BOOTLEG BLONDIE – THE FACTORY LIVE, WORTHING 1.9.22
Blondie, who have an impressive 2.4 million Facebook followers, are very much back in the limelight this past week with the release of their long-awaited (4 years!) ‘Blondie / Against The Odds 1974-1982’ mega box set in various formats. Details on the release are clarified HERE.
Having been a fan of the band since early 1978 when I discovered their ‘Denis’ hit single, I then immediately back bought their December 1976 self-titled debut album, as well as its follow-up ‘Plastic Letters’ album from September 1977. September 1978 saw my collection bolstered with the ‘Parallel Lines’ album and exactly a year later ‘Eat To The Beat’ completed my Blondie collection. For around two years, these Blondie records were on constant rotation on my Technics SL-D2 twin decks. Life was good! But by 1980, Blondie and I had parted company, with their ‘The Tide Is High’ and ‘Rapture’ singles from the ‘Autoamerican’ album. We had both moved on and in different directions.
There’s always the yearning to recreate the wonderment of those golden times and to witness this great band live, hence my acquaintance with them at the Brighton Centre on 8th November 2017 (Review HERE) and again last April (Review HERE). There’s no hope of getting up-close-and-personal like an early CBGB’s Blondie gig any more, unless you think outside of the box….cue Bootleg Blondie who clearly fill the need very nicely and they are again back in Sussex ‘In The Flesh’ this evening! They are renowned as the world’s No.1 official Debbie Harry and Blondie tribute band. Back in May, they were in Brighton at the Concorde 2 where they were sharing the bill with The Monochrome Set, Spizzenergi, Peter Perrett, Johnny Moped with The Damned’s Captain Sensible, DITZ, The Pink Diamond Revue with Neal X (of Sigue Sigue Sputnik fame), AK/DK, Monakis, Jamie Perrett, and Fruity Water for The Official Jordan Mooney Memorial Charity Concert – Read the review HERE.
That Brighton performance was rather special for Bootleg Blondie as they had amazingly called upon the services of the one and only Gary Valentine, who was famously Blondie’s bassist from 1975 to 1977, and he penned their ‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear’ Top 10 hit single, as well as co-writing their debut single ‘X Offender’ with Debbie Harry, which was unleashed to an unsuspecting world back in 1976. At the memorial concert, Gary informed fans that “he hasn’t played these songs for over forty years!”.
Clearly, Gary had become truly inspired with the performance and decided that ‘One Way Or Another’ he was to put his ‘writing about the history and philosophy of consciousness’ career on hold for a while whilst he headed out on tour with Bootleg Blondie on eight selected concerts until the end of the year. On social media he posted: “Debbie, Andy and I have been working on versions of Blondie rarities, my songs “The First One” and “Amor Fati”, and will be performing them at the next gig. Is Worthing ready?”.
As indicated by Gary, the first of these is this evening in Sussex at The Factory Live which is located at 9a Ivy Arch Road, Worthing, BN14 8BX and which held its first concert performance back on 27th September 2019. Nine days prior to this, the Brighton & Hove News announced that the venue will be opening. Those that are unfamiliar with the venue can read that announcement HERE.
I must confess that prior to tonight, I personally had not actually stepped foot into the building before, despite the Brighton & Hove News Music Team covering a number of concerts by the likes of The Ramonas, Kate Bush-Ka, Toyah and….wait for it….Bootleg Blondie.
Bootleg Blondie came into existence back in 2001 and in that time they have played the infamous CBGB club in New York City, the Isle of Wight Festival, the Shepherds Bush Empire, London’s 100 Club and the legendary Hammersmith Palais. They regularly appear at many top venues and festivals in the UK, Europe and around the world and they have also had Blondie drummer, Clem Burke, play with them live on special occasions. Bootleg Blondie have even been thanked on Blondie’s latest album ‘Pollinator’. No doubt they have had much ‘Fan Mail’ about that.
This evening Bootleg Blondie made a welcome return to Factory Live after an absence of only 314 days and prior to the event I asked myself “Will Anything Happen?”. Will they send me ‘Sound-A-Sleep’ or ‘Fade Away And Radiate’ or will they be ‘Fun’ and ‘Atomic’ and give me the ‘Best Day Ever’. So I headed out ‘In The Sun’ to Worthing to ‘Eat To The Beat’. On my journey along the A259 I noted that ‘The Tide Is High’ and thankfully there was no ‘Man Overboard’ from the boat moored on the River Adur at Shoreham and that there was ‘Love At The Pier’ as a couple were snogging by the landward end of Worthing Pier.
