FORMED in New York City in 1974, Blondie went on to become one of the most legendary rock bands ever. Fronted by iconic singer Debbie Harry, the group have sold over 40 million records and scored chart hits with singles Heart of Glass, Hanging on the Telephone, The Tide is High and more. After breaking up in 1982 they reformed in 1997 and have released five albums since, including this year’s Pollinator. Blondie’s original drummer Clem Burke told EDWIN GILSON about punk, David Bowie and memories of Brighton.

You must have been pleased with the reaction to Pollinator?

That’s really the main reason for us going out on tour. The last few records were quite computer-generated and in retrospect I don’t think that was the right way to do it. But on this one the chemistry of the band really comes across. Chris, Debbie and I used the studio The Magic Shop in New York City where David Bowie recorded his last two albums. The record is kind of informed by David. We went in to the studio over the winter that he died. It was profound for us because we had been vibing on the idea of being in the same place that he did [albums] Blackstar and The Next Day. He was always a big influence on Blondie. Our first national tour in the states was with David and Iggy Pop.

Would you say you were good friends with Bowie?

We were friends. Not close friends, but obviously we were all in New York. Ships in the night and all that. Just like the Beatles and the Stones you never knew what to expect from Bowie. It was the same with Blondie – we always mixed up our genres.

Your producer John Congleton said Blondie have “nothing to prove”. Is this liberating? Or would you fear a backlash from loyal fans if you went too experimental?

I don’t know I would really agree with that statement. I don’t think we’re ever really satisfied. The only reason we all do this is because we enjoy it. Since we got back together it’s been a good thing. In fact Chris, Debbie and I have been together for longer this time around than we were the first time. It’s phenomenal, really, especially in the UK. Our initial success was over there.

A few years back you told the Daily Mail that Debbie was thinking about bringing an end to Blondie. What’s changed?

I was caught off guard with that quote; I was at a gallery reception and I wasn’t quite sure if I was on the record or not. I always tell my wife I’ll give it another 18 months but I’ve been saying that for 40 years. We are going to make another record, though – that’s already in the works. I give the whole thing another 18 months.

When you were contacted about the possibility of reforming Blondie in 1997, did you jump at the chance? Or did you have reservations?

A lot of my friends were always convinced we’d get back together but I was never sure. When I was approached by the others [Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Blondie’s guitarist], I was up for a meeting. When we got back together I butted heads with management about not just playing the old hits. We wanted to create new music together, that was the main goal. Everyone in the band was on that same page. We weren’t offered a big lump of cash to reconvene at first but money did come into it a little later. That was one of the reasons we got back together – love and money.

What was your relationship with punk in the 1970s? You’re often classed under that bracket but did you see yourself as punks?

Well, the whole New York rock scene we were part of was informed by what came before; The New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground and David [Bowie] to name a few. We were certainly influenced by the ethos of punk rock; we were all about not giving a damn. On the new album there’s a new song called Doom or Destiny that Joan Jett sings; that’s a more aggressive kind of punk song. But we were always interested in different kinds of music. Chris was always into R ’n’ B and I was into bubblegum pop music, even stuff like The Bay City Rollers. But I really just think we sound like New York City.

Did you ever butt heads with Debbie and Chris in the studio?

Well, Blondie fans always point out that I wasn’t too keen on doing Heart of Glass, for instance, that kind of disco song. But actually, disco music was more subversive than punk in some ways. It was a phenomenon that happened in basements across the city. It wasn’t mainstream at that point.

Did you worry about Blondie’s relevance in the modern music scene when you came back, or did you think the band had reached a new generation in the time you were away?

Chris always said he could see the influence of Blondie in new bands. A lot of people just do the obvious thing and draw a line between us and other bands with blonde singers, but Debbie is much more than that. Debbie has more in common with Bowie and Jim Morrison than she does with someone like Madonna. She’s a very creative artist and a ground-breaking one. Just because she’s a woman she gets boxed in. It happened back in the day – people focused on her great beauty and it was almost as though her songwriting got overlooked. When I was looking to put a band together, I was looking for someone who would have the charisma and power of someone like Bowie, and I found it with Debbie.

How does someone achieve that kind of charisma? Was Debbie born with it?

That’s hard to say. I mean, you’re born with your looks, for better or worse.

Did fame ever get on top of her, or you?

As far as I was concerned it all went according to plan. I always appreciate that I’m the drummer in a band. There are people like Debbie that exist, and they’re always the front people. As far as the stresses go, Debbie felt a lot of that I suppose. You don’t get a manual with success. I think there’s a lot more of a learning curve for modern musicians with the internet.

Has the internet helped Blondie maintain their profile?

Yeah, for sure. I can see us on Top of the Pops in one click. Younger people realise we’re actually still a band and that they can come and see us. It extends the whole vibe of the band. People are constantly posting old pictures of us – it’s almost like our lives flashing before us. We’re probably the first generation of musicians to experience that phenomenon. In the future it will be a given. The most profound thing Andy Warhol said was “everyone will be famous in the future”, and that’s come to pass.

What memories do you have of Brighton?

I was just in Brighton last winter actually, to see that play about The Kinks [Sunny Afternoon at Theatre Royal Brighton]. Some friends and I got tickets and went. It was hard to find a parking space, I’ll tell you that. I like to go the pier in Brighton and relive the whole mod era. I went to some nice restaurants, too. We’ve played Brighton Centre twice before and we’re looking forward to coming back.

Blondie, Brighton Centre, Wednesday, November 8, 6.30pm. For more information and tickets visit