2003, Melbourne, Australia and Duran Duran are about to tour the country in their original line-up for the first time in 20 years. Getting the original line-up back together seemed near impossible after 1996 when founding member John Taylor walked out of the band he started two decades earlier.
Taylor had been the clue that kept the beast going through numerous line-up changes over the previous two decades.
But let’s go back to 1978, Birmingham, England. The country is smothered in punk but a new sound is brewing. That sound became known as the ‘New Romantic Movement’. Duran Duran weren’t the first band to be tagged New Romantics but they were certainly the first to use the expression in a song.
They were also the band who accelerated the impact of video as a means for delivering a way to reach fans with music.
The start of our conversation with John Taylor centres around that new media of video. He spoke to Paul Cashmere.
John Taylor: As far back as ’65 people had figured if you could make a film of the song then it was going to save the band a lot of work. It was just the talent and technology in London at the start of the 80’s. When we met Russell Mulcahy, one of Australia’s own, it was a tremendous marriage. He had incredible imagination and really knew how to drive the tools that were available then. Everybody was working and nobody was making a lot of money out of it. There were a lot of ideas and a lot of talent. I really feel we were in the right place at the right time.
Paul Cashmere: And you were there at the start of Russell’s career.
JT: Russell had done ‘Vienna’ for Ultravox which was an incredibly powerful video. He did that before he did any Duran stuff and I think that was the one which really made his reputation.
PC: And then he did Razorback. Maybe we won’t talk about Razorback.
JT: (laughs) Razorback was great. We were in Australia when he was making it. It was a lot of fun to watch him make that.
PC: ‘Girls On Film’ was your most controversial video. It was even banned by the BBC.
JT: I think that was just a blatantly cheap, exploitive device on behalf of our manager to get us some publicity and in that respect it was absolutely fine. I don’t think we were the first band to have done things like that and I don’t think we’ll be the last. People say “that must be really great” about the making of it. My memories are not that great of it. I remember being a bit embarrassed about it. You have a bunch of guys around and put a barely naked girl in the room with them and it turns them all into idiots. It wasn’t a great experience for any of us really. The effect of it was good I suppose.
PC: By today’s standards it is fairly tame.
JT: I don’t know about that. There was a lot of booty in the video. What you have now is a lot of language, particularly in the rap, hip-hop movement. The language now would have been considered offensive back then.
PC: ‘Rio’ was a huge album in Australia. It was a number one record here. Does the fact that the general public makes a record a number one make it a favourite for you as well?
JT: I think so, yes. It usually means you get your own way for 12 months. There is nothing wrong with that. It was a fantastically successful record for us. Some of those songs form the backbone for what we are doing on this tour. I think some of the songs on that record have worn incredibly well. I am proud of our early work. If you look at The Beatles and The Stones it took them a couple of records to get into their groove writing their own songs. We were writing our own songs, we were writing hit songs and slightly more progressive albumesque material as well. I think we did a darn good job actually.
PC: What is happening with your new album? I understand it has been recorded. Who will you be signing with?
JT: We don’t know yet. It is a strange time to be in the music business. We have been working on it for some time now. We have enough songs which we can pepper our show with new material. That is good because nobody can call it a nostalgia show. We will make a deal of some kind but I don’t know what. We will have a record out next year. One really has to be open-minded towards possibilities.
PC: Does the album have a title yet?
PC: You are road testing on this tour.
JT: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of favorites that we play almost every night. There’s a song called ‘What Happens Tomorrow’ that we are very fond of. There’s another called ‘Beautiful Colours’, both if which are message songs. Not particular message songs, more general like ‘Ordinary World’ I suppose. We haven’t finished writing either. We made a decision to take time out from recording in May so we could tour for the rest of the year. We needed the confidence that comes from touring.
PC: Will the setlist vary for Australia?