Venue located – it’s the last place you would expect to find a music venue, it’s located on a mini industrial estate – car parked free of charge nearby and we were in just as a clap of thunder sounded overhead! Establishment owner Steve Gardner and his staff must have been overjoyed by the numbers of mixed aged punters that had turned up this evening. Although relatively compact (circa 300 capacity), the Yamaha soundsystem is crisp and clear and the lighting is ideal for all to see including those at the back of the room.
My colleague offered me some liquid refreshment and of course ‘I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No’ although the ale wasn’t actually to my liking. I switched for the second instalment.
It was 8:08pm and the Bootleg Blondie intro tape kicked in, which included a welcome message by the actual real Debbie Harry. If that’s not giving Bootleg Blondie the seal of approval, then I don’t know what is. Maybe having Clem Burke on drums or Gary Valentine on bass and guitar!
One of the first things you can’t help noticing is that there is a system of transparent acoustic panels around drums, known as drum screens, drum shields or acoustic shields. These are also utilised by Clem Burke in Blondie and in essence they ensure that the drummer doesn’t overwhelm the other instruments and vocals. The Bootleg Blondie bass drum (aka kick drum) skin has even been signed by Clem and Gary Valentine, which in my mind adds to the authenticity of tonight’s experience. Bootleg Blondie’s drummer Sam Elliot sure has big shoes to fill and sitting behind the special kit surely must give him added confidence.
Also present with us for the two sets, set one 63 minutes and set two 75 minutes, are Andy Harris as Chris Stein on Fender guitar, backing vocals and one lead vocal; Paul Adams as Nigel Harrison on bass and backing vocals; Gem Adams as Jimmy Destri on Korg PS60 keyboard and backing vocals; and of course Debbie Harris as a Debbie Harry clone on vocals, Blondie band members signed guitar (for ‘Union City Blue’) and maracas (on ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ and ‘The Attack Of The Giant Ants’).
The New Wave set kicks off with Debbie donning a grey number for ‘Heart Of Glass’ and ‘Dreaming’, before a segue of ‘Shayla’ and ‘Union City Blue’. These are strong opening numbers and a good approximation of the original Blondie sound. The audience are warming up one number at a time and it takes a few tracks for them to get into their stride. Debbie works her magic and slowly the British conformity barriers are worn down. Yes folks, it’s actually fine to let your hair down tonight, you’ve paid to get in, so go and have some fun.
Four numbers in and Debbie retreats to the ‘Superman’ phone box in order to show off her next change of attire, a white and green number which is all based on clothing worn by Debbie Harry back in the day. Our Debbie looks and sounds the part and even has a very similar name, this adds to the believability of the outfit. No wonder they have been entertaining crowds for 21 years!
‘The Tide Is High’, ‘11.59’ and ‘Rapture’/’Riders’ are all given an airing, before the phone box comes-a-calling again. Debbie emerges with the apocalypse punk look, sporting a homemade bin bag top with “Debbie Does Worthing” written on the rear. I wonder if they have ever played Dallas! Each show comes with its unique bin bag, for instance for the Jordan Mooney concert it read “God Save Our Queen Jordan Mooney 1955-2022”. After ‘Atomic’ has concluded the top is given to an audience member and Debbie carries on with her torn yellow and black t-shirt, long yellow gloves, knee high black boots and black panties. The costume changes perfectly reflect the varying stages of Debbie Harry’s career. My favourite this evening being the red grandad shirt, red knee high boots and red panties. Mind you, the black over the shoulder mini skirt with knee high black boots was also appreciated as part of their second set.
The Blondie back-catalogue is plundered further with ‘Accidents Never Happen’ and ‘Pretty Baby’ and then Debbie uses a specially adapted old style red house phone with a built-in microphone, for ‘Call Me’. ‘Maria’ followed and wasn’t one of my favourite Blondie tunes, but it did I guess catapult the originators back into the public eye. Set one was concluded with ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ and the outro tape of ‘Asteroid (Pearl & Dean Theme)’ was played, as in an indication of the forthcoming 24 minute break and that it was time to hit the bar in an orderly fashion.
