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When the influential post-punk group the Chameleons split up in 1987 after recording three albums, ‘Script of the Bridge’ (1983),‘What Does Anything Mean? Basically’ (1985) and ‘Strange Times’ (1986) and a posthumous final EP, ‘Tony Fletcher Walked on Water….La La La La La-La-La La-La-La-La’ (1990), singer Mark Burgess and drummer John Lever went on to form the Sun and the Moon. Guitarists Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies meanwhile formed the Reegs with vocalist and keyboardist Gary Lavery.
The Reegs recorded two electronic-influenced albums in their lifetime, ‘Return of the Sea Monkeys’ (1991) and ‘Rock the Magic Rock’ (1993), and have also recently seen a double compilation of their work, ‘The Collection’, also released.
This interview was originally published in the summer of 1998 in the first issue of ‘Independent Underground Sound’, the former fanzine of Pennyblackmusic writer, Anthony Strutt.
It took place at a gig in London, and finds the band at an unique moment in their history when after years of being a studio outfit its members were starting to play live music again after a long absence, All three members of the band were present at the interview, but Dave Fielding answered the majority of the questions.
The Reegs split in 2000 when the Chameleons reformed, subsequently going on to record another three albums, Strip’ (2000), ‘Why Call It Anything ?’ (2001) and’ This Never Ending Now’ (2002), before dissolving finally in 2003.
Thank you to Anthony for allowing us to republish this interview.
IUS: I first became aware of the Reegs when The Chameleons split and you did those first 12 inch singles for Imaginary records and ‘The Return of the Sea Monsters’ album, Do you want to give me a brief history of the band and say why the Chameleons split?
DF: Right, Mark and John formed another band.
IUS: The Sun and the Moon.
DF: And that was when me and Reg found out that the Chameleons had split.
IUS: So they went off and did that without telling you ?
DF: Then Reg went back to art college for a bit. I was producing a few bands including the Inspiral Carpets and then I went to America producing a band. My brother had a friend who had a label who did tapes and then he decided to do vinyl, and he called it Imaginary Records. The first band he had were the Mock Turtles, and he asked my elder brother what me and Reg were up too and at the time we weren't really doing anything. We were still getting over the Chameleons split. And he asked us to be on a Kinks tribute so we ended up doing ‘See My Friends’ for that which became our first single.
Gary used to be in a band that use to support the Chameleons, which was a total electronic band, Now Reg sang on the single, because it was just me and Reg and we did everything, on that record, and then Reg didn’t want to be the singer and Gary came up to us and said that he wouldn’t mind singing for the Reegs and it all developed from there.
The first thing Gary did was ‘0Chorus of the Lost’, which became the second single, and that’s how it started, We never had any plans, so maybe that’s why we never got a bass player or drummer.
IUS: The Reegs have been together longer than the Chameleons. Is that because you feel more comfortable or was it down to inner tensions?
DF: The Reegs have been going a long time, but it's only recently we have started doing the live thing.
IUS: I remember you doing a live session on ‘Hit The North’ back in '91.
DF: Well, what happened was the guy at Imaginary kept on saying "Why don't you play live?" At that time Mark dived straight into it from band to band, and we just got on with recordings, because we didn’t feel comfortable playing live at the time. But the guy wanted us to do something live, so we went live on the radio which freaked him out because it was the biggest audience we could have.
But it turned out really well that BBC thing. We did the session, which was okay. It wasn't like we thought we couldn't do it, but we were just sitting back and watching Mark make mistakes with John because they went straight into it. John was in this band, then that band. He even offered to drum for the Reegs recently.
IUS: Would you want him to drum for you?
DF: Not really. We are quite happy as we are. We have got this far, and it seems to work. Me and Reg do the guitar parts and Gary does the programming side which is the biggest part of it anyhow. Gary has written most of the new material. It's like a shift in direction really. You see Imaginary folded. When it was going, I was quite happy on it. The guy would give us money to go into the studio.
IUS: I did hear stories about bands not getting paid on Imaginary and that he pissed a lot of people off.
DF: I don't know. It really kept us going, because weren't famous like the Mock Turtles (whose lead singer, Martin Coogan, is the brother of comedian Steve Coogan) or Cud. He had those two bands, but the thing is he couldn't take those bands further and maybe that's why the Reegs have carried on because we have never been in the public eye.
IUS: The Chameleons were always in the public eye, weren’t they?
DF: To a point, but not like other bands. If you’re up there and your band splits, it's like your everything collapses, but with the Chameleons we were always on the edge and when we split no one knew what was going on, so we had a mystery surrounding it, and maybe that how we managed to carry on, because everyone has seen what Mark and John have been doing, but no one has seen the Reegs.
In a way it's like a trump card that maybe we had to wait this long to do this plus we feel the albums we have made since the Chameleons, well maybe not as albums, but as tracks are really, really good, and without putting Mark and John down, I don't really rate what they have done since the Chameleons.
The ‘Zima Junction’ album (Mark Burgess solo album, 1993) I thought was really bad. That came out on Imaginary. The label put loads into the packaging and we couldn't understand it. Maybe it was Imaginary trying to make lots of money out of Mark.
IUS: I believe it is just a pile of demos anyhow.
DF: I don't think it even works in that respect, but I think we have managed to keep it going for one reason or another and recently we have had a new lease of life. We started the label, and we have done a few records.
IUS: So the new records are on your own label?
DF: Yeah, but they are going in a slightly different direction. 'Return of the Sea Monkeys' was a compilation of the singles we had done and a few other things. The second, 'Rock the Magic rock', was recorded and mixed in 28 days. The last Chameleons tracks we, however, spent six weeks on four tracks and we didn't finish them.
IUS. That was the ‘Tony Fletcher Walked on Water’ EP?
