Jo-Anne Green Tracks Down All five members of Duran Duran Duran's Classic Lineup for a fresh Look At A Pop Music Dynasty

Page 1 of .3

"I was talking to some bloke in a Birmingham bar," former Duran Duran bassist John Taylor recalls, "and it comes up that I play in a band. He asks me the name, and I tell him Duran Duran. Then he says, "Duran Duran, are you guys still going?" Taylor bursts into laughter. Why? Because that happened around 1979, before the group had even released their first single. "We'd been around Birmingham a lot by then," he explains, "playing with different line-ups. It was almost a bit of a joke, 'okay who's the singer this week?' It was all good sport, and stopped me from thinking about getting a real job." So, back then Duran Duran. were just another local band, playing around the Birmingham scene. "Well, "I don't know if I'd go that far," Taylor pauses for maximum effect, "I don't know that we were JUST another band." In a mere two years, they'd proved they were anything but. 1998 is Duran Duran's twentieth anniversary, and across two decades and 13 albums, the group has literally reshaped the pop world in their image. There was no grand plan, although there was definitely a vision; but nobody involved, least of all the band, expected it to be as successful as it was. As the '9O's dawned, by rights, Duran Duran should have been swept away by the whirlwind created by Nirvana. And although they did stumble momentarily, not only did the group recover, they've become stronger over time. And throughout it all, Duran Duran never lost their charm, style or grace, nor more importantly their sense of self. Quite an achievement for a group of art school, experimental, post punk rockers. "We wanted to do something artsy," John begins, "we came out of the punk movement, but we were looking to be a little more art school experimental than that." "It was very avant avantgarde art school sounding," keyboardist Nick Rhodes agrees.

"Our first gig was in Birmingham Art School, and we used projections of slides and things. We had quite an abstract kind of sound because we used a clarinet sometimes, there were two bassists, but no drummer, instead we had this little K rhythm unit. I had a synthesizer and reel to reel tapes that I used to fade in on a mixer. The tapes were of different things conversations that had happened that day, things from television, that kind of a thing." And in keeping with their futuristic approach to music, the band took their name from the evil scientist Jane Fonda battles in the sci-fi cult flick Barbarella. And coincidentally, or not, Barbarella was also the name of a local Birmingham club. The line-up in those early days included Rhodes (a.k.a. Nick Bates, his choice of last name has been variously attributed to the Fender Rhodes piano, the Greek island, and even former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes!.); John (a.k.a Nigel John Taylor) who'd previously played in Dada, another artschool band, which was no relation to Robert Palmer's pre-Vinegar Joe outfit of the same name; clarinetist and bassist Simon Colly, and singer/guitarist Stephen Duffy. This version of Duran Duran was short lived, playing only a few gigs, most, at Barbarella. Even so, one of. those early shows still remains engraved in Rhodes' memory;. "I remember being on stage at the Birmingham Barbarella, supporting Fashion. We came on at midnight in front of this punk crowd, who were wielding cans and spitting at everybody they possibly could. And here we were, this little artschool group. Stephen Duffy went up to the microphone and announced in his most effete voice, 'This little song we're going to sing now is a tribute to F Scott FitzgerAld, for those of you who've heard of him, this is a song called "So Cold In El Dorado." I thought we were going to die! "Actually we went down really well, it was the first encore we ever got! But I did think that they weren't quite going to get it. That's when my little K rhythm unit started up on a really slow fox-trot beat." Gales of laughter from Rhodes follows. Colley and Duffy left soon after, and formed Subterranean Hawks with two former members of TV Eye. The band didn't last long, and Colley has not been heard since. Rhodes thinks he may have become a chef, which was his goal at the time. "But, a lot of people know what happened to Stephen Duffy," he chuckles. Indeed they do, for after the Hawks folded, Duffy went solo, added Tin Tin to his name, and chalked up two international smashes with "Kiss Me" and "Hold Me." Then, in the late '80s, he shifted musical gears and formed the folk-pop group Lilac Time. "Stephen Duffy's proved his talent," Rhodes continues, "I always think that one day we'll end up working with him again on something. I like some of the Lilac Time stuff."

