Blondie Unaware They Are Breaking Homebake Tradition

7 August 2012 | 12:49 pm | Steve Bell

Chris Stein had no idea that his band are the first non-Antipodean band to headline the iconic Australian festival.

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When Homebake festival decided to "change the goalposts" and add a US band to its line-up for the first time ever, they did so by announcing New York new wave legends Blondie as this year's headline.

Blondie's Chris Stein has no idea why his band was chosen to be the first foreigners to invade what has historically been a resolutely Australasian line-up.

“No, is that the case?” offers guitarist Stein to Time Off editor Steve Bell in a forthcoming feature story. “I haven't a fucking clue."

Stein added, "Well, I'm honoured, that's great. I love Australia, and I've very much loved seeing the transition in the culture from when we very first went down in the mid-'70s when it was like stepping into a time warp to the '30s or something, to now where it's like going into the future – everything is so bohemian.”

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It's hard to believe that our national psyche has undergone such a pronounced shift in the lifespan of one rock band, but Stein is adamant that that is the case.

“It's really extreme,” he continues. “The very first gig we played was in Perth, and it was like going into the '50s or something – the women were wearing ankle-length floral skirts, it was very strange. And the whole gear and touring situation was so primitive! We were there during John Denver month, and every time we asked for a piece of gear for our tour, it was like, 'No, John has it'. Now touring is an industry, it's a whole other reality now.”

Blondie's first tour Down Under was in 1977 – while they were still a fledgling underground act elsewhere in the world – but they'd broken in Australia first in late-1976 due to Molly Meldrum's playing of the b-side In The Flesh – instead of the more raucous a-side X-Offender – on his massively influential ABC music show Countdown.

“Yeah, the story is that Molly played the b-side of our first single by mistake, but as the years went by I've always thought that he's just had a better judgement on what would have worked on the radio – a fast punk song wasn't going to work, and the b-side was this ballad, and I just think it was his judgement,” Stein admits. “I asked him one of the last times we saw him and he claimed not to have any memory of doing that, but I think he was just covering up. The story was that it was an accident, but I don't know.

“It was strange [having a random hit in Australia] because the song was not representative of what we were doing, and certainly not representative of our live show, so I think people were expecting some Olivia Newton-John thing when we were a punk band.”

They even managed to cause a small riot in Brisbane on that first tour, not bad for an emerging band more used to the dingy confines of CBGBs.

“Yeah Debbie [Harry] got sick and we had to cancel a show,” Stein laughs. “I used to have a copy of the newspaper – I don't know if it was a full-on, UK-style riot. I think it was more of a smaller altercation, but we still made some headlines there.”

Tickets for Homebake go on sale Thursday 16 August at 9am.