Blondie were a band I had seen once before on a cold, dark night long, long ago in January 1980 at a concrete leisure centre somewhere in North Wales.
Westonbirt Arboretum was a place I had been to a number of times before but only to see the strikingly colourful spectacle of the leaves of Japanese maples turning in the autumn, to watch squirrels hiding their nuts and to chastise my three young kids for constantly falling over and getting clarted up with mud.
The possibility of Blondie and Westonbirt Arboretum being on collision course to eventually come together in my little world was something that I could never have envisaged before tonight, or to be more precise, before the day back in February when I bought my ticket from the Ticketmaster website.
At the gig in 1980 I was only twenty two years old and Blondie’s Atomic single was number one in the music charts. At that time they were a ground breaking act that had recently emerged from the New York Punk Scene of the mid-1970s. When I saw them in Wales the first time round I considered how far they were from their roots and how much different the atmosphere would have been had I been watching them in a sweaty little Manhattan club. But the contrast in environment seemed even greater and more unlikely at a Forestry Commission sponsored event in a clearing in a wood in Gloucestershire. I was glad to be there. In fact I wouldn’t have missed it for all the opium in China, but I can’t say that I felt entirely comfortable about the nature of the event being so out of place.
My ticket from my Blondie gig in 1980 which I have preserved forever by sticking it on the cover of my Eat To The Beat vinyl album.
Blondie were great on the night. Blondie the band, I would emphasise. It annoys the faecal waste matter out me when I hear people referring to Blondie as ‘she’ or ‘her’. Debbie Harry, their lead singer, is a massive personality. She has an incredible aura about her, she sings the songs beautifully well with great power in her voice and she is very entertaining during her in-between-song talky bits. But she doesn’t write all the songs and she doesn’t play all of the instruments so, although I love Debbie almost as much as I love Guinness, for me Blondie is a band comprising of six quite individual and talented members.
Blondie sang a stack of their big hits and some very good songs from their not yet released new album. I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t do Denis or (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear and there were one or two album tracks I would dearly have loved to hear. But never mind, and I went there thinking that I’d be gutted if they didn’t perform One Way Or Another only to find that they came on and did it as their opening number. They also did Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax towards the end, which was a bit naff but apart from that I was delighted with their set.
And the setting for the gig turned out to be pretty damned fine too. A little strange, I supposed, but unusual and the sun was shining. It could have done with being a bit warmer but what would you expect on Midsummer’s Eve in England other than an icy north wind?
The Lightning Seeds were the warm up act and they failed miserably in more ways than one as my teeth chattered through their acoustic set. I think there was only actually one of the Seeds performing as the other band members had given him the cold shoulder years ago. Forty minutes of slow dirge-like acoustic versions of their/his old hits that I never thought were very good in the first place, interspaced with tracks from their/his new album was never going to be a storming success but the fact that they didn’t do Three Lions was the cherry on the arctic roll. I had so wanted to dance Nobby's dance!
My ticket from my Blondie gig in 2013 which I have preserved forever by sticking it inside the cover of my Plastic Letters CD.
My good friends Paul and Tess who I went there with were lovely people and very good company indeed. We shared a few stories of other gigs we had attended in the past and had a good old laugh together. Paul and Tess were a bit exceptional though as I looked around at the rest of the people in the crowd, the majority of whom appeared to be far too young or far too old to be Blondie fans and demonstrating little evidence of knowledge or passion for anything Blondie-esque other than knowing the chorussy bit to a couple of their biggest hits and owning a blonde wig. Tess wasn't quite as passionate about the band as Paul was but she had magnificent feet, tended to on a regular basis by a Foot Health Practitioner who was as keen a fan as her husband, so she qualified on two counts to stand in that cold, windswept field.
From the earthy punk vibe of that night when I first saw Blondie in January 1980 my music loving world had been transformed into a field full of people who read the Guardian and wove their own yoghurt. They had hampers containing picnics that Nigella Lawson would have been envious of and they each had a three litre box of wine. I could cope with the not having a picnic of my own to gorge upon scenario but I couldn’t cope with the people who had each drunk their own weight in Pinot Grigio and who obstructed my view of the band and my ability to listen as they swayed around in front of me shouting, ‘Natasha, do have another salmon en croute flavoured Pringle!’ I’m not normally a rude person (while anybody’s watching) but tonight I found that rudeness was the only way to combat rudeness. I told them to shut up or go away in jerky movements or both. Their reaction wasn’t good but I doubt if their memory was either and I would wager that by the time they woke up the next morning they would not recall anything that I had said to them or the gig or the forest or the lump of sheep shit that I dropped into their tube of Pringles. So really, in a nutshell of a nut hidden by a squirrel in a forest in Gloucestershire, they spoilt the evening a bit for me and for people like me.
Had I not seen Blondie before when we were all much younger and the picnickers hadn’t even been born, tonight’s gig in the woods would have been absolutely brilliant. But I had seen them before when they and I were in our absolute prime. Perhaps I should have left it at that, but my curiosity got the better of me. They still perform in sweaty clubs from time to time so near the top of my list of priorities there’s a plan to go and see them somewhere a little more intimate next time. There will definitely be a next time too. I am sure of this because one of the things that irked me tonight was the fact that I had gone far too long between their gigs. One way, or another, I’m gonna get there . . .
If anybody had gone along tonight for the sole purpose of seeing our Debbie in a provocative, scantily clad state, as she often was when performing in the band’s heyday, they would have been greatly disappointed because due to the summer temperature shortage she did most of the show in a thick black great coat buttoned up to her chin to keep herself warm. As she left the stage she wished everyone a fantastic summer. She wasn’t wishing as hard as I was. This had been the most I had ever shivered on the evening of a summer solstice. Not for the first time in my life I wondered why, oh why, had I been born in England?
I took this picture myself because all I wanted was a photo
in my wallet . . . a small remembrance of something more solid . . .