Set two commenced with the ‘Thunderbirds Main Theme’ by The Barry Gray Orchestra. The quintet strolled on stage at 9:35pm and were all clad into leatherwear, an indicator that things were going to get down and dirty and the set a little grittier and proto Blondie was on the cards. As a homage to that look, ‘Denis’ was actually introed by Ramones cover of ‘Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?’, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The punky ‘Detroit 442’ was up next and followed by ‘Picture This’ and ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’. The pace was slowed for a combined English and French version of ‘Sunday Girl’. Debbie’s popular red attire was traded for the black look as ‘One Way Or Another’ was the final number prior to the arrival of former Blondie bassist Gary Valentine (Gary Joseph Lachman) for the remaining thirteen tunes.
With the arrival of Gary at 9:56pm, it felt that the whole set had literally just jumped up a gear and it no longer felt like a decent tribute band in action. Things had morphed and the next 54 minutes were for me (and my colleague) the most enjoyable part of the evening. Bootleg Blondie had come on and played the Blondie tunes without any idle banter and this allowed them to get through 20 tracks with ease. The tunes spoke for themselves, but now it had become a history time tunnel with Gary overjoyed at being able to convey his historical anecdotes from his all too brief period with Blondie. The man had been there and he was fascinating to listen to as he filled us in with some juicy life in Blondie titbits.
For Gary’s live appearance in Brighton at the Concorde 2 for the Jordan memorial concert, he was playing a Gibson Les Paul Studio Guitar, but tonight for his first half dozen numbers he started off with his trusty old Rickenbacker bass. An axe that hadn’t been used live in concert since 1980. He joyfully told us that he had purchased it from Manny’s Music (formerly of 156 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036, United States) and that its first outing was in 1977 when Blondie supported the Talking Heads. He pointed out the instrument’s imperfection by drawing everyone’s attention to a chip that was caused by fellow Blondie bandmate Jimmy Destri (who was in the band from 1975-1982 and 1997-2204). He confided in us that the reason it was a short neck style was because they thought that it would knock Debbie Harry whilst they were playing. We had learned all of this information even before his first number ‘In The Sun’ had even been played.
Gary’s second number this evening with Bootleg Blondie was ‘Kung Fu Girls’, which he penned with Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destri. He informed us that the band were going to “give it to” The Heartbreakers but they decided to keep it.
‘Rip Her To Shreds’ and ‘In The Flesh’ were next. Like the two proceeding tracks, they were all originally released on Blondie’s self-titled debut album from Gary’s time with the band. Gary divulged that the subject matter of ‘In The Flesh’ was rumoured to be about Debbie’s brief affair with David Johansen, the Mick Jagger-esque frontman of the proto-punk outfit the New York Dolls.
‘Rifle Range’ penned by Chris Stein and Ronnie Toast (real name Ron Kankas) from the same album got an airing next. Gary informed us that Ronnie had also written ‘Cautious Lip’, (whilst on drugs) which is the closing number of the second Blondie album ‘Plastic Letters’. He also wrote liner notes on the debut LP and passed away in 2017.
Debbie Harris got the maracas out for ‘The Attack Of The Giant Ants’, my least favoured tune from Blondie’s debut album, but I guess it does have an easy to learn chorus “La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la”.
Gary now switches his Rickenbacker bass for his Gibson Les Paul guitar, and as he said “the hits keep coming!”, cue ‘X Offender’, which was co-written by him with Debbie Harry and was the band’s debut single released in June 1976.
Now for myself and many around me was the most interesting part of the whole performance coming up next. A trio of songs that could have and in Gary’s eyes should have landed up on Blondie platter’s, but for one reason or other, failed to make the grade or final cut. Cue a green flag for a small number of ‘hits only brigade’ to hit the bar. I’m saying any more about them, but they certainly missed the point! First up then was a song called ‘Scenery’, which “should have” been included on Blondie’s debut platter. The full explanation wasn’t given, but we were steered towards his concisely titled book ‘New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation with Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Others, 1974-1981’ for the answer. I have to state that I really got the proto punk New York Dolls and Heartbreakers vibe of this tune which saw Gary on lead vocals.
