Still wild about Debbie Harry

EMMA LEE With her peroxide locks, pouting red lips and sky-high stilettos, Blondie frontwoman Deborah Harry was the ultimate rock chick. Though she’s now in her sixties, the band is back on the road and plays the UEA in Norwich this Sunday, November 13. EMMA LEE looks back at their career.

EMMA LEE

She was rock's answer to Marilyn Monroe - sassy, sexy and super cool. Blondie frontwoman Deborah Harry was one of those women that girls wanted to be and guys wanted to be with.

A girl power pioneer in the male-dominated music business, it could be said she was a prototype for other female artists such as Madonna, Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani - indeed her look has been copied by all of them.

Harry was in her thirties by the time Blondie hit the big time in the latter part of the 1970s - a pensioner compared to some of today's female pop stars who are catapulted to fame while they're in their teens.

And even though she's now in her sixties, her hair's still as blonde, she's still got the pouting red lips - and she's still on the road.

Blondie, who were one of the most innovative and influential bands of the late 1970s, are back on tour and play the UEA in Norwich this Sunday, November 13.

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The band was formed in New York by art student and guitarist Chris Stein and waitress and former Playboy bunny Harry in 1974, and the dynamic between the two became central to the group.

The couple met when Stein saw Harry singing in a girl group called the Stilettos and he became her mentor.

The following year drummer Clem Burke and keyboard player Jimmy Destri were added to the line-up.

They built up a huge following on the New York club circuit, which included the legendary venue CBGB's - which also hosted gigs by The Ramones - Max's Kansas City and Mothers.

They recorded their first album, Blondie, which was released in 1977, and toured with Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

Between 1978 and 1981 Blondie notched up five number one singles in the UK (Heart of Glass, Sunday Girl, Atomic, Call Me, and The Tide is High) and a string of top 20 hits, including Denis, Hanging on the Telephone and Union City Blue.

Although they were born out of the punk and new wave scene, Blondie fused a mish-mash of influences, such as rap (Rapture), disco (Atomic) and reggae (The Tide is High) and ironic lyrics, which broadened their appeal to a wider audience, making them both popular and cool.

While Harry became an icon, her status also contributed to the band's demise.

By the early 1980s people were assuming that Blondie was her alter-ego, and the rest of the group merely her backing band.

In 1982, Stein, Harry's long-term partner, was diagnosed with a rare life-threatening genetic skin disease. A year later the band fragmented.

Harry took time out to nurse Stein for nearly four years and she disappeared from the music scene. While Stein came through the illness, the relationship did not.

Harry branched out into acting and went on to appear in films, including John Waters' Hairspray and David Cronenberg's Videodrome.

She released several solo singles, including French Kissing in the USA and I Want That Man and also became the featured vocalist of the Jazz Passengers. Destri left music for a while and became a family man. Stein became a producer and Burke recorded with other acts including the Eurythmics.

Then, 16 years after the split, the band re-formed.

They had been asked to play a concert and discovered that, despite the band's break-up, the old on-stage chemistry was still there.

They then decided to make some new music.

The result was the album No Exit, which was produced by Craig Leon who, coincidentally, had produced the band's first single X-Offender.

It sold two million copies worldwide and the single Maria was a number one hit in the UK in 1999. Like Mick Jagger and Co, they also got back on the road.

Not a band to rely on their back catalogue, in 2003 they released the Curse of Blondie, which contained 14 new songs.

Harry said that the title was a long-standing joke - that when anything bizarre happened they would say it was the curse of Blondie.

More recently Harry played a concert to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the band appeared at the star-studded Fashion Rocks event in Monaco in aid of the Prince's Trust.

They've just released a new greatest hits album, and their contribution to music has been recognised by being nominated to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hopefully they'll show the audience at the UEA why they were, and continue to be, so influential.

Blondie play UEA, Norwich, on Sunday, November 13. It's a sell-out - for details of any returns call 01603 508050. Hugh Cornwall supports.

t The Norwich date was incorrect in our printed edition.

Blondie Greatest Hits: Sight and Sound is out now.

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