DF: Yeah, So we have done pretty good recordings on low budgets, Imaginary didn't have a great deal of money, but I can't fault them for what they did for the Reegs, but we weren't the Mock Turtles. He sold their album onto the next label, but because we weren't famous, he said we could have our recordings so we own them. On the money side of things, it has worked out better, because we own everything. That's why we introduced some of the older tracks like ‘Rock the Magic Rock’, and about 18 months ago it was released.
Alan released ‘Zima Junction’ before ‘Rock’, which we were really pissed off about because we were on the label from the word go. I found it ironic out of all the labels Mark could have gone to he went to Imaginary. Mark and John carried on with Geffen (The Chameleons 1986 album, 'Strange Times', was released on Geffen-Ed), when we went back to nothing and the only label that came near us was Imaginary. I thought “Why has Mark came to Imaginary?” We didn't have any contract with Mark. It was just Imaginary. I thought that it was because they thought they could make a couple of quid out of him. The Chameleons don't own their back catalogue, but we own two albums of tracks which is really important.
IUS: Are they going to be released again?
DF: Yes, but we have to get the timing right. Most people are trying to get us to do a new album first. At the moment we are just releasing singles to get the name about, and doing gigs, I have found that with the gigs we have done in Manchester it's like we haven't been away.
IUS: I think ten years after the Chameleons there's a bigger buzz around the band.
DF: Maybe, that is the case, but me and Reg felt it was not right thing to do like the Sun and the Moon who put ex-Chameleons stickers on their album. We were against that from the start. We have kept it like something that is fresh, but we have found out recently if you say ex -Chameleons it gets you a lot further so maybe that might be a thing. We are proud of what we have done.
IUS: Who influenced you and Reg to pick up a guitar?
DF: Do you remember the Wedding Present?
DF: Right, me, Dave Gedge, Reg, Mark Burgess, Pete Solowka (David Gedge and Pete Solowka were in the Wedding present-Ed) all went to the same school and at that age you’re all football mad. We all were, but me and Reg went to see Bowie in '73. We must have been 11 or 12 and from that we went music mad after that, so maybe that’s what got me and Reg into it. But Mark was always into T. Rex and Alice Cooper. We were into Bowie and Cooper and you(aimed at Gary) came into it via the electro side.
DF: Gary's a little younger than us.
GL: That was at the end of punk really.
DF: We didn't really see anyone and think we want to do this. The first band me and Reg were in used to cover the Who, the Stones, the sort of stuff you grow up with
IUS: With the tribute albums for Imaginary, the ones you did for the Velvet Underground and the Kinks. Why did you chose those tracks?
DF: With the Velvet Underground track, 'All Tomorrow's Parties', it was Andy Warhol's favourite track, With the Kinks we asked a guy to get us a compilation, and ‘See My Friends’ just jumped out, and we thought we could do something with this. Our version is completely different.
IUS: This is for Reg. How important is the artwork on the sleeves?
RS: I haven't drawn for ages.
IUS: The new artwork isn’t yours?
RS: No, its not.
DF. He’s done the next one.
RS:.I have done the next one, but I don’t draw much.
IUS: Do you have much control over all the new Chameleons stuff, because there is like ten albums of new stuff since the split? I know some of it is on Imaginary.
DF:.Yeah, because we were getting bootlegged so much, it seemed the logical thing to do. We thought, even though we weren’t getting on at the time that people were going to do it anyhow, so why not get involved? I think the last lot came out because Mark signed to Dead Dead Good and I think he was trying to get us back together by putting out a compilation of stuff. Reg did the artwork. It was more to the fact that if we had some input we couldn’t turn around later and say we knew nothing about it.
IUS: If the Chameleons did stay together, could you see the band going in a different direction?
DF: We were anyway. The ‘Tony Fletcher EP’ was completely different. We were playing 12 string electrics. It was very musical. I was playing the demos last night, which we did of ‘Denim and Curls’ and ‘Is There Any Wonder?’, which was me on keyboards, Reg on guitars and drum machine, and no bass and vocals. We were writing very musical stuff which a lot of bands don’t do. It’s all straight chords and stuff.
IUS. Well, a Chameleons song is not a pop song. It’s more intense.
DF: And I think we have gone more that way. If you listen to those four tracks, Mark's lyrics are excellent, and I think ‘Denim and Curls’ is one of my favourite tracks.
IUS: Would you consider a Chameleons reunion?
DF: The thing is no.
IUS. You have moved on?
DF: We have got this far, with this, and it has taken so long to get to this. I couldn’t see the point.
IUS: How would you describe the Reegs sound because with the Chameleons it was quite heavy and intense music and there was a violence to it?
DF: It is similar in a way because several people have said live that it’s really different from how we sound in rehearsal.
IUS.: ‘Return of the Sea Monkeys’ is quite psychedelic?
DF: It’s a bit more spaced out than the Chameleons, and it’s not commercial. The last single ('As You Leave'-Ed) was like seven minutes long. We are not restricted by anything, because we are not up there. Let’s put it this way. Geffen Records wouldn’t let us put out a record that was seven minutes because the last few singles were edits. Unless it’s really unusual like ‘Blue Monday’.
IUS: Do you think the people coming to your gigs know the Chameleons from the first time around?
DF: No, I would say.
IUS: Thanks for your time.
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Blue Apple Music
The Reegs were a 90s offshoot of the Chameleons and recorded two albums in their lifetime. With a new double compilation of their work out, we are reprising this interview from 1998 in which Anthony Strutt for his former publication Independent Underground Sound spoke to guitarist Dave Fielding
The Definitive Collection - CD
Excellent double CD collection comprising of everything which the Reegs, the 90s band of Chameleons guitarists Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding, ever recorded
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