Blondie, Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
Kele, Digital, Brighton

Blondie performing for picnickers in the Cotswolds might seem unlikely, but somehow it works

The strange and beautiful career of Debbie Harry is now entering a fascinating phase. At the age of 64, when most rock chicks have long since retired, it's clear that this pop icon has no intention of stopping.

That figure may come as a shock to some, especially since most of Harry's post-punk peers are now around the 50 mark, but the defining sex symbol of the late Seventies was always older than she let on.

There are all sorts of surprising stats one can bring up here: born in 1945, Harry is two years the senior of Mary Weiss of The Shangri-Las, whose girl group sassiness she drew on heavily in Blondie's early years. And she's also two years older than Marc Bolan, who had already gone superstellar, faded away and died by the time Blondie had their turn. The opening couplet of "Dreaming" – "When I met you at the restaurant/You could tell I was no debutante" – was, therefore, deadly accurate. With her worldly-wise attitude and calculating eyes (they added you up and found you wanting), Debbie Harry was always the anti-ingenue.

And, after one big comeback and a succession of aftershocks, she evidently intends to continue performing, like Marlene Dietrich, well into her twilight years, or perhaps even, like Josephine Baker, till the day she drops. The vital difference is that Blondie in the 21st century is no cabaret nostalgia act. Or at least, not entirely.

To the bemusement of an audience here for the hits, this tour is largely a preview of Blondie's upcoming ninth studio album, Panic Of Girls. In some ways, I empathise with the picnickers. This may feel more like a Ukip conference or Countryside Alliance rally than a pop concert, and the crowd may be mainly comprised of Barbour-jerkined Ellen MacArthur types and their ruddy-cheeked offspring, but they've paid their money and they're disappointed to go home without hearing "Denis" and "Sunday Girl" (for me, the absence of "Union City Blue" is the real killer), especially when room is made for an irrelevant cover of Taio Cruz's "Break Your Heart". I'm reminded of Homer Simpson heckling Bachman Turner Overdrive: "No! No new crap! Play "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet"!"

But this setting – an arboretum (it's like a zoo, but for trees) in the middle of the Cotswolds – isn't Blondie's ideal setting in any case. Seeing Clem Burke wearing a CBGBs T-shirt behind his big Perspex drum shield is poignant: if ever there was a band who need to do what The Stooges have done, bring it back indoors to the theatres and give it some punk rock, it's Blondie (and this coming Wednesday's gig at the indigO2 in London is probably as close as we'll get).

Harry looks, it must be said, incredible. After appearing a little grandmotherly in recent years, she's recognisably Debbie Harry again: plutonium blonde hair, Grace Kelly shades, military jacket, punky pleated skirt, and – of course – the greatest cheekbones Mother Nature ever carved. And, as though looking that way gives her licence to let go, she's got a new lease of life, doing that daft rigid-armed, side-to-side dance from every video you ever remember. Her voice struggles with some of the high notes on "Maria", but on the less demanding "Picture This", "Presence Dear" and "Tide is High", she's in complete command.

The new stuff, while not a straight carbon copy of the classic material, is a Warholian screen-print variation on it, as indeed is their bar-code logo, a nod to the Parallel Lines sleeve. This figures: Blondie are Pop Art in musical form, Warhol's worldview rendered (in the) flesh.

And the hits, when they come, are no robotic regurgitations either. "Call Me" is rendered as, essentially, a live mash-up with Muse's "Uprising". On the insane and inspired hip-hop homage "Rapture" she freestyles about petrol pumps and China, and breaks off in the middle of "One Way or Another" to ad lib "I guarantee a certain amount of results if you adopt this philosophy. Flexibility in our lives and our bodies ...."

Some songs, however, are left intact. "Atomic", for example, with its wild-west heroic riff and Moroder beats, and the peerlessly disdainful disco of "Heart of Glass". You don't mess with perfection.

Watching Kele Okereke launch his solo career lends a whole new meaning to the term "vested interest". Because the black-vested Bloc Party singer looks more interested in performing his electro-centric debut The Boxer than in the stand-offish indie stylings of Bloc Party.

Wading into the crowd, literally getting into the mix (rather than farming it out to Armand Van Helden), he is, as lyrics like "I am turning into the man I used to be" suggest, taking control and reclaiming his identity.

He's even writing his own reviews: glancing down at a pendant made of red, amber and green LEDs, he says "I seem to have a flashing light in place of my heart. How symbolic ...."

Okereke's demeanour is more like that of the MC at a Rio carnival after-party than a guy doing a gig under the arches on Brighton beach, and the atmosphere is more like a rave than a Thursday night gig with a 10pm curfew: sweat, green lasers, hands in the air, and so much smoke that passers-by on the promenade pause with concern.

"Ooh, what's this?" he says coyly, putting a guitar around his neck. "I haven't seen one of these in a long time ...." He bats back requests for Bloc Party numbers for a while ("'Helicopter'? What's that?"), but it isn't long before he relents, with BP's rapturous "One More Chance" and a Hi-NRG encore of "Flux", proving that sometimes pleasing the crowd and pleasing yourself can be one and the same.

Next Week:

Simon Price encounters two very different legends: the Reverend Al Green, and the somewhat less holy Ozzy Osbourne

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own