Sunday, 8 January 2023

Overdue gig review: The Chameleons at the Gloucester Guildhall

Back in the darkening days of the year we used to call "this year" but we now call "2022" I paid a visit to my fave venue, the Gloucester Guildhall, to catch a double-bill of Epic Gothic Punk from The Chameleons and The Membranes. I'd seen The Chams ( as nobody calls them ) a few years ago, pre-Covid, and really enjoyed them, but I'd never seen The Membranes so was keen to add them to my gig list.

Sunday 11/12/22 saw an unexpected amount of snow being dumped on Gloucestershire, the first "real" snow we'd had for a few years, and it cast a doubt over the event going ahead. Luckily both bands made it to the Shire and the gig was on! I was meant to be going with my mate Glenn but his car fell foul of the falling white stuff and the resultant traffic chaos in Stroud so he unfortunately couldn't make it. We used to have a semi-serious tradition of seeing bands somewhere around our birthdays ( 10/12 for him and 14/12 for me ) and this would have been the first one in that line for a few years, but it wasn't to be. Luckily, another great gig buddy turned out for the night... all the way from Swindon ( in the snow! )... the man, the myth, the blogger: David Rose!

Typically of me, I got to the venue just before the support band started so I only had time for a quick chat with David before it was Membranes time...

I'd seen distinctively-haired Membranes frontman John Robb with his "other" band Goldblade at this very same venue some years ago and expected more of the same Punky rabble-rousing. I was surprised to find that The Mems ( as nobody calls them ) are more of a Goth band, complete with Robb's propulsive Hooky-inspired bass lines alongside washes of colourful synth tones, courtesy of a veiled Corpse Bride-like keyboard player, who also supplied some startlingly wailed backing vocals.

Apparently, the band's most recent album What Nature Gives... Nature Takes Away is based around ecological themes and the song Snow Monkey prompted Robb to ask "Are there any budding Chris Packhams in the audience? Is anybody into Punk rock and nature?" After the general lack of response I called out in the affirmative but was out-volumed ( is that a word? ) by David who was singled out by Robb as "the kind of guy who knows about snow monkeys"  -  well, of course he is. The 'Branes ( as nobody probably calls them ) were a dark treat for a snowy Winter's evening and I definitely need to see them again. ( I used to write gig reviews for John Robb's website, Louder Than War, back in the day and I often joke that he's my ex-boss. Of course, he doesn't actually know that. I did have a brief exchange with him on Twitter after the gig and he complimented me on my photos from the night. Which was nice. )

The Chameleons shuffled onto the stage with little fanfare and launched into their expansive, windswept post-Punk set. Main man Mark Burgess was more voluble than last time I saw them and frequently paused between songs to talk to the crowd, mostly about the Godawful state of the world in general and the UK in particular. He said he'd been in America for most of last year and was shocked to find on his return that this septic isle was in even worse condition than when he'd left. Luckily, there was also some excellent music on display amongst the shared anger...

The plan for this tour was to play the "What Does Anything Mean? Basically" album in its entirety but Burgess admitted this was a marketing idea from their manager and they weren't actually going to do that. Songs from that album would be played but alongside others from the band's history... and a few surprise snippets of other classics from the likes of The Beatles, Doors, Bowie etc. All the good stuff, basically.
The Chameleons are really the quintessential post-Punk / proto-Goth band, employing all the expected sonic devices of the genres. Deep, powerful vocals? Check. Pounding, rolling, tribal drumbeats? Check. Melodic basslines and tumbling, glistening guitar riffs? Check. The lyrics often look trite on paper ( lots of what I call "Doors rhymes"... you know: higher, fire, liar, desire, car tyre, barbed wire ) but Burgess' committed delivery sells them time after time, especially when sung live. As I've said before, I never heard The Chameleons back in the day and I'm surprised they didn't become a higher profile band, especially when the inferior, stereotypical likes of Fields Of The Nephilim or Balaam & The Angel ( baa-lamb? ) were big in Goth circles. Maybe it wasn't just me who never got to hear Burgess and the boys?