In Duffy's place came vocalist Andy Wickett, a fair trade, as he'd been with TV Eye. And it was around this same time that Duran Duran decided they wanted a live drummer, thus entered Roger Taylor, a veteran of the punk scene. It was now 1979, and Duran Duran were ready to make their first demo. Four songs were recorded, including "Girls On Film," "Dreaming Of Your Cars," "Reincarnation," and a song Rhodes thinks was called "Working The Steel." The demo was produced by former Steve. Gibbons' and drummer Bob Lamb, at the eight track studio he'd built in his h vii room. "Bob Lamb was crucial to this period of Birmingham's development, I think," John insists, "and certainly to the development of Duran Duran, as he was to UB 40 (he produced their first album)." Not long after the demo was finished, former Cowboys International guitarist Alan Curtis joined, however, Wickett departed soon after his arrival. "Andy had a great voice," Rhodes enthused, "he kind of had a little bit of Iggy Pop to him. I know he's tried to do a few things since, and I don't know, I guess he never hit on the right thing, I still do think he's very talented." He left the world of Duran Duran for a series of punk bands, none sadly of any note. In his stead came Geoff Thomas, a friend of Roger's from one his former bands, the Sex Organs. If John's recollections are correct, this line-up never performed live. However, they did cut another demo. The group returned to Bob Lamb's studio, and recorded another four song tape. Amongst the tracks cut were "Enigmatic Swimmers" and "See Me Repeat Me," the latter of which Rhodes believes eventually metamorphosed into parts of "Rio."

With that demo in hand, early in 1980, Duran Duran approached Paul and Michael Berrow, owners of the recently opened Rum Runner club. The group were looking for management, they walked away with that, along with a residency at the new club, and Rhodes also landed a gig as the club DJ. It seemed like a perfect partnership, the only problem was the Berrows didn't think much of Thomas' vocal abilities and guitarist Curtis didn't think much of the Berrows. "They just didn't get Geoff, they didn't like him, and thought we could do better," John recalls. "And Alan Curtis just left because he found them quite threatening. So literally, when we fell in with these two guys, we gained managers, but lost a singer and a guitar player. Then we began the search for the holy grail. "We used to audition for singers and guitar players, and when we were auditing guitar players, we'd tell them the singer was sick, and when we auditioned singers, we'd tell them the guitar player was sick. "But what it did do, was give Nick and myself, along with the managers, Paul in particular, time to really solidify a sense of where we were going. And, as odd as it might sound, even without a singer and a guitar player, we had a very strong sense of what we could achieve." Thus during this early period Duran Duran were moving towards a sound, and just needed the right people to parlay it. John's long pause, before he replies with a drawn out, "Yeeaah," suggests that maybe that's not quite the way it was. "Yeah, you don't think of moving in a direction when you're 18, do you? We would do a couple of gigs with the line-up, then somebody would leave, and then you'd look to replace them. But there was always a vision." And that vision centered around their sound, which was not only innovative, but daringly different in its mixture of influences.

"Obviously one was excited by the music coming out of punk, like the Clash and the Sex Pistols," John states, "they were the basis for everything. The Human League were kind of interesting, and we had an interest in electronic music, this sort of eclecticism, we were always kind of eclectic." Rhodes also gives the Human League the thumbs up. "Their first album, I must say, because that, for an English electronic album, was really, really interesting, and that little EP Being Boiled, they put out, was a good record." Which is why Andy Taylor was initially such a surprising choice for guitarist. He'd come from a very different musical background all together. "None of us were musicians," John begins, "and he'd played the boards, so to speak. He'd been in bands that had traveled around Germany playing air force bases night after night after night. He'd done a lot of legwork, so, he brought a whole different kind of experience to the band. But when he came down [to the audition], he really got it, he was a musician." However, Rhodes had his doubts. "We put an advert into Melody Maker, this list came through, 20 or 30 people, and there was one that had the name Taylor. I said, 'No way, we're having that one.' There was already two of them, and I'd be out numbered. So what happened is, of course, we went through them all, and he was the perfect one." Indeed Andy was. He perfectly complimented the rest of the group, providing the strengths they lacked; Andy was an experienced player, with a record deal already in his past, and even some production work behind him. Andy began playing guitar at age six, taught by his neighbor David Black, who replaced Mick Ronson when the Spiders from Mars spun off from David Bowie. Black also snagged an audition for his young prodigy with a covers' band, who played the northern England circuit of mens' club. It was a fabulous break for a boy from a tiny Tyneside fishing village. "So I started at 14, making 30, 40 quid [pounds] a week, and not going to school much, because 25 years ago making that kind of money, my Dad used to make me pay rent, my little contribution to the household. Actually, my dad didn't make me do it, he was a great source of support." By the time Andy was 16, he'd moved on to a pop punk group, initially dubbed The Gigolos, but soon renamed Motorway.

