I don’t know about you, but I cringe when someone invites me to see a tribute band. I would rather stay home then watch a wonky version of Stevie Nicks wearing cheap rags onstage and yelping out an out of tune, “Tell me lies, tell me sweet, little lies….” I guess I’ve had too many bad experiences.
So when my friend invited me to see Bootleg Blondie, (a Blondie tribute band) while in London, I wasn’t sure how to feel. The gig was at a football club complete with a heavy set audio guy who could’ve been Steve Jones’ long lost brother. He even sounded like him, “Lemme show you me tattoo,” he said with a smirk as he unbuckled his belt. I lightheartedly yelped, “No!” while shoving him aside. Laughing, he stopped and said, “I got a spider on me knob.”
As the tightly packed show at London’s Boom Boom Room started, I was blown away by how much they sounded like the real deal. Fun loving married couple, Andy and Debbie Harris make up the guitar and vocals of the band. Debbie looks very similar to Debbie Harry and has an ironically close sounding name. About a half dozen costume changes, a telephone rigged mic for “Hanging On The Telephone,” and a CBGB’s awning gave the performance a more authentic feel.
I chatted with Debbie Harris for a bit on Bootleg Blondie and the immense popularity of tribute bands in the U.K.
What inspired the creation of Bootleg Blondie?
Debbie: I’ve always loved Blondie. I first heard Blondie’s Parallel Lines album as a kid at my Grandma’s house when my cousin would play his record collection to me! Andy was into the mod scene in ’78 & ’79 and remembers watching Clem Burke on the T.V. show, Top Of The Pops. He loved to watch Clem drumming and would check out what he was wearing as Clem had a cool mod look. We always liked to play some Blondie covers in our sets with our original band, Granny Takes A Trip and we even managed to get on the Small Faces tribute album Long Agos and Worlds Apart. People would come up to us after our shows and ask for more Blondie songs so it went from there.
Tell us about your props and costumes ?
As we are big fans we wanted to do it right, so over the years we have collected as much info as possible, videos, DVDs, photos, bootlegs. My costumes are as close to Debbie Harry’s originals as possible. Some I’ve made myself, some I’ve had made, and some have been hand painted by Andy! I’ve scoured the world for the right Debbie shoes or boots. The more accurate you are the more people appreciate the show. Our props are growing! I have a copy of Chris Stein’s Goya guitar which Debbie played on the “Union City” video. Andy made the guitar and I learnt the chords for that song, I use it in every show. We took it backstage to a Blondie gig and all the band signed it. Andy has made a copy of Chris Stein’s Stratocaster and that’s been signed by Chris, Debbie and Clem too. Andy was very chuffed when Chris invited him on stage and showed him guitars and pedal board!
We have a replica of Clem’s red sparkle Premier Genista drum kit which we have used at every Bootleg Blondie show. It was signed by Clem in Brighton back in 2005 and Clem actually played with us on this drum kit for one of our shows in 2016!
We have a full size red telephone box prop for “Hanging On The Telephone” and “Call Me,” take a peek inside and there is my red telephone singing mic, made by Andy of course and it goes everywhere with me! Last but not least there is our CBGB banner which sets the whole atmosphere for the show.
Cover bands are taken very seriously in England, where in the U.S. not so much. Do you have an idea why that is?
Tribute shows seem to be very much a nostalgia thing in the U.K. and Europe. People love to hear the songs of their youth, it brings back many memories as music always does. We are constantly asked to play B sides, albums tracks, unreleased material. People come up and tell us stories of the Blondie gigs they went to back in the 1970s and 80s, Blondie has a very loyal following over here.
Maybe we need to play in the U.S. more!!!
What are your favorite Blondie songs to perform?
Oooh that’s a hard one! I love “Detroit 442,” it’s hard and edgy, I love jumping about to it and it’s about Iggy which is great. I also like “Attack Of The Giant Ants,” “I’m On E” and “Union City Blue” (especially with Clem playing on drums behind me ha ha!)
Andy loves “Always Touched By Your Presence Dear,” “Victor” and “Rifle Range.” But honestly there are too many good tunes really we would be no good on Desert Island Discs!
Who was your favorite person to play with?
Our favorite people we’ve played with are both drummers, Clem Burke (Blondie) and Mick Avory (The Kinks.) Our favorite bands we’ve opened up for are the Undertones, Slade, Bad Manners, the Beat, Toyah Willcox, Hazel O’Connor and Heaven 17, Alvin Stardust. All big heroes of ours and in our record collection!
Tell me about when Mick Avory came to see you guys. Any other notables make it to your gigs?
Well we were gigging in a little pub in Richmond one Sunday night and we’d just played the Kinks’ song “David Watts.” Mick came up and introduced himself and said, “You played that better than we did!” We became good friends and he has since played several Kinks songs with us including “David Watts!” Over the years we have played many gigs with some notables in the audience: Joan Collins, Prince Edward, Sarah Ferguson, John Goodman (who actually got up to sing with us!), Brian May, Greta Scacchi, Leo Sayer (who also got up to sing with us!), Dolph Lundgren, Buzz Aldrin, Philip Salon, Alan Rickman, Prunella Scales, Lionel Bart, Mick Avory, Ray Davies and Veronica Noir!
How was playing at CBGB’s? Meeting Debbie Harry?
Playing CBGB’s meant the world to us, it was our Holy Grail, we couldn’t believe we were actually there!! To go on stage and shout “1-2-3-4!” at CBGB’s was punk rock heaven! We took home little bits from the walls, the tops from the toilet taps, some black and white tile fragments from the floor and it’s all in our little CBGB shrine at home in Shepherds Bush! We played in April 2006 and six months later it had closed down. Andy has a CBGB’ s tattoo to mark the occasion!
Debbie Harry has been so sweet ever since she sent us a message wishing us good luck with our show at CBGB back in 2006. We finally met her backstage in London. We gave her a birthday present and got chatting about bowling of all things! She always says hello and I gave her a shaggy orange jacket which she reckoned she’d look like a wookie in! As well as her amazing looks and image I love her kooky lyrics which people seem to forget about, and I really love her crazy dancing, I have tried my best to get this right!
When is your next gig?
We have two big tribute shows next week both called Bootleg Balls, one in Bognor Regis and the other up in Skegness. In March we are really looking forward to our first show in Scotland at The Ferry in Glasgow. The following day we are in Manchester (Smith’s land!).