Blond-E, The Mountain Ash Inn, Mountain Ash, 1 January 2012
Ever since hearing that the former Creation Records boss, Alan McGee, has been DJing at the Mountain Ash Inn, I’ve been keen to find out what it is about the place that’s attracting attention. With a good collection of Cardiff City memorabilia, I could see that the owner – of whom more later – clearly has taste! The place was packed to the rafters, with women of all ages dressed to the nines, and even some of the many men had made an effort. Apparently, New Year’s Day is the “new New Year’s Eve” in terms of being the night to go out!
The area where the band played was a good size, with enough room for plenty of people. Debbie Harry stand-in, Dianna Watts, took to the stage, looking the part in an “Andy Warhol’s Bad” t-shirt, like the one the original singer wore, and PVC shorts. There was a long pause to begin with, and for a brief moment, you wondered if suddenly things were going to go horribly wrong, but fortunately the reverse was true, as once the music kicked in, it was all uphill from there.
As with the original Blondie, of course the singer was the focal point. Possessing the same effortless sex appeal, if she had her own website, it would have to be one of the new “.xxx” domains! Her vocal was authentic, and very good indeed, only occasionally faltering with high notes in songs like “Maria” for example, which she later blamed on a heavy cold: she was, after all, drinking lemsip! Besides which, Debbie Harry’s voice live was apparently rarely perfect, and I know it is the done thing for tribute acts to sometimes try and emulate mistakes as much as the parts done well. Carrying the same enigmatic smile, and also with some dance moves not seen since the early 80s, you could be forgiven for wondering where Dianna Watts stops and Debbie Harry starts, so convincing a double is she. It may have taken her 44 years to realise it, but I think this singer may have been born to be Blondie, or at least, Blond-E!
As for the other members of the band, only Dom, the keyboard player, makes a claim to look like an original member. They were all sedately dressed in black and, except for Adrian sometimes coming forward to play his funky cordless guitar, they mostly were content to fit into the backseat of the Diana-driven vehicle. The sound was by no means perfect, but the band held together well. They might need just a little more practice to really tighten things up, but bear in mind that this was just their fourth gig after all. They certainly won the crowd over well, with many 40-somethings, and dare I say it, perhaps even 50-somethings dancing by the end. Of course, with such a great back catalogue of songs to choose from, they were always onto a winner, and I think even all those in their 20s also enjoyed themselves.
A few well-selected covers – “Echo Beach” being a favourite – were worked in to beef up the 2 sets, but even with these, what I liked was the fact that it seemed as if they were being done, not by any old band, but in a style that Blondie themselves might have played them, and perhaps that’s no coincidence as the covers were carefully selected songs that the original Blondie also played live.
It was the Blondie songs that stuck in my mind the most though – particularly opener “One Way or Another”, “Atomic”, “Dreaming” and of course, “Heart of Glass” – along with a memorable performance by singer, Dianne. She had men queuing up to give her a congratulatory kiss after – myself included, I’ll admit. I might even become a Blond-E group-e!
On the way out, I finally met the owner of the bar, who turned out to be Tony Rivers, author of The Soul Crew, which he told me has now sold an incredible 100,000 copies, and has even been translated into two other languages. Now a father, his hooligan days are in the past, he says, but having been a successful author, it looks very much as if he is now going to become a successful landlord.
Blond-E at the Mountain Ash Inn was a great way to start the year, and the kind of gig that might just go down in folklore.
(a version of this review first appeared on Godisinthetvzine.co.uk; photograph by Steve Ridley)