The band were good enough to snag a single's deal with A&M, and in 1977 they put out their first and final record, Teenage Girls." Sadly, the single didn't bring fame and fortune, and as Andy describes it, "We had a major set of roadworks, and the traffic stopped, I kind of lost interest in it, and it didn't work out." The production gig came next. The local Newcastle paper held a contest for punk bands featuring members under 16, and around 50 bands entered. The winner was Ward 34, and the promoter of the contest was meant to record them in his own studio. However, he had another commitment that day, and asked Andy if he'd like to take on the job. The guitarist jumped at the chance. "So I'm teaching these younger lads, they were about 13, how to do it. But I've always been into gadgets, put a mixing desk in front of me, and I'll just fiddle with it for hours, and everyone gets pissed off, but that's just the way I am. I remember thinking it's great making up the records from the other side, but you learn a lot about what you're doing, if you're on the other side as well." 50 underage punk bands or not, Northeastern England's music scene didn't have much hope of capturing record label's attention. Thus Andy joined yet another cover band, as lead singer and guitarist, and began performing on the American airbase and strip club circuits in Germany. The money was good, but the work was grueling. "We played six 45 minute sets a night but it was brilliant because you learned how to do the work as musicians. I'd be singing 'Midnight At The Oasis' to four star generals, then I'd have coffee with them, and they'd tell me about the nukes they had up the road. I learned all this rough road work as a kid." A few years later, Andy was back home waiting for whatever would get him out of town next. And then he saw the Melody Maker ad. "We led him to believe we had a singer."

Rhodes recalls, "but he wasn't actually there. Andy came down from Newcastle to Birmingham, and said, 'Well, where's the singer?' So we said, we're working on it, we're going to have one soon. Duran Duran's next singer, for all of a fortnight, was Oliver Guy Watts, who only Andy remembered. Their next one, however, was a bit more memorable. Andy's first impression of him was of "this weird looking dude with leather skin pants, who had a- book of his poetry with him." And so entered Simon Le Bon. It was a barmaid at Rum Runner that suggested the band check out her old boyfriend Le Bon. He also had some musical experience, having fronted three very different types of groups. There was Bolleaux which the singer describes as a "pub style R&B band, like Eddie and the Hot Rods, but more rock." Dog Days, in contrast, "was an out an out punk band." Finally there was Robostrov; a post-punk electro band, heading in a Kraftwerkian direction. Le Bon was also studying drama, and currently attended Birmingham University. Having been contacted by his friend Le Bon set up to come in for an audition Before that, however, "I went out one night and I was in a winebar talking to some girl and she seemed to know all the local bands. So I said, 'Oh, have you heard of a band called Duran Duran?' And she went, 'Oh, yes, they've got a very stylish singer.' I said, 'That's funny, because that's the job I'm going for.' And that's all she had to say about them." So, Le Bon wasn't sure what to expect. "We went into a room and actually played, and I thought, 'This is quite cool.' They had this thing about being between Chic and the Sex Pistols, but I thought they were more like in between Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols, because the guitar was really big and brash. "Actually it was more like the Damned than the Sex Pistols. 'Neat, Neat, Neat that was the kind of punk I was hearing in it The Pistols were much more straight on rock music, it came from Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop, but there was much more of a European flavor in The Damned. If you listen to say something like 'Fan Club,' it had a very off the wall sound, the tonality of their songs was much darker, more from '60s English bands." And it was that darker sound that the singer was hearing in the group.

Duran Duran were as impressed with Le Bon, as he was with them. Not only did they enlist him on the spot, but "Sound Of Thunder" was actually completed at the audition. The song's framework was already down on tape, and it was the instrumental backing track that the auditioning guitarists and vocalists were presented with. "Simon showed me this poem," Andy recalls, "and it fit on top of it virtually perfectly". "He also had lyrics in his book at the time that we subsequently used, like 'The Chauffeur,"' Rhodes recalls. "There was another one that I always wanted to do, I don't know if I'd like it now, because I haven't seen it for years, but it was called 'Underneath The Clock Tower."' Shortly after Le Bon joined Duran Duran, the Berrows decided to send the band back into the studio. This time, however, it wouldn't be at Bob Lamb's home, but at the 24 track AIR Studios in London. There, the group recorded two tracks, "Girls On Film" and "Tel Aviv." "Unlike the instrumental version on the album," John explains, 'Tel Aviv' was completely different, it was more of a real rock epic, it actually had three tempos. That's a nice little item, and I've got the only copy. When Nick and I talk about putting out an album of rarities, that's usually the first thing that comes to mind." Rhodes adds that "Girls On Film" was also very different from that subsequently released. In fact, he believes there were at least three early recordings of that song, each with a different set of lyrics! The AIR Studios' tracks were "much heavier" than the later version. Obviously, the Berrows were investing heavily in Duran Duran, as 24 track studios at that time did not come cheap, but the brothers had high hopes for the band. There faith was borne out on July 5, when the group played at the Edinburgh Festival to a rabidly approving crowd. It was Le Bon's live debut with the group.