JT: The deal in Australia is that we have some shows with Robbie Williams and some on our own. The ones with Robbie we play for one to one hour 15 minutes. We’ve got one show in Brisbane which I think is an arena show and then we have ballrooms in Sydney and Melbourne so we will be playing almost different shows every night. We’ve got this large pool of music. We have to try and make the right decision each night as to how we sculpt the running order for each instance.
PC: The Robbie shows must be limiting but what happens in your own shows?
JT: They are longer shows and we can afford to stretch out a little bit. It is much more specifically for the fans really. It is going to be different. With Robbie, the reason we took the job was because it was something we hadn’t done yet on this tour. We had played arenas, we played outdoor festivals, we had played some clubs but we hadn’t actually played in stadiums not closing. (I hesitate to use the word opening but let’s use it). The whole year has been about getting feedback. It is like rebuilding a car and taking it around the track to see how it handles. We have been taking the band through every possible scenario. The shows with Robbie are an unturned stone. We might end up with egg on face. I don’t think so because we have been playing really well and the audiences have been so responsive. When you have a set-list like ours you are coming out with a really strong hand. You really have to try hard to fuck it up.
PC: Had you met Robbie Williams before?
JT: Yeah, I had met him a few times. I had met him in advance of this opportunity.
PC: Will he be coming to your solo shows?
JT: I’d be up for that. He hasn’t met all of the band yet. I wouldn’t expect that of him because he is obviously under a lot of pressure. I wouldn’t like to put any rumours out. The club shows are going to be an experience in their full glory.
PC: Duran Duran started right off the back of the Sex Pistols era and you were part of what became known as the ‘New Romantic’ movement. Were you comfortable with that title?
JT: I was totally comfortable with it. Nick (Rhodes) and I were into punk. We would go and see bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. That is what made music and the idea of being in band really tangible to us. By ’78 you felt like you couldn’t do anything anymore with that three chord anti-establishment approach. We kind of just started tapping into other things that were happening. There was Giorgio Moroder and the electro disco thing that was happening. That was exciting. The Human League were coming along. Synthesizers were becoming a lot more affordable and reliable. We kind of retreated into the future in a way. Instead of being on the punk cutting edge we retreated back to Bowie and Roxy Music. At the same time there were these technological advances being made so we just married the two. As far as we were concerned we felt we were on an island. We didn’t feel we were part of a movement or anything. The band went through a number of different line-up chances before we established our line-up with Simon and Andy and Roger. We got management that ran a nightclub in Birmingham. There was an article in one of the music magazines, in Sounds actually, about Spandau Ballet and the headline was ‘Enter The New Romantics’. I read the article and thought “wow”. From the article it sounded like what they were doing in London we were doing in Birmingham. They had the idea of playing funk, like European funk whatever that means, with punk attitude but slicker and with clothes. I called the writer of the article and she came up to Birmingham a few weeks later and did a big piece on us. Suddenly there is a movement and it is the New Romantic movement. Then we took the line and put it in ‘Planet Earth’ as well which just goes to show you how opportunistic we always have been.
PC: Do you think the Charles and Di wedding at that time also influenced the New Romantic movement?
JT: I can’t imagine it had anything to do with it. I just think that eras and fashions just go in contrast to each other. We had a few years were nobody washed and it was all anti. Then people tire of it. That’s how I am anyway. I am a changeling. Punk rock was my not my life’s work. Some people are like that. There are some bands that found their entire reason for being within the punk rock movement and they became that. It is like when somebody becomes a communist and they are a life-long card carrying member of the communist party.
PC: You’ve often spoken of the influences that Bowie and Roxy Music has had on you. Have you had an example of someone from today who holds you in the same regard as you held your heroes?
JT: I know Gwen Stefani does. Gwen and Tony from No Doubt are big Duran Duran fans. When they were at school and they were 16 and looking for ways out they plugged into various forms of music, one of which was Duran and the whole style and everything that went along with our music. I meet kids all the time where the music got them through their teenage years and I can totally identify with that because music got me through too. The Bowie’s and the Ferry’s when I was 14 were so intriguing and sexy. I was definitely drawn to that like I was drawn to my family. That is how it goes sometimes.
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