From naughty boy to music megastar F
Feb 12 2004
By Gordon Barr, The Evening Chronicle
Geordie guitarist Andy Taylor found fame with chart-toppers Duran Duran. In the first of a two-part feature, Andy chats exclusively to Showbiz Reporter Gordon Barr about the ups and downs of his life.
It feels a little strange to be ringing a swish New York hotel and asking to be put through to SuperMac.
Especially when it's not even ex-Toon ace Malcolm MacDonald I'm trying to contact.
But that's the name I'm told to ask for to get to speak to Duran Duran's Geordie guitarist Andy Taylor.
There are no questions asked by the New Yorker on the other end of the line when I do so and in seconds I'm through to the aforementioned SuperMac.
Why the name? is the question that springs to mind. "Well, they're never going to get it in the States, so I can get away with using it here quite well," says Andy, in an accent not that far removed from the hotel receptionist, albeit with just a hint of Geordie twang every now and then.
"They are always asking me why I call myself that, and I explain to them it is an English football player, and usually the response is, `is that soccer?'.
"The funniest thing is, when you phone up room service, they go, `good morning Mr SuperMac!'. I probably wouldn't get away with it in the North East. In fact I know I wouldn't. He's a hero."
Now based in Ibiza, having the pseudonym SuperMac is just one of the constant reminders of Andy's beloved Tyneside.
Although he doesn't get back `home' as often as he would like, the majority of his family still live in North Tyneside, and will see him make his debut at the Arena, Newcastle, in April when he teams up with the four other original Duran Duran members as part of a nationwide tour. "I'm the black sheep," he says, then sadly adds of his trips back home: "I think I spend most of my time in hospitals and at funerals."
His father, Ronnie, is battling cancer. "Dad's fine. He always seems to bounce back. He's doing very well and all this has cheered him up a bit. No matter how old you get, your parents still treat you like a kid. He comes on the phone and goes, `are ye aal reet bonny lad'. And I'm going, `I'm nearly 43'.
"He's been through a rough time, so I think to see something good going on has picked him up. He'll be at the show. He's from a fishing family - hardy stock. There'll be a few family and a few people will no doubt pop up and it'll be `oh no, not you', a few old schoolmates, see who's still got their hair."
Duran Duran are big news again. Next week they are being honoured at the Brit Awards with an outstanding contribution to music gong, and will also play at the event.
It follows a lifetime achievement accolade at the MTV Video Awards last year, and still to come is a movie and a new album.
No-one is more surprised by the renewed interest in the group than Andy, who quit the band back in 1985 at the height of their fame.
Now all five original members are back together, they're looking to the future with glee. They've added extra dates to their British tour due to demand, and the Brits is one of the country's highest profile events.
How times have changed for the self-confessed "naughty" little lad who grew up in the fishing community of Cullercoats. Who would have thought in the late 60s/early 70s he'd go on to be one part of one of the biggest British pop acts in history?
"My grandfather had a fishing business, my grandmother was a fisherwoman, and my dad did the fishing until I was about six or seven, until it really got difficult as a living," he recalls.
"We lived just behind the Crescent Club in Cullercoats. It's gone now, it's a car park.
"Those old terraces had three floors and families used to share them. We used to live on the ground floor, my grandparents lived in the middle, and then there was the big attic where he kept most of his fishing gear, but most of it was in his workshop, which was just by the Queen's Head pub.
"I used to go up into the attic with an old acoustic guitar a friend of my dad's had given me. I would be up there, out of the way, with a book called Hold Down A Chord, which accompanied a BBC series.
"So I learned all about finger-picking and the basic chords in the attic. I started when I was about seven."
Andy was never much of a scholar. He went to Cullercoats Infants, Marden High School, and then Whitley Bay Grammar School, from which he was expelled after one year.
"I was a naughty little *******, basically," he says. "I was a disruptive element in the class." A rock star in the making, then? "I had decided I did want to play guitar and earn a living out of it," he admits in a matter-of-fact manner. "This is the late 60s. Then, top music was pop music and it was all new. My dad and my cousin were big music fans and they used to buy everything. We had every record and we used to stack the singles up on the old players and, one at a time, they would drop down.
"There were hundreds of records. I can remember when my cousin gave me Sgt Pepper, and Hendrix.
"Because I was learning an instrument so young, I did relate to a lot of music very early on. For me, that's how you learn music, by listening to records and picking up what people do and making it your own.
"That period of late 60s/early 70s, with Bowie, Roxy, Bolan, Zeppelin, and all the American music, plus the Beatles and Stones, if you were a kid then it was filling your head with inspiration. It was the best time ever."
There are budding guitarists everywhere, so what set Andy apart from the others? He cites fellow guitarist Dave Black, who still lives on Tyneside, as his mentor. "He helped me when I was a teenager," recalls Andy with fondness. "I was having a lot of problems at school, and he was an incredible guitar player - still is - and he joined the Spiders From Mars when Mick Ronson left.
"He was my neighbour, lived just across the road when we moved to St George's Road near the train station. I knocked on his door one day, his brother Michael was a drummer, and I said I wanted to learn the stuff I didn't know, some of the scales and the more complicated chords."
Andy had about eight lessons from Dave, at £1 a go. "He taught me so much stuff, and then he just said `there's nothing more I can teach you', and then he helped me get my first gig, with a club band.
"It allowed me, as opposed to leaving school and having to go down Swan Hunter or the likes, to be playing in the clubs and making £40/£50 a week."
