Blondie at T in the Park…

Here’s a blog I did for the BBC Radio Scotland website on meeting Blondie at T in the Park.

As we all know, T in the Park is Scotland’s biggest party of the year. It’s a mammoth logistical task for the organisers to arrange, and now its success is rivalled by nothing else in the UK, other than Glastonbury. 85,000 people attended in 2011 as it reached its 18th year. The event is an all-encompassing carnival that pulls together huge mainstream acts and household names, as well as the cream of the underground from across Scotland. Whether it’s Beyonce or Coldplayon the mainstage; or United Fruit or Conquering Animal Sound on the T Break stage, it’s fairly certain you’ll find something, somewhere to your taste over the 3 day extravangza.

As many of you slow down and settle in your lives, the idea of stumbling around a muddy field in Kinross surrounded by inebriated, party-loving, face-painted punters may not strike you as your idea of fun, but don’t be too hasty to judge…

Originally seen as counter-culture events promoting free-love and anti-capitalist sentiments, rock festivals started in the 1960’s and have slowly but surely crept up to become major fixtures in the entertainment calendar every summer. Originally only frequented by hippies, punks, bikers, indie-kids and music-junkies, festivals are now a ‘lifestyle choice’ with office workers and business men, throwing off their suits and ties and cutting loose in the countryside to their favourite soundtrack. These events are big business and business is booming. With recorded music becoming more of a free commodity, the live show is the big earner for the musicians and something fans are more than willing to pay for. All in all, people love festivals and artists love playing to people.

It’s not just the wild and reckless who attend either… When I started going to festivals over 20 years ago, they were specifically the domain of the young and rebellious. Now, they’re family affairs. Belladrum and Wickerman are definitely aimed at the family unit and the more mature music listener, as well as at teenagers who want to run ragged. As a result, more names from the past appear on the line-ups, catering for the nostalgia lovers and new music fans alike.

I for one, say why not?! Sometimes a band from the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s will reform and play a greatest hits set, and the crowd will react gleefully. It can be the absolute highlight of a weekend. You may not have had the chance to witness them first time around, so it’s an opportunity to engage with some classic music in a communal setting and sing along. As you know, I’m a champion of new music and am consistently searching for something out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t want to watch an entire line-up of reformed acts; but if the balance is right, a blast from the past can quite often be the medicine you need to sooth your soul. When I stood and watched The Specials play their 2-Tone classics at T in the Park 2 years ago, I had tears of joy in my eyes.

This year at T in the Park, I was delighted to get that equilibrium just right again. I careered around the site doing interviews; chatting to punters and friends; seeing new acts on the BBC Introducing stage and T Break tent as well as massive headliners. I also was lucky enough to watch the mighty Tom Jones belt out a greatest hits set, laced with tracks from his acclaimed ‘Praise & Blame’ LP, and even more excited to watch then meet… Blondie!

As many men of ‘a certain age’ may testify, the impact that Debbie Harry had on our fragile, hormonal, developing minds was quite something. I won’t give away much more, but let me just say that she was very probably responsible for an ‘awakening’ in many of us! Combine her beauty, grace and outright sexiness with a slew of incredible, incomparable singles and albums, and Blondie were, and still are, one of the greatest bands EVER. Are they pop? Are they punk? Are they Rock’n’Roll? New-wave? Disco? Well, they are all of the aforementioned.

On Sunday at T, I was informed I had an interview with the original members still active in the band – Chris Stein, Clem Burke and yes… Debbie Harry. Wow! I was a more than a little apprehensive, but quite obviously excited. We were then ushered with recording equipment into the artist’s backstage area to wait outside Blondie’s dressing room (portacabin!) in huge anticipation. Eventually the door opened and there they were in all their glamorous, rock’n’roll glory complete with shades, glitter, leather and perfect teeth (they are Americans after all!).

After a few mumbled hellos, introductions and explanations, we started to chat. Lo and behold… we hit it off. In my line of work, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the bands are aloof, elusive and ‘too cool for school’; sometimes they’re tired and emotional; and sometimes they’re just plain rude! In this case, Debbie, Chris and Clem were in absolutely stunning form. They laughed, they were self-deprecating and they opened up about their feelings, their music, their motivations and their surreal, New York lives.

To say the interview went well, and we had a mutual admiration, would be an understatement. Stories were swapped and the enthusiasm in the room for music, art, life and culture was electric. I was simply amazed at how engaged they all were with their new material and their musical legacy. They came across like eternal teenagers with passion for pop music, comic book art, painting and more. I was ecstatic afterwards and went around buzzing for hours. It’s not usually a good idea to meet your heroes, but in this case… I lucked out!

 The festival continued and I did my bits of BBC TV and Radio work, catching up with KT Tunstall, Arctic Monkeys and Twin Atlantic. I saw the Foo Fighters rock the mainstage and I loved Bwani Junction, Kid Canaveral, Other People, Sucioperro and others play tremendous sets on the smaller stages over the weekend. It felt like another vintage year at T in the Park.

Towards the very end of Sunday night however, came my complete and utter highlight… Now, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but CHECK THIS OUT… Word came from Blondie’s PR people that they had in fact very much enjoyed our chat. What’s more, the band had ‘loved me’ and Debbie Harry thought ‘I had a cool name and I was CUTE!’

Quite frankly, I can now die a happy man…

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