How was it for you?
Startled pop marmoset
What do the Q Awards mean to you?
They’re great. This is how award ceremonies should be: condensed and fun. And Q is cool
Been a good year?
Phenomenal, the best year of my life. I’ve been very, very lucky. It’s been very hectic. I could do with some time to chill out actually.
Favourite R.E.M. track?
Losing My Religion. It’s his voice, I love his voice.
You’ve recently bought a house next door to the Spice Girls’ Mel C. Are you good Neighbours?
I don’t know. We’ve not actually met yet. But we’re bound to be, aren’t we? After all, I’ve had the practice.
What do the Q Awards mean to you?
It’s a good way of keeping up with what’s happening and who’s who.
Been a good year?
It’s been a good two and a half years.
Met anyone famous?
I’ve just met Natalie Imbruglia and she’s beautiful.
Favourite R.E.M. track?
It has to be Orange Crush
How do you feel about being an “inspiration”?
Flattered. Proud. But I never feel like a real pop star. Despite the way people perceive me, I always feel like there’s this sensitive poetic type trapped inside. Clem Burke, our drummer, is a real pop star – not me.
Had you heard of the Manic Street Preachers before today?
(Hesitates) I think so. I’m going to buy their album now.
Cut yourself on that dress yet?
Yes. Just now (points to minor but visibly bleeding gash on hand). It was designed by my roommate, Michael Schmidt. When he told me he wanted to make me a dress out of razor blades, how could I refuse? I managed to get it on without doing any damage and I guess I should be grateful for getting just the one cut.
Of course they do. After last year’s Inspiration Award shenanigans (who can forget honouree Patti Smith’s acceptance rant: “I find this really pathetic”) feisty, late-’70s New York new wavers might have expected a blanket ban. But no-one could deny the power of Blondie. Sharp blasts of plutonium rock’n’roll (Call Me), perfect sultry pop (Denis), sweeping anthems (Union City Blue) and pop rap (Rapture), they had it all in a viciously disciplined package and, judging by the queue of ’90s pop women having polaroids taken with Debbie Harry (resplendent in a dress adorned with actual razor blades), an inspiration is exactly what they were.
“We live!” exclaimed Jimmy Destri, not superfluously given guitarist Chris Stein’s sporadic, yet rather serious ill-health, while Harry attempted to summarise her band’s continuing relevance: “If you’re in this business then you’ve got to take risks, and I’m taking a risk right now in this dress.”
Debbie Harry: (Vaguely) “Wow, this is really an inspiration to me. Thank you.”
Clem Burke: “Thanks to everyone in the UK. The music that came out of this country really inspired us and me in particular. Thanks to John, Paul, George, Ringo and Pete. By the way, we have a new record coming out in February.”
Chris Stein: “We’d like everyone from EMI to come and give Debbie a hug!”
They fizzled out. Now they’ve fizzled back.
November 12, 1998
The 2,600-plus capacity Apollo crowd might be surprised to learn that they have not, as it happens, just spent the past 100 minutes of their lives shouting, clapping and wiggling along to a re-formed, reunited Blondie. Sure, there was Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke and Jimmy Destri all up there on stage again pounding out the hits like it was yesterday. But, as they never officially split in the first place, have they merely re-convened to complete some unfinished business? After all, it’s been a good 16 years since their last proper album, The Hunter, and even longer since they toured probably makes this something of a moot point. Still, life’s too short to be squandered in a haze of semantics. Call it what you will, Blondie are back in the flesh. There’s even a collection of new songs, No Exit, due in February 1999. And that’s what this is all about, apparently. The obvious question is why?
“Why? I don’t know, you know. It sort of fell into place,” struggles the small woman who, as the ’70s turned into the ’80s, found herself possessing and promoting one of the most photographed faces on the planet.
“We started talking about it. We did this. We did that. Blah, blah, blah. Then we did some arena shows the summer before last. We’ve been kicking it around, seeing where it will go.”
Reluctantly she loosens a smile. It’s like a benediction. It’s also hard to resist.
“We had the first discussions about continuing as a band, as opposed to a reunion, about three years ago,” confirms Burke, the drummer-cum-cheerleader who, oblivious to time’s passing, sports the same hair, the same buttoned jacket and skinny tie and exudes the same boyish enthusiasm of one who’s been soaked in formaldehyde and then locked away in an airtight container for a good while. “We really wanted to make a record. That was first and foremost. And to be a band again. Not just get together and play the old songs just for nostalgia’s sake.”
