Jonathan Geddes

YOUTUBE can be a treasure trove of delights. If you’re looking for a band, it can provide a host of old footage, from TV appearances to radio sessions and bootlegged gigs. Such is the case with Blondie, where a search can reveal the history of one of New York’s greatest acts.

“I think we might be part of the first generation of bands where our whole band life has been documented,” says Clem Burke, the group’s drummer.

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“You can press a button on the internet and you’ll find most things we did. That’s partly why we’re still relevant, and getting people of all ages coming to our shows. You can pull up the show we did at the Apollo in 1979 into 1980 if you want, where we had a piper come out during Sunday Girl. For young people, they can see that stuff and get a real sense of where we’re coming from as a band.”

That Apollo show may inspire a few memories in readers. Broadcast on the BBC on Hogmanay 1979, it featured the band touring their seminal Parallel Lines album, with Burke resplendent in a snazzy gold suit that matched his drum kit.

The group have seen in the New Year in Scotland in the years since then, headlining Edinburgh’s celebrations back in 2004, but it was that 1970s show, when Blondie were unquestionably one of the coolest bands on the planet, that sticks in Burke’s mind.

“It was amazing, an electric atmosphere,” recalls Burke. “I remember getting the gold drum set and the gold suit to match it, and that was just for that gig, nothing else! The build-up and the momentum of that show was amazing, it was really the pinnacle of the Parallel Lines album and tour. By that time we’d had several hits off the album and Scottish audiences in general have always really taken to Blondie, so it was great to do that show there.

“Also, when we reconvened in 1998, prior to the proper tour for the No Exit album, we played the Barrowland and that went down a real storm. That was the first gig we did in Scotland after we were back together, and that was a beautiful day. I’ve got a few in-laws through marriage that live in Scotland, so the first time I met my wife’s gran was at that gig, at the Barrowland.”

That reunion has been going for nearly two decades now, meaning the core trio of Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Burke have spent longer in the band’s second life than in their first incarnation, when they sashayed into the New York punk scene circa 1975 and instantly added a degree of glamour and sex appeal to it, thanks to Harry’s presence.

Burke was only 20 then, and the youngest member of the group, going on to play a key role in one of the greatest runs of singles by any band. Their albums weren’t exactly bad either, with disco, punk, rap and dance all fodder for the fivesome.

“I’d like to think we helped push that pop culture forward in a positive way,” reflects Burke. “With something like Rapture we weren’t afraid to switch genres. It’s been said many times but the sound of Blondie is the sound of New York City. That’s where all the influences come from, the sound of rap, or disco, or Caribbean music – that was all in a melting pot when we got together the first time. It was all seeping into the fabric of the culture around us.”

Burke was always the rock solid backbone of the band, and he has taken his talents to other acts over the years, several of whom we will return to later. But Blondie is still the main focus of the New Yorker’s life. This year the group have a new album, Pollinator, that they will bring to Glasgow next Tuesday night, (November 14).

It is comfortably their best record in some time, with an energy and aggression rippling through it, and a chart placing to match – No 4, their highest since 1999 comeback effort No Exit. Several guests pop by, from Joan Jett dropping backing vocals on opener Doom Or Destiny to Johnny Marr’s guitar fuelling My Monster, while many of the songs were co-written, with the band using an eclectic group of outsiders, from electropop singer Charli XCX to Strokes' guitarist Nick Valensi and singer-songwriter Sia.

Equally important was that Blondie went back to their roots, meeting up in New York and basing themselves in the Magic Shop, a Soho studio that closed shortly after the band completed recording. The studio, a victim of gentrification, had previously hosted David Bowie as he worked on Blackstar.

“When we went in just before Christmas [of 2015], we were motivated knowing that he had been there. You could kind of feel his presence early on, and he had helped us early in our career, when we toured with him and Iggy Pop around the time of our first album.

“Then we took a break over Christmas, and that’s when David died. We went back to the Magic Shop, and the feeling was obviously a little different, but just as profound. The Magic Shop is now gone because of the whole economic circumstances there, so it was all very bittersweet, with the studio gone, and David having passed.”

For Burke, getting back to having a live feeling was important to Pollinator. The group’s previous record, Ghosts of Download, was much more electronic based, and a return to playing live together was at the forefront of the band’s minds when they started work on the new album.

“The last couple of albums we did were, like, computer generated, and we wanted to get back to having chemistry as a band in the studio together,” he explains.

“We always found that the songs from the previous albums took on a new life when we played them live, so instead of having to backtrack and then do them live, we wanted the full band experience. It was great coming back to that area of New York, near where we all began, because the Magic Shop was adjacent to the Bowery, where CBGB’s was.

“We’ve got a history of reinterpreting songs too, like Hanging On The Telephone or Denis, and people sometimes aren’t aware that a handful of our hit songs were written by other people.”

Burke himself has played with all sorts of other people over the years. In the 1980s, for example, he worked closely with Annie Lennox, playing drums for the Eurythmics.

“I actually played at Dave Stewart’s birthday party the other day, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. There was a bunch of other people there, like Bob Geldof, and we were just having fun. Annie’s such a brilliant singer and a great person.

“I know she’s involved in a lot of activism now, and her parents were really nice too. I met them all at a gig in Aberdeen, which was a homecoming for her.”

Those experiences might have been some of the calmer moments from Burke’s career. His other work included a stint with Iggy Pop, including playing with him when the former Stooges man was a spectacularly ill judged support act on the Rolling Stones Tattoo You tour in 1981. Pop’s antics, including wearing a dress onstage, were not greeted warmly by the crowd.

“It was a bit scary,” says Burke, with some understatement.

“The worst was the Pontiac Silverdome, this huge place in Detroit, which was Iggy’s home town. This was long before there were real security procedures at gigs, so people could bring in glass bottles, knives, things like that, and we got a lot of stuff thrown at us. The fact we hadn’t done a sound check didn’t help, so it was a bit like being in the Roman colosseum.

“It’s something that I won’t forget, although it was always tremendous to work with Ig. Carlos Alomar was also in that band, David’s guitarist, and it was a crazy time. Ig needed to get realigned after that all ended – it was the tail end of Party [Iggy Pop’s 1981 album) but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Back to the present, and the immediate future. Blondie have been touring since the start of the summer, and intend to carry that into the next year, with plans to get to work on another album soon.

“We are hoping to make another record and do a summer festival tour. As long as everyone is in good shape we’ll carry on, because we enjoy doing what we do. No-one could have predicted that we would still be doing this, even the year 2017 sounded like a science fiction film when we started out.

“My standard quote was always that I’d give it another 18 months, and that’s now over 40 years in the band. So I suppose I’ll give it another 18 months…”

Blondie play the SSE Hydro on Tuesday.