FARNBOROUGH MUSIC IN THE PARK JULY 8TH 2023
When you are on the road with a band you sometimes have to take the crunchy with the smooth (as Dave our drummer is fond of saying). There are gigs when it can feel like really hard work. Maybe the venue isn't great, or the crowd isn't in the mood (or just the wrong crowd). Perhaps the sound crew aren't very professional, or you can be beset by technical issues which are nobody's fault but the whim of the capricious gods of rock who decided that night that, no, thou shalt not raise the roof.
I'm happy to say that with Totally Blondie those bad gigs are few and far between. Usually the venue is great, the crew are on it and the crowd bring it! We are so often blessed by audiences who give us as much energy back as we give out. Even when things aren't going our way, playing with this band is still a blast! How could it not be when I find myself playing bass with such an amazingly talented group of musicians (who are all genuinely lovely human beings) and such an electric and fantastic lead singer in Chloe (our Debbie, in case you were wondering). Most of the time nights playing with this band are brilliant.
And then, once in a while, they can be a dream come true. Such was the Music In The Park festival in Farnborough. We were the first to arrive to sound check on a gloriously sunny July afternoon (if you are the last band on you are usually the first to set up). We found a big stage (we like a big stage) and one of the best technical crews we have ever worked with. Everything felt slick and effortless and nothing seemed too much trouble. Sound checks can often be a laborious chore but this one felt like a breeze as our every need as artists was catered for. Afterwards, as the other acts set up, and knowing we were in safe hands, we had just enough time to pop round the corner to a rehearsal studio and run through the set (always a useful way to ward off any undesired ‘jazz’ moments during the performance).
When we returned we were treated to fantastic fish and chips by the organisers, after which we found the beer tent (just the one mind you) and settled down to watch the other excellent acts. First on was The Bowie Experience. With the Thin White Duke perfectly embodied by the lead singer, they faithfully recreated the classic hits, ending with a brilliant rendition of Heroes that had everyone singing along. By now it had started to rain, but no-one cared as the next act got started. The Marley Experience was amazing as they got everyone on their feet and joining in with Bob Marley’s timeless songs. As we left to go backstage and get ready for our turn the atmosphere was already electric.
By the time our walk on music started the rain had cleared, and as we wandered on stage we saw a huge crowd of already VERY happy punters, ready to party. As Dave and I kicked into the intro to Dreaming the sheer energy and positive feeling coming back at us was unbelievable. This audience was with us all the way! What the crowd didn’t know was that Dave was having a very stressful time of it for the first two songs as his in-ear monitors had completely failed.
For those not in the know IEM’s are ear pieces that we all use to hear ourselves and each other on stage, and they are vital for a good performance so this was bad news. Dave kept his cool, played the parts and just trusted that we could hear him and would go with the flow. It’s in situations like this that you need a good crew behind you so a big shout out to Dec who was with us on stage and in charge of the monitor mix. As Dave soldiered on Dec was running around stage trying to solve the issue and by the time we finished Touched By Your Presence and started Rapture, Dave was back with us (if looking a little frayed around the edges!). Let me tell you, we love performing Rapture! Spike on guitar and myself on bass got to run and bounce around that big stage, although perhaps the best part was at the end when our keyboard player, John De Souza, walked out to centre stage to solo on his Keytar. This is a cross between a keyboard and a guitar. Asides from looking like something from another planet it also meant John, Spike, Chloe and I could dance together on stage and give it the beans.
As we stormed though hits like Picture This and Denis the sun had started to go down and the energy just kept climbing. On Union City Blue Spike was able to really unleash his draw dropping facility on guitar with an epic solo at the end, and then it was time for Maria. Not many singers could do this song justice but in Chloe we have one of the very best. She is the total embodiment of Debbie Harry and an incredibly charismatic stage presence. One of the best compliments we get is when people tell us they forget they are watching a tribute and feel like they are seeing the real thing, and no more so than with our blonde powerhouse!
We love to do some of the gnarlier, punkier Blondie songs, so mid-set we snarled our way through I’m Gonna Love You Too and Rip Her To Shreds.
Then it was time for good vibes with Tide Is High and I Want That Man. Yes, we know that, technically, that second song isn’t really Blondie as it was one of Debbie Harry’s solo hits but shoot us, we love it and so did the crowd. They also loved What I Heard, which is one of the lesser known later Blondie songs from the album Panic Of Girls, but it’s such a banger we always try to play it.
