Philip Sansom’s documentary, My View: Clem Burke, gives an all areas look at the life of legendary drummer Clem Burke.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to the director ahead of the film’s UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London (26 and 27 September). For ticket info
Q: How did the opportunity to make this film and gain access to Clem Burke’s life come about?
A: I had been friends with Kevin Petillo (exec producer) for many years and we were good drinking buddies in Notting Hill, where we both frequented The Cow pub.
One day Kevin mentioned he had the potential to take on a project that had run up against a few challenges with the director but had no idea how to go about putting it together. I gently reminded him that I ran a production company – we rarely talked shop but this time our interests aligned and seeing as we were both also drummers, Blondie and Clem fans we decided to collaborate on the project.
Q: We sometimes see musicians burn out or lose their enthusiasm for music. Did you get a sense of where Clem is in his life and his outlook on performing?
A: Clem loves to play. His outlook is all about when is the next gig and how can I play with another great band. His energy is genuinely infectious and sincere. He just loves to play. That’s what he does.
Q: What was your perception of Clem heading into the project and did that change through the process of making the film?
A: Clem has always been a figure in my head of the drummer incarnate – cool suits, a strong hair game, incredible feel to his playing and legendary fill-ins on the kit. I loved Blondie hits and the early NY New Wave scene, so getting to hang out with a drumming icon was kinda cool for me.
Clem was always a big visual part of the band Blondie but I had forgotten he was also the drummer for The Eurythmics and a central part of their success on tour too. The revelation of how many bands and incredible artists Clem has worked with was quite mind blowing.
The misconception of a ‘Rock Star’ is that they are all drugged addled, alcoholic assholes, but Clem is a clean, hard-working health freak and literally everyone we talked to and everyone we met told us the same thing – Clem is the nicest guy in Rock ’n’ Roll, everybody loves Clem. That’s kind of amazing too.
Q: The trailer suggests there is an exciting energy and tempo to ‘My View: Clem Burke’. Is that the case? What can audiences expect?
A: The tempo is relentless. The film was cut to be 4 x 15 minute parts for SKY Arts so each section needed to be a stand alone film really. I didn’t have the budget to recut it as a feature, so when you watch these 4 parts back to back as one film it really doesn’t let up.
But that is also how Clem is in real life, his playing style and his persona are fast paced, relentless and constantly on the move – so I think the edit really compliments who Clem is and how his life feels to live it.
Q: You followed Clem as he performed at a Hyde Park gig for 80,000 people and also as he played 5 gigs in 24 hours. What was it like witnessing Clem in his element?
A: Clem feeds on the adrenaline of a show, he’s a fan of music himself and always manages to find time to speak to fans, friends, technicians and musicians, even when the pressure is on. He always delivers a show – the same in a small club as he would to a huge crowd. He is a rock, the solid foundation people build their stage performances on.
He loves the UK and really comes to life when talking music history with a pint in a club or pub – I think that’s where he is happiest.
Q: The film features exclusive interviews with Chris Stein, Glen Matlock, Dave Stewart and many others. What do these voices bring to the film?
A: Musicians spend an incredible amount of time with each other, whether in a studio environment or on the road, and it can be incredibly intense and very close-up and personal, so nobody knows you better. What better voices to bring a real inside point of view on Clem than the people he worked with and the friends who know him best. They encompass a cross section perspective of the entire journey of Clem’s musical career.
It took a lot of detective work tracking all of them down and getting time with each of them in such a short space of time, but I think they bring a really authentic voice of musicians who have collaborated with Clem and also clearly they bring a little profile to the project too.
Q: Was there a particular story or take on Clem that stood out to you?
A: I think Dave Stewarts take on Clem was really revealing. “Clem was the drummer you wanted in your band.” He’s not only a drummer but a showman who brings more to the band than just working as a player. He’s an integral part of what makes a band great.
Clem’s quite a joker too, very charismatic. That really hit home walking through the streets of Liverpool with John Lennon’s sister, there was an oversized statue of the Beatles and Clem asked: “Were they really this tall?”
The story from Gary Lachman about how Clem would bake his hair in the oven was also pretty funny. That man will go to any length for the right hair look. The list goes on…
Q: Clem is a driving force behind Blondie and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. What do you feel makes Clem such a unique and iconic performer?
A: His left-handed playing style is virtually impossible to mimic. That, combined with his natural ability to lock down complex beats accented with beautifully complimentary fills, is an integral part of each band he plays with, but nowhere more so than Blondie. In that band his arrangements make some of those songs what they are. Clem really plays for the song – he doesn’t overplay; he’s a musical drummer.
Clem is also a showman, from the way he dresses to his flamboyant stick tricks. More than that though, I think his work ethic is incredible to see and a real inspiration. He’s a machine and he will go and go as long as his body lets him.
Q: ‘My View: Clem Burke’ will screen at the Raindance Film Festival in London. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
A: It’s a real honour to have my first documentary played at such a prestigious festival. We never made this with any dream of festival entries, it all happened so fast and on such a shoestring that I am just glad that it has got an audience at all.
My hope is that they will get to know Clem and a side of the industry you rarely get to see. The personal love of music and collaboration. I think there is something for everyone to connect with in there, whether you are a fan or part of a team or business – seeing what it takes to keep a long term connection going for over 40 years on the road is inspiring and to still love what you do is even more amazing.
You can see ‘My View: Clem Burke’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London (26 and 27 September). For ticket info