Magazines + Newspapers


November 2017

Pages 14 & 15


With a new album Pollinator and a date at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, New York rock legends Blondie are having something of a renaissance period. Jon Sutton caught up with sticksman Clem Burke.

It’s been over a decade since the last Cardiff gig and four decades since the band formed. Do you think part of the long-term success has been the ability to play around with genre?

Yes. We still think of ourselves as a cult band. That might sound strange since we’ve had four number ones in the US, but we still think of ourselves that way, because each single was completely unique. We started with disco, but then had a hit with Call Me, a rock song we did with Giorgio Moroder for the movie American Gigolo. The Tide Is High was a reggae song and then of course there was Rapture, which was rap. At the time, rap music was essentially a beat with words over the top. But what we did was to add a melody – and that’s how rap music evolved, way back when.

Rap still hadn’t really arrived in the UK charts back then. Did you notice a difference in the UK and US music scenes?

Yeah, when we went to the UK we had a lot of pop hits with Sunday Girl, Picture This and Hanging On The Telephone, which weren’t hits in the US. We were unique, our influences were all over the place. We loved David Bowie, The Beatles and The Stones because you never knew what their next record was going to be like.

You found a much wider audience than most bands that originated on the punk scene.

The Ramones were a great band but they basically always stayed the same. When people think of punk rock, they think of that Ramones sound, but the attitude of punk rock was always in Blondie, because we came up in that New York scene too. Back then, no one ever called themselves punks – and in CBGBs, no one ever wore t-shirts saying CBGBs! It was more like a workshop, a spontaneous, artistic environment with an anything-goes attitude. That speaks to the aesthetic of Blondie, the music could go anywhere, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. There were no boundaries, there was always room to explore musically and to be creatively experimental.

On Pollinator, you’ve made a return to the studio after a few albums which were more heavily computer-generated. You can certainly hear that energy in the results.

Well, what we realised with those songs from the last [few] albums, was that it was only when we played them live that they really came to life. So, we wanted to recapture the spontaneity and chemistry of the band on Pollinator. The reception has been amazing. We went top five in the UK and the record company loves it too. Everybody’s happy with the contribution.

What does that success mean for the future of Blondie?

It enables us as a band. It gives us a reason to go forward. Plus, some of the guys who’ve been in the band for a while, but haven’t had a chance to contribute so much, they got that chance on this record. It brought us all back together and it rebranded us – but at the same time it gave the fans a reminder of the sounds they remember us for. It’s reminiscent of early Blondie, but with a new twist. It was a true collaboration. We even got involved in different types of media – working with our friend [artist] Shepherd Fairey on the album cover, for example.

You seem to like those activities outside the studio. Tell is about the Clem Burke Drumming Project.

A few years back I got an honorary doctorate from the University Of Chichester – it’s a study of drumming, how the brain and the body comes together, all the attributes it takes to be a drummer and the lifestyle that goes with it. And the ageing process too. As you get older it gets harder to walk down the road, let alone all the travelling and energetic performances that go with that. It’s set up by an Olympic doctor and his aim is to make the link between sports and drumming.

Well he’s picked the right man. The first advert you ever answered was from a band who were looking for a “freak energy rock drummer” in the Village Voice…

Ah yes, ha ha, that sounds about right. The Village Voice was before the internet so bands used it to find gigs and auditions and bandmates.

Like an early facebook?

More like an early Craigslist.

So, from that early audition, you went on to have a career with Blondie that’s lasted most of your adult life. But in Blondie’s downtime during the 90s, you had your own career drumming with many other musicians. Who stands out in your memory?

I had a great tour with Iggy, opening for The Rolling Stones – but the most rewarding was probably touring with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart on their first album. That relationship went on for the next 10 years. And now it’s come full circle – I just played Dave Stewart’s birthday party. They’re still friends of mine.

As for Bob Dylan, becoming friends with a man with that level of genius, after being such a massive fan, was a pretty amazing thing to remember. Just being able to talk with him on that level. An evening with him and George Harrison in New York will always stand out for me. And so, will the two months I spent on tour with Iggy and David Bowie. I was a very impressionable young man!

And the tours nowadays… are they a little more tame?

Well, we all like a drink and a laugh but sleep is important too. Touring is easier now though, with technology. Back then, keeping in touch with loved ones was impossible, but now there’s nothing to it.

So, you’re a fan of technology?

Absolutely. We’re going to be the first generation of bands whose full history is on the internet. We got in when TV was massive and we got a lot of exposure. Well, the kids who want to check us out now can see all that online. And they do. We were innovative in music but also in fashion and style. The kids today recognise that. Our old videos look modern again. The fact we still exist and are making new music that resonates, I can attribute a lot of that success to our being on the internet.

I see your point. When I saw you in 2005, it was an older crowd, pre-social media, but now you see teenagers walking around in Debbie Harry t-shirts.

Well yes, Debbie’s a great role model and she’s fighting ageism now too. We’re all creative people and our style, similar to Lou Reed and David Bowie, has become ingrained in society. Pop culture has integrated with the art and fashion worlds now. Patti Smith, for example, was literate, intelligent and provocative and that resonates with young people to this day. We’ve been together longer now than we were back then, which is evidence of that new success.

Blondie, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Fri 10 Nov. Tickets: £60/£50
Info: 029 2022 4488 /

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