R.A.S.H Your Life at the Dog and Partridge in Bolton, and occasionally at Retro Bar in Manchester. Garage, punk, 60s, kitsch, library tunes, all the good stuff.. Labels: InTheRed, Goner, Swami, Sympathy, Estrus, AMREP, Domino, Touch & Go, Dischord, Rough Trade. Shops: Beatin Rhythmn, Vinyl Exchange, Fopp, Charity, Vintage.