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Blondie: ‘The tour is called Against the Odds because of the pandemic’

Clem Burke’s mood seems as sunny as the California weather as he sits down to talk over Zoom.

yorkshirepost.co.uk – 17th March 2022

By Duncan Seaman

Now aged 67, the drummer cuts a friendly figure as he talks about Blondie’s latest activities and looks back over his multi-stranded career that began in the late 1960s and has included stints with the likes of Iggy Pop, Eurythmics, the Ramones, and even, in a surprise move, the tribute band Bootleg Blondie.

Latterly, he reports, he’s been filling in for the absent Gina Schock in The Go-Go’s – “I’m actually the best looking guy in the band,” he quips, of the otherwise all-female group. He has also made records with The Rockettes and The Empty Hearts, worked on some recordings with Echo and the Bunnymen, and formed a covers group in Los Angeles. “I kind of looked at it as a pub rock band,” he says. “We’re actually doing some Dr Feelgood songs, so that’s been fun.” A memoir is also in the works.

In April and May Blondie will be back in the UK on an arena tour that has been much postponed over the last two years. “The reason the tour is called Against the Odds is because of the pandemic – we didn’t know whether we’d be able to make it through when it was originally announced,” Burke explains. “Also, we have something for fans coming out in August, it’s a deluxe box of everything on Blondie – a book, demos, etcetera – we also entitled that prior to the tour, it’s about what chance has Blondie, or really anyone, having any success, it’s against the odds in the world of rock ’n’ roll. We thought it was very apropos.”

Opening for Blondie on this tour is Johnny Marr, in a pairing that Burke describes as “perfect”.

“Johnny is kind of a mate, somewhat,” he says. “I went to see him at The Troubadour (in Los Angeles) and I was backstage afterwards and Billy Gibbons (from ZZ Top) came up and I said to Billy, ‘You’ve got to hand it to him, it’s the best take ever on Bo Diddley’. So many people copy Bo Diddley but How Soon Is Now, it’s so perfect. Advanced Bo Diddley. Billy seemed to agree. Johnny has a new double album out and I’m sure he’s going to carry on with that, he seems to have a fantastic work ethic which is very admirable.”

Like Marr, who formed his first band, the Paris Valentinos, in his early teens, Burke has been a musician since he was 13 years old. In 1974, while playing in the glam rock group Sweet Revenge at the New York venue Club 82, he encountered Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, then in another band called The Stilettos. At the turn of 1975 they invited him to join their new group, Blondie.

Drawing from punk and 60s girl groups, the techno-pop of Kraftwerk and the disco of Giorgio Moroder, and even reggae and hip-hop, over the next seven years they set about becoming one of the biggest bands in the world.

Plastic Letters, their third album, sold more than 20 million copies, and in the UK they scored five number ones singles including The Tide Is High and Atomic. A sixth, Maria, accompanied their reformation in 1999 – 17 years after a painful break-up.

While sharing a flat in London for a year with Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison in 1981, he met Annie Lennox on a night out. “She asked me round for Sunday lunch in Crouch End…So I went out and met (her and Dave Stewart), they were in the process of working with Conny Plank (on Eurythmics’ first album In The Garden) and they said ‘do you want to come with us?’ and I did and that was amazing. The first thing Conny said to me was he recognised the influence on Blondie by Kraftwerk on Heart of Glass.”

In 1987 Burke briefly joined the Ramones, under the alias ‘Elvis Ramone’. What should have been an enjoyable experience was, he says, marred by Johnny Ramone’s refusal to rehearse. “With the Ramones there was no rehearsal and they played too fast really at the end, you heard Joey slurring and Dee Dee’s strumming his bass, it was trial by fire,” he says. He does, however, cherish a leather-jacketed photograph of him with the band taken by George DuBose for Rolling Stone. “We did that session on the roof of a building in New York which is now Google,” he remembers.

Back in 2019 Burke toured the UK with tribute band Bootleg Blondie after befriending Debbie and Andy Harris after a gig.

“One Christmas I was over there and they were playing a rec room at a football club in Sutton, so I went out there with some friends and at the break they said ‘Would you mind getting up?’ so I did,” he says. “That was fun and then they suggested maybe I could come over and be a special guest with them and play a song or two, but I said ‘Why don’t we do a tour?’ I was expecting to be playing in the back room of pubs, but then the second gig was Shepherds Bush Empire.”

Blondie play at the Bonus Arena, Hull on April 29 and First Direct Arena, Leeds on May 4. www.blondie.net


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