It was around this time, that the weekly music paper Sounds ran an article about Spandau Ballet and the embryonic New Romantic Movement. John read the piece during rehearsal one day, it was the first he'd heard of the scene. "I said to the guys, 'Hey look, check this I out. It sounds like these guys are doing the same kind of thing that we are". Just in terms of them taking these Euro beats, this kind white European dance style with guitars. Actually, we were nothing like that music but when you looked at it on paper it seemed that way. And thus, the band dropped the term New Romantic directly into the lyrics of "Planet Earth." "It was just pure opportunism really John admits, "to take that label and stick it into 'Planet Earth.' We called up the girl who wrote the piece, Betty Page, and said Hey we're part of this New Romantic Movement you're talking about, but we're in Birmingham, why don't you come up and see us? So, she did, and that was the first article that got written about the band. It was that We want to be the band to dance to when the bomb dropped' article, courtesy of her And that was the first interest that we got." However, Rhodes, who was interviewed separately from John, remembers things a little differently. "That New Romantic label, it's a funny one that, it kind of cuts both ways I suppose. I think the thing what's important about it in hindsight is that we were a little concerned at the time. We didn't want to get categorized within a fashion really, because the same thing always happens with things that are fashionable, they go out of fashion. Well, you obviously weren't THAT concerned, or you wouldn't have called Sounds and told them you were New Romantics. At least that's John's recollection. "Umm, I wouldn't want to say he was wrong, because he could well be right but my recollection was that we knew there was something going on there, but we felt that we were something a bit different, perhaps if there was something happening it could be of use.

Precisely because at that point, the New Romantic was virtually unknown outside it's London base. As John noted, on paper Duran Duran did seem to fall into this new musical genre, and whether they did or not, if it could help generate interest in the band, then use it. In the wakeof punk's disintegration, there was almot a musical lull, at least in the press' eyes. Everyone was searching for the next big thing, and to prod things along, the press were quick to jump on anything new. The kids in the clubs were looking around for something to latch onto as well. "Looking back at it now," Rhodes muses, "I think really what New Romantic was about, was a style movement that came out of punk rock and glam rock. Running alongside glam rock was techno-rock, triple alburns, concept albums, flying pigs." So, we're talking Pink Floyd. "Exactly, and Yes and all those groups; the punk movement was against all that. They were fans of T Rex, Bowie, the stylized glam rock, but nobody was that keen on ELP, it was a reaction against people who could play like virtuosos. It was more we can play three chords, stand up onstage, and everything's great. What we did was take that ethic together with the electronic music of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, and all that disco stuff as well, and mixed it in with glamrock. "All that together is what resulted in the New Romantic ethics I suppose. And I think our music was greatly away from nearly everybody else, other than the punk side of it, which was there with the likes of Depeche Mode, but perhaps not so much so with some of the others."

It's important to remember that contrary to the movement's later appearance, New Romantic did spring directly out of punk. People like Steve Strange, who opened London's first New Romantic club, had begun in the punk scene, as had Boy George. The scene had close ties to some of the gay community, which further fueled the sense of style and flash. It was only later that the media's perception would twist New Romantic into an "anti-punk" backlash. And it was that later vision of New Romantic that Rhodes felt rightly that Duran Duran needed to stay well away from. When the packaging started becoming more important than the content, the New Romantic Movement quickly sailed out of the serious musical current, and began drifting towards the shoals of fad-dom. "Exactly," Rhodes agrees. "We thought that the New Romantic Movement was becoming a lot more to do with style than content. And whilst part of us has always been very style based, we felt that we had stronger songs than the majority of the other acts that were coming out at that time. So we were skeptical about what would happen, and I suppose a little nervous of labeling. We tried to steer away from it, but inevitably, what happened with the media was we sort of became part of it." "It was a double edged sword, now looking back on it, I think it was incredibly helpful to launching ourselves, because it had created a scene, and people were interested in the scene. But what I think the reality of it was, really the style of it brought everybody together, as opposed to the music, apart from a little bit of the dance and electronic, thing I suppose, there was a lot of variance within it." Absolutely right, but that was only to become clear with time. At the moment, Duran Duran had their own unique sound and a style that was yet to be defined by the media. If Sounds wanted to include them in the embryonic New Romantic movement, fine. And if tossing the term into "Planet Earth" helped, more power to it. As far as Duran Duran were concerned, they were not punk, art school, experimental electro, nor disco, but a combination of all these things. And the members had all spent time in the punk scene, if not in punk bands, as least as fans. "It was literally just coming out of the '70s, coming out of the DIY ethic," John elaborates. "Although I say that, but the Clash were with CBS and the Sex Pistols were EMI, but there was something about the DIY ethic at that point. It was interesting how we became very much the symbols of the new corporatism." Indeed it is! But originally, Duran Duran were intending on following the punk DIY trail to its next stop; a self-released single. An initial run of a thousand were to be pressed up on their own Tritec label.