And then it was time to finish with the hits, and what an atmosphere, on stage and down in the crowd. 3,500 people sang and danced along as one to Call Me, Hanging On The Telephone (yes it seemed the crowd did want Chloe’s number) Heart Of Glass and One Way Or Another (which saw a second appearance of the keytar and John’s slinky looks and moves). And what else could we finish with but Atomic. It felt like we might launch into the stratosphere as the party neared its end. We love to go all out on this song. Everyone gets a solo (even your humble bass player) and as Spike ripped people’s faces off with the final solo of the night, Chloe and I danced and jumped as one with the sea of people below us. And with the final note fireworks erupted behind us! We knew this was coming but it still took our breath away. As we sat at the back of the stage and watched them light up the sky it seemed to us that yes, some gigs are a dream come true.
Thank you to the Rotary Club Of Farnborough for putting on this fantastic festival and looking after us so well, and for all the amazing work they do throughout the year to support the Phyllis Tuckwell hospice. Thank you to the amazing crew who backed us to the hilt. Thank you to John S Fletcher for some of the photos and thank you most of all to anyone reading this who was in the crowd that night. You are why we do what we do! We love Blondie and we love you, and we can’t wait to see you again.
WHEN CHRIS MET DEBBIE
Chris has been fortunate to support Blondie on a number of occasions as part of a band called The Boyfriends. They were lucky and cool enough to support Blondie’s second sell out European Tour in 1978, alongside The Kinks and The Buzzcocks who covered earlier parts of that crazy year. Brilliant days when ‘Denis’ and ‘Picture This’ were released. 20 gigs in 20 days for The Boyfriends and Chris on keys playing venues from Hammersmith to Munich to Paris.
Chris Stein, Debbie’s co-writer took this photo when they all played the Cornbury Festival in the UK in 2004. Chris was part of a band called the Overtures, supporting Blondie again for this two day event.
Chatting with them after the show in Cornbury, Chris discovered that Blondie’s original keyboard player Jimmy Destri was due to leave the band. It crossed Chris’s mind to drop a few hints that maybe he could be the new Blondie keyboard player, but professional discretion made him pause and the moment moved on – a decision he now ponders from time to time! Still, he gets to “totally” play all the Blondie songs with this band just the way she’d have liked! So all’s well. Sort of …
WHEN CHLOE DID NEW YORK
It's a while since that first initial lockdown barged its way into all our lives. And February 2020 seems an age away when I was very lucky to be taken away on a surprise trip to New York with my husband.
I had previously visited this breathtaking city a few times but my first experience was when I was 13. Everything this city offered cemented my career choice and gave me huge positivity to succeed. At the time, I was a student at The Arts Educational School in Tring and had aspirations of continuing my training at The Julliard School. As time passed by it soon became apparent that this was a pipe dream, as I would be so far from family, which was and is still so important to me. But I still had the performance bug and training continued in the UK..
So roll on to that last month of freedom as we knew it, in our hotel The James in Nomad, midtown, I was asked if there was anything I’d specifically like to do whilst there. I’ve never been a great shopper - browsing is my least favourite pastime. So that was a definite no go. We had already booked a trip up The Empire State, the most touristy thing on our agenda. No, I wanted to visit the Lower East side, and walk the streets that Harry and Stein once roamed. As we walked across Union Square Park, buskers of a wide range of talents approached us to watch or join in their activities. My husband was challenged to a boxing match, which he and I felt was not for him - in the old days I hear you’d get beaten up and mugged. Now you have to pay for the privilege.
Fourth Avenue lead us to Bowery. And I suddenly started to recognise where I was. In 2009 we had tickets to see Green Day at Madison Square Gardens and had stayed at The Bowery Hotel. No more than a block away from, 315 Bowery, the home of CBGBs. On this whistle stop trip I had got in and out of taxis and hadn’t had enough time to get my bearings, my radar was not Blondie focused so the connection went unnoticed.
If this had happened after 2017 I probably would've noticed because almost opposite our hotel, the infamous graffiti artist Shepard Fairey unveiled an amazing new mural, on the facade of a restaurant on Bleeker Street. The biggest homage to Blondie going. And this was our destination now in 2020.
And how outstandingly striking it is. The impact is remarkable and shows the true meaning for what this band means to this area and likewise the world over. I feel very thankful and privileged to have had the chance to view it in person, and will never forget that day.
I understand the streets we walked are very different to those of the 70s/80’s but the artistic buzz is still in its bones. The smell may be cleaner but there is certain east side ambience that remains. And although I posed like a tourist standing in front of the Statue of Liberty, I felt my own little bit of rock and roll walking in their footsteps.
And just by chance, within a week or so of returning to the UK, I saw that Totally Blondie were looking for a new front woman. I had been on the circuit for a number of years, and recently a few people had suggested to me that I would make a good Debbie Harry, so I automatically jumped at the chance. After auditioning, meeting and getting to know the band and seeing them play live, I knew I had to get this, there were too many signs.
I now feel honoured and very lucky to be a part of Totally Blondie and would like to believe the universe worked its magic and it is all meant to be.