The stately Pleasure And Pain and the chiming, surging Perfume Garden ticked all the Goth boxes and then things got heavier and angrier with Singing Rule Britannia and a ferocious Mad Jack's Eyes, the latter referencing "mad fucking despots" of both the Russian and American persuasion. The highlight of the set for me was, as before, the absolutely epic Soul In Isolation, reminiscent of The Cure at their best, and this was quickly followed by the twisting, intricate guitar riff of Swamp Thing, the best song named after a DC Comics monster. 

For the encores the band dug deep into their back catalogue and played songs I wasn't familiar with but were still excellent. A couple of young girls behind us had been yelling for P.S. Goodbye ( as well as spilling booze down my jacket ) and were, er, extremely happy when Burgess agreed and belted out the track for them. In fact, it was good to see quite an age range at this gig, and not just sad old gits like me.
Before the band finished with a blistering I Fall, Burgess made a detour to the crowd barrier and the front rows happily bellowed along with him as he gave it some vocal welly. As a parting gift to the crowd he thanked us all for turning up, despite the weather. He went on to say that money, success and material possessions are only worth so much, but it's experiences - especially shared experiences - which are worth more than anything else, and he again thanked us for this shared experience and for supporting live music. A very powerful and heartfelt speech and a lovely ending to a fine gig, my last of 2022. As it was a "school night" there was only time for a quick post-gig chat with David then we had to split, man. Hopefully we'll catch up again soon.

Now that I'm properly back in the swing of gigging I really need to see more bands in 2023. I've already got Weyes Blood ( Bristol SWX with my good friend Tom ) and the mighty Muse ( Milton Keynes Bowl with Sarah ) booked for later in the year. Can't wait!

Oh, and if you'd like to read David's review of this gig ( being a proper blogger, unlike me, he posted it about a day later ) you can find it here :-)


Richard said...

Another excellent gig review. I've enjoyed all of these vicariously.

Approximately 900 years ago (or so it seems) I got to spend a bit of time with Mark Burgess here in the States, owing to the fact that I was the roadie for his opening act and somehow the only other person in the entire tour party who was conversant in comics and SF lore. He was suffering from laryngitis (on the eve of an American tour!) and we were all warned to not encourage him to overtalk during the day to conserve his slight remaining voice for the evening's set. But even so, he made a huge impression on me and everyone else on that tour. Just an incredibly passionate and decent human being in every respect. Him making an impassioned speech about the importance of real human connections is the least surprising thing ever -- as far as I could tell, that's what all his work is about.

(And hearing Swamp Thing played at every soundcheck and gig night after night never got tired...)

Membranes are unfamiliar to me, but as they're on Apple Music I'll go have a listen now.

Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

Hi Richard, great to hear from you. Happy New Year! ( It's not too late to say that, is it? )
Thanks for your kind words about the review. As you know, my stuff is never too in-depth or analytical, it's just the same old waffling... but I'm glad that someone enjoys it.
That's a great story about Mark Burgess! I'm glad to hear he was such a decent bloke. Most of the professional musicians I've met have been lovely, with only a few exceptions, and it's great to hear that MB is one of the good ones :-)
All the best to you and yours for 2023.

Anonymous said...

Party on like its 1983, Si (as no-one calls you?)

Best bit: 'Doors rhymes'
Nicely observed. I mean, I don't know how true that is of the Chameleons - they were too proto-Goth for me (it didn't take much) - but it did seem like there were quite a few people about who thought Jim Morrison was some sort of peoples' poet back then.


Simon B ( formerly cerebus660 ) said...

Sean, you can call me "Si" if you like, just don't call me late for dinner. ( Thank you, thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal. ) In fact, quite a few people in what we laughingly refer to as the "real" world do call me that. I've been called worse...

The Doors were one of those bands ( see also Led Zeppelin, Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac ) that I *really* didn't like when I was younger but now really do. I used to think that Morrisons' lyrics were pretentious and their keyboard solos went on for too long. To be fair, I still think that now but I actually like that about them. I must be getting old...

Anonymous said...

Most of those I don't have any objection to, but I don't listen to them either. Except I still can't stand Led Zeppelin.
Not that I'm in any position to cast aspersions on anyone else's taste in 70s music, as the owner of a few Hawkwind records...



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