By John Curley
The documentary film Clem Burke: My View, which was directed by Phil Sansom and aired on Sky Arts in the UK last September, was screened last week at the NYC Independent Film Festival. In addition to interview segments with Burke, who joined Blondie in 1975, the film also features interviews with Blondie’s Chris Stein, Hugh Cornwall of The Stranglers, Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, rock photographer Bob Gruen, Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols and DJ and filmmaker Don Letts among others. Locations in the film include New York City, London and Liverpool. Several of the interviewees marvel at Burke’s very busy schedule that involves playing in several bands, including The Split Squad and The Empty Hearts, in addition to his work with Blondie. Burke is clearly a musician that loves live performance. At one point, Burke discusses how Blondie didn’t play any live shows between 1980 and 1982 and it’s clear that not performing live with the band did not sit well with him. Letts probably put it best when he says of Burke: “Drumming’s not a hobby. It’s not a job. It’s his goddamned life!”
Burke discusses his early life at the outset of the film, and he says, “I was in bands since I was like 12 years old. It’s all I ever did, really.” He goes on to talk about performing with his band at Carnegie Hall at age 14. The ad in the Village Voice with which Blondie recruited Burke to join the band is shown. On the subject of joining Blondie, Burke says, “I guess I saw the future in a way when I met Debbie and Chris. My musical future.” He also says of Debbie Harry, “With Debbie, I could immediately see her charisma. Her look was amazing.” Regarding Blondie in the recording studio, he says, “We were really trying to replicate the sound of a Phil Spector record.” And Burke discusses how Blondie’s appearance on BBC-TV’s Top of the Pops was one of his personal highlights during the first era of the band.
Burke admits to being “crushed” when Blondie broke up in 1982 and he talks about spending a good amount of time in the UK following the split. When in London, he met Annie Lennox. She introduced Burke to Dave Stewart, who recruited Burke to join Eurythmics. Burke played on Eurythmics’ 1986 album Revenge and toured with the band. In an interview segment, Stewart discusses doing an arena tour and how the band sounded “massive,” mostly because of Burke’s drumming.
Of Blondie’s reunion in the late 1990s, Burke says, “The one thing that I was determined to see happen was for us to make new music. I wasn’t interested in just rehashing the old hits.” Burke also discusses his drumming heroes, who include Ringo Starr, Dave Clark, Keith Moon and Earl Palmer. When Moon died in 1978, Burke says that he smashed a drumkit on the stage of London’s Hammersmith Odeon as a tribute to the late Who drummer. Like Starr, Burke is a left-handed drummer and plays a right-handed kit. Burke says doing that “has a certain uniqueness to the way you play.”
Scenes in Liverpool include Burke at the legendary Cavern Club and discussing the famous bands that played there in 1960s, such as The Kinks, The Who and, obviously, The Beatles. Burke is also shown standing in front of The Beatles’ statue in Liverpool talking about what the Fab Four meant to him.
One of the most fascinating segments of the film concerns the eight-year drumming study that Burke participated in that was co-sponsored by England’s University of Gloucestershire and University of Chichester. Two of the doctors that worked with Burke in the study are interviewed and, in a fun bit, Burke is shown playing drums opposite a kit played by the young son of one of the doctors. Burke received an honorary doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire due to his participation in the project.
The last part of the film features the second of two sold-out shows that Blondie played at London’s Brixton Academy in November 2017. Burke and the band are shown doing the show in front of a packed and ecstatic crowd.
The film is a must see for any Blondie fan and is certainly is required viewing for all drummers. The parts of the film that deal with Burke’s physical regimen and his copious note taking about different parts of the songs are quite interesting and could be of great benefit to young drummers. And Burke’s insistence on having fun while playing is a rule that should also be heeded by drummers and any other musician. As Burke says at one point in the film, “That was my goal in life, to never have to go to work. That’s why they call it playing.”
The film is 48 minutes in length. The trailer for the film can be seen below:
Burke can be seen performing on tour in North America with Blondie this summer. Most of the shows are co-headlining dates with Elvis Costello & The Imposters. Full tour dates can be found at https://tour.blondie.net/.
The 10 Albums That Changed My Life feature that Burke did for the April 2019 issue of Goldmine can be read by clicking below.