Mike Berrows sold his apartment, raising the cash not only for the single, but for Duran Duran to buy their way onto the next Hazel O'Connor tour. The singing actress was launched by the success of the Derek Jarman film Breaking Glass (which Costarred Phil Daniels, renowned for Quadrophenia and more recently for his narration on Blur's "Parklife" smash hit). O'Connor's November tour was in support of her latest hit single, "Eighth Day". Over the spring and summer of 1980, Duran Duran had played a number of clubs gigs, a buzz was starting, and now they stepped up to auditorium size venues. So, even though the tour came with a price tag of a few thousand pounds, it would serve as a showcase for the band. And that led to the demise of Tritec, because as soon as Duran Duran embarked on the tour, it became very evident that their buzz was turning into a roar. Today, Rhodes has the only copy of this never released record. "I don't even think there's a tape of it, it's on acetate, so I haven't even dared listen to it." The reason for the single's cancellation was simple, every record company in the country was now showing interest in the band. "I think our managers just realized that we could reach more people more efficiently on a major," explains John. "Record companies were coming every night all over the country to see us," Rhodes adds, "and the bidding war started. It was great for us, because it wasn't just one company that was interested, it was most of them. And it ended up coming down to EMI and Polygram battling it out." EMI won. "We ended up getting ripped off left, right and center, just like every other new band does," Rhodes continues. "But the one saving grace of our early contract was that we got complete artistic control over everything we ever did, from music to videos, album covers, photos. I guess we got director's cut as they say, and so we've always been able to keep the integrity of our music."

The band went directly into Red Bus Studios in London, and began recording. "We'd hooked up with Cohn Thurston" John begins, "who we considered to have great credentials, he engineered Lust For Life and produced the first Human League album, that was enough [he also engineered Bowie's Heroes]. "I don't want to say I was in a daze, but things were moving very, very quickly. I remember John Lennon was shot while we were doing that album, and I remember London being cold, wet and lonely. We had a Citroen estate car, and we were going up and down the motorway And I remember the claptrap, this cool electronic device that enabled you to get this handclap sound. "Other than that, I was astonished at how long it took to make records. I was astonished at how long it took to get a drum sound, two days possibly; and I had zero patience. Ana also how little time my own participation in the rec6rding took, compared to how long the singer would sing for, how long the keyboard player would layer his keyboards. That was a bit of an eye opener for me." Duran Duran's debut single, "Planet Earth," was an eye opener for everyone else. Released at the end of March, 1981, and accompanied by a 12" remix, the song danced its way up to #12 in the U.K. chart. The following month, the band embarked on a tour which would keep them on the road until Christmas. In May, 1982, the driving, doomy "Careless Memories" entered the shops, but amazingly only reached #37. Perhaps that's because their own headlining tour of Britain wouldn't begin until June. In any event, yet another version of "Girls On Film," released as a single in August, sailed to Number Five. The band's self-titled debut album would rise two places higher, and remained in the chart for a breathtaking 118 weeks. Duran Duran had arrived.