The second of the trio of unknowns was ‘The First One’, which was first played live by Blondie at Village Gate in New York on 2nd July 1977. Significantly, that was to be Gary’s farewell performance with the band. Thus Gary released it as a solo single on Beat Records in 1978. Tonight was its first live concert performance in 40 years!
Completing the trilogy was ‘Amor Fati’ which means “Love Of Fate”. This featured Gary on backing vocals and Debbie on lead vocals. This, we were informed by Gary, should have turned up on Blondie’s 1999 album ‘No Exit’, but eventually saw the light of day on the Gary Valentine ‘Tomorrow Belongs To You’ compilation album from 2003 on Overground Records.
Both ‘Scenery’ and ‘Amor Fati’ were tunes composed in which Gary was a member of an outfit called The Know. They formed in February 1979, six months after Valentine relocated, for musical reasons, in California. He was in search of the perfect band with which to make his second assault on the music world. After recording his first solo single (‘The First One’/‘Tomorrow Belongs To You’) with The Mumps, Gary wanted to record with The Know. The other members of the trio were Richard D’Andrea (bass) previously with The Motels, and Joel Turrisi (drums), later to be replaced by John McGarvey. Once again this evening, ‘Amor Fati’ was the second song that had not been played live for 40 years!
After all this new ‘old music’ discovery for us punters, it was only right to remind the crowd that Gary had written the Blondie UK Top 10 hit ‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear’. Gary told us that he wrote it for his then girlfriend on the account of their shared dreams, hence the song’s title.
It was finally time for guitarist Andy Harris to have his 15 minutes of fame, (oh OK two minutes then) when he took the lead vocals and the band played a blinding rendition of the Ramones ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, which many will know from the ‘AO’ TV advert.
Without the rigmarole of having to least the stage for a false encore, the band opted to stay put, as the crowd begged for more. They were rewarded with a’ medley of ‘Get It On’/’20th Century Boy’ both T. Rex covers. ‘The Hardest Part’ of this evening was to ‘Just Go Away’ as I had such a wonderful time and now I must get back home to bed before ‘11:59’ …………
‘Picture This’ Brighton and Hove Blondie fans, you won’t be ‘Dreaming’ but ‘Living In The Real World’ as Bootleg Blondie will be rockin’ on up to Patterns on 9th December 2022. Purchase your tickets online HERE instead of ‘Hanging On The Telephone’ waiting for a ticket offer to answer.
Debbie Harris as Debbie Harry (vocals/guitar/maracas/telephone)
Andy Harris as Chris Stein (Fender guitar/vocals/bv’s)
Sam Elliot as Clem Burke (drums)
Gem Adams as Jimmy Destri (Korg PS60 keys/bv’s)
Paul Adams as Nigel Harrison (bass/bv’s)
Gary Lachman as Gary Valentine (bass/guitar/vocals/bv’s)
Jordan Doll (lucky mascot)
Bootleg Blondie setlist 1:
Intro Tape including Debbie Harry greeting
‘Heart Of Glass’
‘Union City Blue’
‘The Tide Is High’
‘Accidents Never Happen’
‘Will Anything Happen?’
‘Hanging On The Telephone’
Outro Tape ‘Asteroid (Pearl & Dean Theme)’
Bootleg Blondie setlist 2:
Intro Tape ‘Thunderbirds Main Theme’ by The Barry Gray Orchestra
‘Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?’ (Ramones cover) /’Denis’
‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’
‘Sunday Girl’ (combined English & French)
‘One Way Or Another’
‘In The Sun’ (with Gary Valentine from here onwards)
‘Kung Fu Girls’
‘Rip Her To Shreds’
‘In The Flesh’
‘The Attack Of The Giant Ants’
‘Scenery’ (The Know track from 2003 Gary Valentine ‘Tomorrow Belongs To You’ album)
‘The First One’ (from 1978 Gary Valentine ‘The First One’ single)
‘Amor Fati’ (Love Of Fate) (The Know track from 2003 Gary Valentine ‘Tomorrow Belongs To You’ album)
‘(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear’
‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (Ramones cover)
‘Get It On’/’20th Century Boy’ (T. Rex covers)
Outro Tape including ‘Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside’
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