In 1975, a British rock writer went to see an unsigned band called The Ramones at The Performance Studio as part of a report for the NME in on the burgeoning scene in New York’s CBGB club and the surrounding area. His piece, titled “1975: A Scuzz Odyssey” in the 8 November edition of NME referenced all the bands he found there. These included Television (a producer would need to capture their sound “on a good day” he wrote), and The Ramones (whose “instant classics” he liked but whom he felt were “a clear case of a product existing well in advance of a market. Which is why….there’s no sign of a record deal”).
The writer was the most excellent Charles Shaar Murray. And it was his words on the support act to The Ramones which capture a moment in time.
He found a “cute little bundle of platinum hair with a voice like a squeaky bath toy” and “quite the cruddiest garage-type garage band”.
Shaar Murray then made an bold prediction which also happens to be my favourite ever line of rock criticism.
“Sadly Blondie will never be a star because she ain’t good enough” he wrote.
It goes to show predicting the future is seldom an exact science. It probably also says much about Harry’s drive and ambition.
To give Shaar Murray credit, he still included the hapless prediction in his anthology of rock writing “Shots From The Hip” which is an excellent read, notwithstanding its lack of all-knowing Nostradamus-like qualities. Little did Shaar Murray suspect then that the act with “a home made-ish quality” by a “kid who’s pretending desperately to be a star and who’s aware of it” in that New York club would, some forty two years later, be packing out venues like The Roundhouse, headlining what remaining TV music shows we have left (Later…with Jools Holland) and have achieved the kind of Hall of Fame status that people make documentaries about and which (ahem) still attracts music writers to their shows.
So what do Blondie bring to the table in 2017? What brings 2,000 people to see these disco-punk pioneers?
Perhaps it’s Star Quality.
Deborah Harry remains hugely likeable. She hasn’t lost that home made-ish feel, evident from the dress she is sporting bearing the legend “Stop F–king The Planet”. At first, she resembles a slightly dotty aunt.
Only at first…
Dotty or not, Harry exudes confidence and is resplendent in her sunglasses, singing “One Way Or Another” and “Hanging on the Telephone”. It’s a one-two that Anthony Joshua would have been proud of. Harry’s voice has strengthened over the years, not that she doesn’t encourage the audience to hit the high notes for her. The band are no longer a scuzz odyssey. Clem Burke is a machine. A much under-rated drummer.
And then Harry takes the sunglasses off. “Call Me” plays out, and the sloganeering over-dress comes off. Harry puts her hands on her hips, and the years fade away.
Out comes a Key-tar, and it could be 1980…
Squint hard enough and Clem Burke looks every bit as lovely as he did 35 years ago…
What is more, the new songs from forthcoming album “Pollinator” are good enough to avoid an exodus to the bar when they are played. “Long Time” carries something of the vibe (and beat) of “Heart of Glass”, and is none the worse for it. With Blondie having enlisted the likes of Jonny Marr (“My Monster”) and Charlie XCX (“Gravity”) on the new album, there’s no doubting the intent.
Harry carries us through “Rapture”, sings a mean Beastie Boys cover of “(Fight For Your Right)…To Party” and still carries cheekbones sharp enough to cut onlookers ten rows back.
They’re good. It’s over too soon, before “Picture This” or “Sunday Girl” get an airing, let alone “Rip Her To Shreds” or “Denis”.
Ah well, there’s always next time.
Want a prediction about Blondie? I think they might be one to watch… If they keep this up, they may yet have a promising future…