Today, it's virtually impossible to try to place these and the ensuing events in proper context. Everything was happening at lightspee4, a rush of hits, fame, fortune, and world-wide adulation. It was a bit like a juggernaut, and the group were about to be run over by it. 1981 was the year of the New Romantic. With its frilly shirts, deft make-up, and yards of scarves, New Romantics were so flamboyant, had so much flair, and were so incredibly photogenic, that swiftly the movement caught the attention of even the daily papers. And it was at this point that Rhodes' worries were coming home to roost. Early practitioners within the scene - Spandau Ballet, Visage, Depeche Mode, Human League, as well as Duran Duran - all had their roots in the punk scene. Musically, they'd progressed far beyond punk's simple structures, each band separately moving into new; uncharted waters. Their fans, most in their late teens and early '20s, had grown up either in, or were influenced by the punk scene as well. Even the clothes were based on punk's DIY ethic, and were handmade or thriftshop purchases. But just as Zandra Rhodes had waylaid punk gear for Paris and Milan catwalks, so too would the fashion industry co-opt the New Romantics. By '82, even Bloomingdales in N.Y.C was sporting pirate outfits, in hornage of Adam Ant. The bandwagon jumpers, as always, garbed themselves in the look and sound, but missed the point entirely. Somewhere along the line, a clueless journalist decided that the New Romantics were the backlash to punk, put that clever concept into a head- line, and made it so. All too quickly, New Romanticism become synonymous with superficial, fashion crazed yuppies, with the spare cash to institute a new fashion fad every fortnight. And thus, Duran Duran who compared their sound to the Pistols and Damned, eventually found themselves nailed to the mast of the new corporatism. Even stranger, they'd also find themselves nailed to the bedroom walls of an entire generation of young teens. And if artschool punks sailing the yuppie musical flagship was bizarre, that was just surreal. And shocking, one would assume.

"But of course, of course," John immediately agrees. "You've got to remember though, that when I was 16, 1 was still reading the teen press, I was still trading teen posters of Marc Bolan with the girls at my high school. When a lot of teen press began making itself available three years later, now I'm dealing directly with these magazines, but they're photographing me! I'm in the center pages! I was like, 'Sure I'll do it, you want me to do it with a model, sure.' I jumped, and I became the face for the teen press, but I didn't really think about it. "Brighton [at the Dome] was the first date of the U.K. tour [in June, 1981], that we did with the release of the first album. The curtains opened, and there was this sea of screaming girls, it completely threw me off my balance. I had no idea.. .I mean, I felt....I don't know, it was like somebody pulling the rug out from under you. Because one was used to putting all the energy out, and having this huge surge of energy coming at you, it was extraordinary "Now I know that what would have been great for the band then, would have been this two or three hour group therapy right after the show 'How did you feel about that, what did it make you feel? Simon, how did it make you feel when they were shouting 'John, John'? John how did it make you feel when that bra landed on the stage.' Because we never got a chance to process it, it was just insanity, and that set the base for the next three years." And it made absolutely no sense at all. Duran Duran was the antithesis of a proper pop album filled with ditties and puppy love songs for 12 year olds. The music and lyrical themes were obviously adult orientated, the music while pop tinged and dance fueled, had a dark quality. As Le Bon earlier stated, there was a hint of early Damned to their sound, a shadowed, European twist that filled the album with almost gloomy atmospheres. Songs like "Careless Memories," and indeed the entire second side of the album weren't far removed in mood from postpunk bands like The Cure, the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, and many other of the precursors of Goth. What spared Duran Duran from living entombment was their dance inducing rhythms, and Rhodes' very experimental electronics.

Duran Duran was a phenomenal achievement, and sounds as stunning today as it did in 1981; even after all these years, it's not the least bit dated. And the idea of it appealing to teen screamers remains beyond belief. Certainly the band weren't wooing this audience. Godley and Creme directed the video for "Girls On Film," and filled it with scantily clad Penthouse models. In fact, Penthouse centerfolds was the easiest way for kids to actually glimpse any of these girls, as both the BBC and MTV banned the video. So, it was obvious that Duran Duran were not attempting to appeal to the prepubescent crowd. And they didn't understand their screaming arrival any better than anyone else. "I can only imagine that kids are always the first to pick up on things, Rhodes muses. "Kids are the ones that always go and buy records on Friday after school, they're the ones that buy the magazines. We did do some teen magazines as well, and when word spreads it's like fire. I mean no-one was more shocked than us. "The first [arena] show we were just looking at each other, it got to the point where we actually stopped because we just didn't know what was going on. "It was funny, because I've seen lots of footage of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, all these things that happened in the '60s where kids were just going crazy And I thought it was because rock music was so new then, it was a much more naive generation. I thought that would never happen again, it hadn't for many years in England, so when it happened with us, we were shocked, incredibly surprised. It was the last thing we ever thought would happen,.particularly because we thought the content of our songs, and certainly I love great pop songs, but the content of our songs was hardly something that was going to appeal to a teen audience. "We'd been used to playing nightclubs and seeing old girls with feathers in their hair. So, it was very unexpected, and we didn't quite know what to do about it to start with. But having said that, it was also very exciting to have an audience and to get through to that many people. It was again, despite the fact that it became obvious that we had a huge female following, it was quite mixed. Boys aren't stupid, they know where girls go.

