Can the band re-create the glory of their hay-day, or is the steep price of admission to be avoided?
Covid allowing, Blondie are set to return to Glasgow for the first time since 2014 to play the Hydro on 20 November 2021, an impressive 45 years (and 10 albums) since their debut. It is no doubt a treat to see Blondie and their iconic frontwoman Debbie Harry live at any age, but how will it compare to their previous Glasgow gigs?
Blondie played a number of gigs in the states before they first came to Glasgow to play the Apollo in 1977, following the release of their second album Plastic Letters the same year, returning to Glasgow to play at Strathclyde in 1978. They then played Glasgow a year after the major success of Parallel Lines (1978), and only a couple months after their follow up album Eat to the Beat (1979), both of which reached number one in the UK.
I spoke to Tommy Mackrell, who saw Blondie at the Apollo in December 1979, a now legendary gig still talked about today. Tommy recalls it as a great night, reminiscing: “When the band came on everyone just jumped to their feet and jumped up and down for the whole show.” Blondie were known for their high energy live performances, and this show came right as they were “breaking into the big time”, as Tommy says. Evidence of this can still be sourced online, with clips of the gig on YouTube and memories shared on music forums of the renowned night.
In the following years, Blondie were kept busy by many tours and the release of Autoamerican (1980) and The Hunter (1982). In 1982, guitarist and co-founder Chris Stein was diagnosed with pemphigus, and the band split up due to Stein’s illness, and problems with tensions and drug use within the band. Harry cared for Stein while also continuing to pursue her solo career in this period, releasing Rockbird in 1986.
The band reformed in 1997, to the joy of their original fans and their new fanbase which had continued to grow even throughout their hiatus. In 1998 they embarked on their ambitious 13 month long No Exit comeback tour, playing the iconic Barrowlands in November that year.
Gerry Mullins recalls the Glasgow gig as a fuzzy but brilliant night, full of Blondie hits and a few of Harry’s solo releases. Gerry says she “had a cracking voice” live, and that it was apparent she “still held her legendary status”. A review in The Herald of the Barrowlands gig agrees, saying the gig “was filled with mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all bouncing along together … Blondie still provided much to bounce to.” The gig-goer states that Harry’s voice had “not changed one bit”, and the tour was a resounding success.
Showing no signs of slowing down, Blondie continued to tour and release music into the 2000s with No Exit (1999),The Curse of Blondie (2003) and Panic of Girls (2011). Blondie played Glasgow a number of times in this period in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008, frequenting the Armadillo (or Clyde Auditorium as its formally known), where I saw them in July 2013 with my parents.
I was 12, and a massive Blondie fan, as were my parents. Despite being too young to catch them at their peak, in the late 70s and early 80s, we were all pretty excited. I remember blasting Call Me and, my favourite, The Tide is High non-stop for a good few months beforehand. This was their Blast Off tour, and the date we went happened to be Debbie Harry’s 68th birthday. I remember it was one of my first gigs and I was so excited. It was amazing.
I asked my parents for their opinions of the night, after all, I was 12 at the time.
My dad, characteristically, didn’t say much except “it lacked a certain something”; maybe because it was in the Armadillo, noting that the Barrowlands or Apollo were more fun. My mum had more of a bone to pick here. She agreed the atmosphere was lacking, attributing this in part to the Armadillo feeling like a “conference hall” but saying the 2021 venue of the Hydro might be better. She felt it was “less about age or energy, but more about needing to appreciate that people were there for the nostalgia, not to hear the recent stuff.”
Admittedly, we had made little effort to listen to Ghosts of Download (2014) or Pollinator (2017), and it likely would have been better if we had known the main tracks from these. She pointed out that The Cure, who we saw recently at their 40th anniversary show and at Glasgow Summer Sessions, still mostly play their big hits.
She does say it would be a great gig with more throwback hits than they played in 2013, which I firmly agree with, and states: “Everybody knows Blondie. Every generation. It will be great to have a mix of all ages there, and if they have the energy it will be brilliant.” The energy, we remember being impressed by. Debbie Harry’s voice was still great, and she had impressive energy, much more than me or my mum do. Tommy Mackrell agrees, saying of the upcoming gig, “the music would probably be good but the visuals wouldn’t be the same. Like me they’re not youngsters anymore. I would probably pass on the tour”. She is also giving it a miss, mainly because of the price with tickets ranging from £62.45-£96.50.
It seems to me that this 2021 show is an amazing chance for fans of all ages to either get a chance to see Blondie for the first time, or to enjoy a nostalgic gig if they play a good mix of hits. Garbage is supporting, who I would love to see and I’m sure will be a great opener. Blondie have something to satisfy fans of all ages and who enjoy almost all genres, and the fact they have such a dedicated, diverse fanbase and are now playing the Hydro is a testament to their longevity as a band and their fantastic music. It’s great to see them still going, and I would love to see more bands of this age continuing to play and release music. If they have the energy, then I say go for it.