On The Web

Blondie at Lytham will be special says drummer Clem Burke


By John Anson – 24th June 2023

Blondie drummer Clem Burke

DEBBIE Harry may well be the face and voice of Blondie but as any fan of the band will tell you, the beating heart of the band is drummer Clem Burke.

A cross between Animal from the Muppets and the Duracell Bunny, it is Clem’s powerhouse rhythms which make classic Blondie songs instantly recognisable.

Amazingly next year marks the band’s 50th anniversary since forming in New York City and they remain as popular as ever and are one of the star attractions at next week’s Lytham Festival playing next Friday night on the same bill as Sting.

“We do enjoy festivals, especially in the UK,” said Clem. “The atmosphere is always energy-charged. Amazingly enough there is a real love for Blondie which has existed in the UK since we began.

Clem Burke, second right, with the current line-up of Blondie heading to the Lytham Festival next week including Glen Matlock, right

“Our early records like Picture This, Presence Dear or Denis were really only primarily hits in the UK; they weren’t hits in the States.

“By the time we did Heart of Glass everyone became acquainted with the songs worldwide mainly through the success of of the album Parallel Lines but the UK was there at the beginning.”

Clem recalls the first time that Blondie appeared on TV in the UK.

“We were introduced by Tony Wilson on the programme So It Goes,” he said. “We were on with Ken Dodd and I think he enjoyed what we did. He had the crazy hair so we certainly appreciated that!”

Blondie come to Lytham having played the Isle of Wight last weekend and fresh from a scheduled Glastonbury appearance this weekend.

“There is still a lot of excitement stepping out on stage in front of 20,000-plus people at a festival,” said Clem. “We look to do some of the more well known songs and then wrestle with each other over what else could be in the set.”

With a career which has produced 11 studio albums and countless hit singles, the options are many.

“We try to keep it fresh and have a B list of songs we can change out in the set,” said Clem. “For festivals we’ll usually do a 60 minute set and that goes really quickly but we do genuinely enjoy doing it especially in the UK.

“During the pandemic Debbie did say she’d like to do a three-hour set and I’d love that but I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’ll leave that to our good friend Bruce Springsteen.”

Last year the band completed an arena tour and this summer it’s festival stages – a far cry from the early days performing at the legendary CBGB’s club in New York in front of a couple of hundred people.

“We started out in the clubs but the band has evolved,” said Clem. “And I’d say that the band now is one of the best versions ever.

“There’s a real musicality which allows us to jam a little and improvise a little bit more.”

The current line-up features former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass alongside guitarists Tommy Kessler and Andee Blacksugar and keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen. Founder member Chris Stein is no longer able to tour due to ill health.

Clem is very much a musician’s musician. When he’s not touring with Blondie he can usually be found playing drums somewhere. In the past he has even drummed with a Blondie tribute band and earlier this year was part of an all-star band celebrating the songs of Iggy Pop fronted by Katie Puckrick.

“That was fun,” he said. “We sold out a series of small venues and it reminded me of playing CBGB’s. We’re hoping to do more of those gigs next year.”

Drumming is clearly an integral part of what makes Clem tick and at 68 he shows no signs of slowing down.

“As a drummer, I always learn from working with other musicians and it’s something I bring to Blondie when we get back together,” he said.

“Also since I was a kid, music and being in a band has been my social life. It’s that unspoken communication you get through music and the camaraderie.

“Actors always say when they are on a film set it becomes like an immediate family for that time; that’s analogous to what it’s like to be on tour with a group of musicians. You spend a lot of time travelling and hopefully having a laugh.I think by now I have some kind of antenna so I can tell if something’s going to be fun to do or not. pretty quickly

“But being a drummer I have to keep playing and it gets kind of boring doing it on your own. You need other musicians. I get something out of it as I keep my chops up and I always feel I’m ready to go and play which is important.”

Last year Blondie released a box set, Against All Odds, which covered their first six albums and featured out-takes and rarities.

“I really enjoyed listening back to the early recordings,” said Clem. “One of the functions music plays is that it takes you back to a place and time. It also made me realise we’d done some good stuff along the way.

Clem Burke, right, with fellow Blondie founder members Chris Stein and Debbie Harry

“One thing I was taken with was Debbie’s tremendous lyrics. At the time her glamour overshadowed her creativity and her talent in a lot of ways but I suppose then it was also very helpful. But she has written some amazing lyrics which I think only now are being fully appreciated.”

He also appreciates that the young Clem Burke set the older Clem a serious challenge.

“There are certain songs that I maybe went overboard with at the time,” he said, “but I like to think I can still play it up to par and as it was when it was first recorded.”

But as well as looking back at the band’s legacy, fans also have a treat in store.

The much anticipated follow-up to 2017’s Pollinator is likely to be released early next year.

“To all intents and purposes it’s done,” he said. “There are more songs from within the band and there are some definite Blondie trademarks on it.”

So fading away quietly is not something on the cards?

“From the outset I never knew how long it was going to last,” said Clem. “I’ve been saying ‘I’ll give it another 18 months’ for the past 40 plus years.

“So I’ll give it another 18 months,” he laughed.

Blondie play Lytham Festival on Friday, June 30 alongside Sting. Jamiroquai opens five-day event on Wednesday with support from Jake Shears and Fun Lovin Criminals; Thursday it’s George Ezra; Saturday Lionel Richie headlines with Gabrielle and Kim Wilde on the bill and next Sunday it’s Def Leppard and Motley Crue. Details from www.lythamfestival.com


Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button