"It was definitely an experience to go - through, and it lasted for quite a long time, it was one of those things. We hadn't even had a chance to understand it, never mind stop it." "I actually know the answer to this," Andy boldly states. "I understand why it happened. What happened was, when the Japanese got a hold of our photos, they really picked up on John, because he looked fucking great when he was a kid. They saw the potential for the Japanese market, and the little Japanese girls went for it straight away. So the cynical marketing side of it in the U.K. said, let's go straight downstairs to the Smash Hits market. "Before you know where you are, you've encouraged it without knowing it. They (the marketing department] know what they're doing, and it was all based on the reaction in Japan. Then that reaction started coming back, which they knew they'd get; market a great looking boy with a pop hit and you're gonna get a teen reaction. We didn't know that! We were flying here and there doing TV shows, playing the odd gig, we didn't realize the capability and the cynicism of the machine around us." And so it began; a worldwide tidal wave, crashing first over the shores of Japan, then soon submerging the rest of the world. "We were quite lucky in that it happened to us the way it did though," Rhodes declares. "The first album was huge in Asia, the Far East, Australia, England, and some of Europe. So we had time to deal with that, by the time we broke in America, we'd consolidated, with the Rio album, the rest of the world." That was still a year away. In the mean time, 1981 was seen out with "My Own Way" a taster for Duran Duran's next album. The funk song shimmied up into the Top 15, giving the band their fourth hit single of the year. 1982 was to be bigger and more crazed. "But it was a very smooth machine, and it had to be," John explains. "There was a famous quote by Rob Warr, head of promotions at EMI at the time. He said, 'Duran Duran are great, they're like plasticene. We can do anything with them.' It got me SO annoyed. "But, you know what? In a sense, for a band to happen like we happened, there has to be a letting go, and there can be no agendas other than the management's.

Everyone in the band wanted to be a star, so that was all you had to do, shut up and play your guitar, right? And management wanted to be stars too, and make money, the record company wanted to make money, so, shut up and do your job. And everybody just did it. It was a remarkable thing." So, you just did what you were told? "That was only in certain aspects, in terms of promotion. When we first did a video, I was like, 'What the fuck is this about!?!' 'Well, John, this is going to save us going to Australia.' We've got a hit record in Australia, and we need television presence over there, but we don't want to have to go there. That was how we got to do 'Planet Earth.' "None of us understood, Simon perhaps got it, probably because it had to be explained to him a little more fully. But that whole concept of a video, I really didn't get it, it was certainly was at odds with the whole punk ethic." And even if the band didn't get it, Le Bon at least, knew precisely what to do. Lights, camera, action...the singer had been here before...more times than he could count. Long before joining Duran Duran or going off to study drama at university, Le Bon had worked as a child actor. He was by no means a star, but he'd done a myriad of commercials, and was well remembered in the U.K. as the boy in the Persil (a laundry detergent) ad. Simon came to us as an actor, who'd done a bit of singing," John elaborates. "And who would've known just how useful that acting experience was going to be in the band's breakthrough. He could do that shit, and nobody else could do it! Adam Ant couldn't do it; Bowie couldn't do it, Bryan Ferry; none of these guys could convincingly pull off that shit." But Le Bon could, brilliantly, and it would make all the difference in the world. But that was only one facet of the band's growing success.

