Paul Cox and I are leaning on the rail in a sweltering Boileroom in the leafy suburbs of affluent Guildford as the taped intro to Don’t Fall heralds the beginning of Chameleons Vox latest UK tour celebrating the 35th anniversary of Script to the Bridge; arguably the greatest debut album ever to be released in almost four decades of indie, post-punk, new wave or whatever you wish to describe the enduring scene that emerged out of the dying embers of punk.
I can still vividly remember the day in August 1983 when my late dear friend, Tim Murphy, and I bought the album from William Power’s electrical store in Warminster before rushing back home to my tiny bedroom to hear this masterpiece for the first time. We had already been captivated by the band on account of a few early singles and repeated sessions broadcast on the John Peel show, but nothing prepared either of us for the sheer brilliance of the record which became the soundtrack to that and many other summers.
We began following the band avidly driving off to various venues across the country in Tim’s maroon Scoda most notably to the Futurama 5 Festival in Leeds the following September headlined by Death Cult, Killing Joke and, somewhat amazingly, a reformed Bay City Rollers who were promptly (and quite rightly) canned off stage by a seething contingent of spikey tops incensed by Les McKeown’s ridiculous attire and antiquated bubble-gum trash which harked back to the dark ages of British pop. Incredibly, I found myself talking about this very gig with lifelong Chameleons’ supremo, Tony Skinkis, after the Guildford show and he vividly remembers the occasion and told me that McKeown threw back one of the cans into the crowd splitting the head of a girl in the process.
And perhaps this is the point; numerous fans we meet at Chameleons Vox gigs thirty-five years on, still adore Script of the Bridge and indeed the whole chequered band discography. Back in the day, Tim and I never knew anyone locally who had even heard of the Chameleons, let alone who shared our adoration for this stunning body of work, but those who we met at erratically attended early gigs understood our obsession for the most cool of releases and many no doubt still attend the same gigs as I today. The tracks inspire a sense of euphoria, halcyon memories of crimped hair, leather jackets and (Better) Badges, skinny jeans and shoes from Robot or Johnsons in the Kings Road, the indie charts dominated by Bauhaus, New Order, The Sisters of Mercy and a canon of magical bands who’s cultural contribution is gradually (and finally) being acknowledged.
It feels as if we are in something of a golden age whereby we can still go and see the Mary Chain, the Bunnymen, the Cure, Peter Hook and The Cure from yesteryear, in addition to new generations of acts clearly inspired by this indie lineage; The Horrors, Desperate Journalist, Soft Kill, Glaare and many, many others all wearing their indebtedness to my teenage heroes as a celebratory badge of honour. Gripped by an increasing sense of my own mortality, I go to at least thirty gigs a year and very few come close to the energy, atmosphere or God-given brilliance of Chameleons Vox.
Mark Burgess has a burning fire in his belly these days and a brooding on stage confidence perhaps emanating from the knowledge that his song writing abilities and ear for the most delicate of melodies is finding favour with audiences young and old. On guitar, Chris Oliver and Neil Dwerryhouse are the most contrasting of characters, but their weaving riffs elegantly intertwine to create both elegance and power none more so on Monkeyland, Second Skin, Thursday’s Child and Paper Tigers. A succession of drummers have anchored the wall of sound and in Stephen Rice, the Vox seem to have finally found a guy with the energy and panache required to do justice to these magical performances.
There’s another side to all this too; the Vox (and their crew – Tony!!) are collectively devoid of posturing or pretension; always gracious with their fans and happy to share a fag and a pint before and after, willingly signing posters, vinyl or tickets; having a laugh and candid with what’s going on with the band; they seem as happy to be on the road as we are to travel thousands of miles a year to see them and long may it last.
Of course, it has been a withering journey for many and thirty-five years is one fuck of a long time; Tim is sadly departed as are others from in and outside the band, but Script of the Bridge lives on as a glorious statement of independence, spirit and blissful creativity. Joyously, Paul and I are off to Glasgow in a few days to relive it all again in a venue which, we are reliably informed, is going to be even smaller, hotter and raucous. Can’t wait….