“We wouldn’t have got back together just to do a reunion tour,” confirms Harry, perhaps mindful of the fact that such ventures have a nasty habit of ending in tears with reputations more often tarnished than enhanced. There again, Blondie have never exactly been weighed down by critical kudos or given full credit for their many achievements. This is plainly something of a raw nerve.
“Not only have we not got the credit, we’ve not got the money either,” reckons Stein. “Money is symbolic of credit on a certain level. Money is symbolic of time spent. Show me the money,” he laughs, a touch hollowly.
“Listen, we’re alive. A lot of people aren’t,” is keyboardist Destri’s contribution which, briefly, shuts everyone up.
Blondie’s crime, of course, was to be a pop band; a hugely successful one that had loads of hits and were smart and knowing with it. The record books show that, after a reworked Randy & The Rainbows tune, Denis, back in February, 1978, they enjoyed another dozen UK Top 20 successes (including five Number 1s) in just four years. Their albums didn’t do badly either. Yet more than that, with Stein and Harry proving to be two of the sharpest manipulators on the block, they practically redefined the modern pop process. They were the first to recognise the importance of video as a powerful medium. Although schooled in trash aesthetics they successfully embraced disco (Heart Of Glass) and made the first credible white rap record (Rapture). Best of all was the way that Harry looked, sounded and acted, paving the way for just about every female performer that has come along since. Whatever the realities of the situation, the image was of her cracking the whip while the boys in the band stayed at a safe distance cowering. She was the one in charge.
With so much going for them it seemed like they could go on forever, or a few more years at least. Instead, by mid-’82, with a proposed UK tour cancelled owing to lack of upfront interest, Blondie sort of fizzled out.
“We just kind of went away. All the behind-the-scenes business stuff was kept intact. We just stopped. In the same way there’s no grand scheme now, so there wasn’t one to stop. It just did,” shrugs Burke.
“There were a variety of business matters that didn’t help, really,” admits Harry. Our relationship with Chrysalis fell through. We had management problems. We had business management problems. We had agent problems. All the surrounding stuff fell apart.”
So it is, then, that after all these years of separate and largely lukewarm solo adventures and side projects, not to mention Stein’s near-death experience with a blood ailment that required Harry’s constant nursing, that they all find themselves back in a wet and windy Manchester in the middle of a 21-date European tour at the tail end of 1998. Well, not all. Neither Frank Infante nor Nigel Harrison, guitarist and British bass player respectively, have been invited to join the party. Indeed, their exclusion has resulted in the duo filing a suit in the New York courts demanding some sort of recompense. An obviously touchy subject, it’s a matter that’s “being sorted”. Leigh Foxx and Paul Carbonara are the two men enlisted to fill the gaps.
Whatever the reasons these Americans might have for being here, all the audience wants is to put the clock back for an evening. As soon as the lights go down they’re out of their seats, never to return. Close your eyes and nothing much has changed as Dreaming and Hanging On The Telephone flash by, agreeably serrated around the edges rather than rehearsed to death. But then slickness was never part of the deal. How could it be? As former fully paid up members of the New Wave that was what they were railing against.
So Harry can muck up the beginning of Call Me by coming in too soon and still make it seem charming. As for The Tide Is High, let’s just say that reggae’s little rhythmic subtleties remain beyond the grasp of most Caucasians and Blondie are no exception. It doesn’t matter.
It’s mostly a case of ticking off the hits which, bar (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear, written by Gary Valentine, another former member, and Picture This, are given the chance to shine once more. And they do. So deeply are the tunes embedded in the memory that only laser surgery could hope to remove all traces. Atomic even survives a bass solo pounding.
The handful of new songs are slipped in on the sly and don’t sound too out of place, particularly Forgive & Forget. Otherwise, Screaming Skin is No Doubt-ish, Maria takes time to get going but just might have a chorus that could stick around and Boom Boom In The Zoom Zoom Room leans towards jokey jazz with Harry’s scat routine. The top of her vocal range might have wandered off into the ether, but at the lower levels she still sounds great. And while plainly no longer an age to play the svelte, kittenish vamp of yore, she remains a wonderfully witty performer with more than just the odd hint of the old Debbie Harry still there. From Rapture onwards, it’s quite a party.
Who knows where all this will lead? Certainly not the band.
“We’re probably going to make a couple of records, wouldn’t you say?” smiles Burke.
“I think it’s a one album deal,” responds Harry.
“Actually it’s not,” retorts Burke.
“OK, it’s a two. But in any case, that’s not really a concern. If the record goes, they’ll want us to do another. If it doesn’t, they won’t. It’s very simple,” concludes Harry.
It might just be fun all over again.