"There was a lot of creative management going on at that time," John elaborates. It's hard to imagine the energy that was going into making it all work. I'm startled myself if I think about it. Because we were always on red alert, we were like a team of commandos... I don't know how to explain. When you've got five people, and everyone has incredible energy, you can cover many bases. There's not many bands that can do that, you can cover a lot of ground. We had all the bases covered, we had innovative technology, we had rock'n'roll chops, we had charm and charisma." And you had great songs. "Those were a byproduct of those other things. It was all kind of natural, we were coming from a great heritage. It wasn't like you were inventing the wheel, we were just trying to take our place in the scheme of things. The Beatles... Queen... Roxy Music to an extent were all influences, but we were so much more pop than any of them. But it was just the way the cards fell. We never consciously set out to be a pop band, but it was a mixture of limitations and know how that created these like perfect pop records." And that was never truer than with Rio, which was released at the end of May, rocketed to Number Two, and stayed in the British chart for the remainder of the year. The album was once again produced by Cohn Thurston, but this time recorded at A Studios in London. Compared to Duran Duran the new record was brasher, the band, while never lacking confidence, was now brimming with self-assurance. The songs were brighter as well, although some, notably "The Chauffeur," "Save A Prayer Til The Morning After" and "Lonely In Your Nightmare" still carried an air of bittersweet melancholy. However, what made Rio truly memorable is how easily and unaffectedly Duran Duran showcased different aspects of their sound. They slip effortlessly across the pure pop of "Rio," the dance fired "Hold Back The Rain," the funky New Religion" to the very experimental The Chauffeur". It was surely that mixture of styles, coupled with the band's growing musical talent, and Le Bon's strong vocals, that were the true appeal of the band.

Duran Duran had launched themselves onto the stage a month earlier, in April, and toured on through the rest of '82. It was becoming a blur, at least for John. "The tour started in Australia, went to Japan, we went backwards and forwards...where the fuck DID we play? We played the Peppermint Lounge [in N.Y.C], and the MTV New Years' Eve ball from the Savoy in N.Y." Duran Duran had already played the States the previous year, doing a club tour in support of the first album. Initially, Duran Duran garnered a New Wave crowd. As in Britain, many of the fans had arrived via the punk scene, and were in their early 20s. Although none of the group's singles charted, the album had done well enough for a Briush band of its day, and the tour certainly was helping them build a cult following. A second round of U.S. club dates commenced after the release of Rio, and having already wound their way back and forth throughout the States, Duran Duran then joined Blondie's tour as support. This was virtually a repeat of the Hazel O'Connor experience, opening for a much bigger act, in much larger venues. But an equally important event was to take place in a much smaller space. "Around that time," Rhodes recalls, "we went to the MTV offices in N.Y., which I remember was just a few rooms. I knew all the members of staff, the people that owned it, everybody else almost on first name terms, there was only like 16 of them. At the time MTV was available in three states, it wasn't even available in Manhattan if my memory serves me correctly - New Jersey, somewhere in Texas, and some place in Florida I think - and that was it. "It was a very new idea, and we thought this was great, because in England, you could only get your video played once if you were lucky, that was it, there was no place else for them to play. So, we started building this relationship with MTV, and obviously it worked for them, because they liked the things we were doing. "So, what happened in those markets in particular was the radio stations were getting calls from kids who'd seen the videos, and who wanted to hear the records on the radio. At the same time, parallel to this, we were actually starting to get radio play across the country, where they didn't have any MTV It was the radio play actually, without any question that broke the band." And it would take some time. Back home in Britain, "Hungry Like The Wolf' shot to Number Five upon its June release. In September, the haunting "Save A Prayer" did even better, climbing to Number Two. But America wasn't ready to succumb yet. When Duran Duran released a remix EP Carnival, for the U.S. market, it only rose to Number 98; however, this was the band's first entry into the chart. Back home the following month, "Rio" danced into the U.K. Top 10. But, in the States, the group's hard work was finally begin to pay off. Slowly both Rio and "Hungry Like The Wolf" climbed the chart, eventually hitting Number Six (in June) and Three respectively Once there, the album refused to leave, staying in the chart for over two years! Duran Duran had now reached true world wide fame. "It was quite a surprise," Rhodes recalls, "we'd come home from the [U.S. tour, and thought to ourselves, well we've done some tours, we've had a good reaction, perhaps we'll break America on the third album. That's where we left it, we thought Rio was over there, and suddenly, it was going up the charts, and that led us to make the next album and do the big arena tour in '84." It was equally gratifying when their next U.K. single, "Is There Something I Should Know," went directly into the chart at Number One. Today, that's almost the norm, records no longer climb, they chart at whatever rung, and then immediately start falling down the following week. However, previous to this decade, a record would work its way up to Number One over at least a few weeks. To enter at Number One was an astonishing feat; Duran Duran had much to celebrate. And barely any time to do it. Tours, interviews, photoshoots, videoshoots, when you're a world-wide phenomenon you've little time for yourself. There again, when the invitation is coming from the Prince and the late Princess of Wales, you make the time. Thus, on July 20, Duran headlined a charity concert for MENCAP (an organization that works with the mentally handicapped), sponsored by the royal couple.

Click here to go to page 2 of this interview.

Click here to go back to the articles page.

Click here to back to the front page.