For Andy, it was the end of a glory era in clubland. Industries were closing down, and a depression hit the region." Places like Consett, after they closed the steelworks there, I remember playing it before and afterwards, and the difference with the people was really, really sad.
"Our generation, when we grew up on Tyneside in the mid-70s, watched it fall apart, watched everything closing down, the fishing industry, the docks, the shipbuilding, everything just shrunk away to virtually nothing.
"I think only one in 10 kids, when I left school, got an apprenticeship. It wasn't very nice at all. There wasn't a lot of opportunity for anything. Even to be a musician, it was the working men's clubs, there was no other real music scene. But that was a good learning ground. You had to play an awful lot of different material and you played a lot of pop material, so you got familiar with pop music as you were playing it three or four nights a week.
"I actually enjoyed it a lot, at least I didn't have to go and do a boring job. I was making a living playing the guitar and that, for me, was all I ever wanted to do."
But even as a jobbing musician, he soon got an insight into the darker side of showbiz. "I remember playing the air force bases in Germany from time to time. The agent in Germany hadn't paid us about £1,600, which was a lot of money in those days to an 18-year-old," he says. "I decided I'd had enough. I could kip on someone's couch, I wanted to do an original thing. I was tired of monkeying around with agents ripping me off. I'd done my apprenticeship. So I just picked up Melody Maker and looked at the adverts."
It was a move that was to change his life.
"It was like `bang!' there was this advert and it was the influence that they cited, Mick Ronson, Dave Gilmour, Gary Moore. And I just thought, `yeah I can do that'. "There were 20 ads, and it was just that one. It was a bigger ad, so I thought they must have more money, a good sign.
"I just phoned up and got this Brummie on the phone. I asked what it was all about, and in this thick accent he said, `well they're called Duran Duran'. I said, `what's that?'. And he said, `oh, he's a sex fiend from a movie'.
"So I was like, `I'm coming down'."
On arrival in Birmingham, Andy discovered the three lads, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Roger Taylor, had two managers who owned a nightclub and had money to invest for equipment. "There was a structure. You walk in a room and meet people, and I just knew they were on the same wavelength as me," says Andy.
"We didn't look the same, and they had these little bits of ideas that they couldn't thread together, and I had a lot of ability, mainly because I had been playing with older guys all my life. I was usually the youngest in the band by a long way, and playing the stuff I was, I was learning an awful lot. I has a lot more chord structure, I understood that very well.
"The first day we got together we started playing around, and it sounded like a band but it didn't sound like anybody else.
"I said, `where's the singer?' and was told he was on holiday. But of course they didn't have a singer.
"I returned home and a couple of days later they rang me and said out of 40 or so I was the only one who knew how to tune up, let alone play.
"So I went down, and asked when I was going to meet the singer. Again I was told he was on holiday. Then we started making the first album, basically the music to it. Nick just wouldn't know how to sound like anyone else as his technique is completely experimental. And everything we did just went in a different way.
"The element of groove from the Chic influence that John and Roger were into was quite interesting as they were trying to cross things over. They wanted the metal sound of the guitar but they wanted to keep it funky and danceable, and also wanted Eno in the background.
"They had a concept that I totally related to and I could totally see what my role would be in that, which was to make the noise and to keep the edge on it. We slotted in and, about four weeks later, we met Simon Le Bon, and within a couple of months we did our first gig and we'd written our entire first album.
"You know what you're trying to achieve and when you meet the right people, it just works."
They didn't let the fact they were based in Birmingham stand in their way either. "It was thought provincial and not quite as trendy as London. When we first went to see Spandau Ballet, we said `we're going to slaughter them, they haven't got the songs we've got, they can't play as well as we can, they may be from London, but we're going to slaughter them'. And we did.
"We were very song-orientated. And Simon came in with this book of poetry. We had the music. We fitted them together. And Simon kept coming up with these ideas and melodies. And we were like, `this guy doesn't even know what his potential is, he's an actor'. There was an innocence to it all.
"The one thing the band had before Simon or myself joined was Girls On Film, just that part. They gave that to him and he wrote the whole lyric around it in a short space of time, and he'd never done that before. So when I saw him do that, and how quickly he could just do it and how easy it was for him, I thought this is definitely our guy.
"He's a complete original. People often read him the wrong way. But there are very few people on this planet ever who have written so many beautiful melodies as that man."
Girls On Film was to be the turning point in the band's career. The heady heights of international stardom were about to beckon - as were the pitfalls.
NTomorrow, Andy opens his heart to Gordon Barr about his one true love, his drugs hell, the rise of Duran and why he quit, of his plans for the future and his feelings about that Brit Award.
A good influence
Meet Dave Black, the musician Andy Taylor cites as helping him on the road to stardom.
Now living on a farm in Whitley Bay, three decades ago Dave was best known as a member of the Bowie off-shoot, Spiders From Mars.
He's still gigs in the North East, and remembers Andy well. But he's modest about his influence on the wannabe rock star.
Dave says: "He was a pretty shy lad, but I remember he brought the Spiders From Mars album and asked me to show him the guitar licks.
"I used to give him the benefit of my wisdom, but he was halfway there already."
Dave gave Andy his first foot on the ladder to fame. A friend's club band, The Bandits, needed a guitarist, and Dave suggested Andy. They changed their name to Motorway and had success in clubland.
Andy, though, soon had another interest, by the name of Duran Duran. He and Dave haven't seen each other for a decade.
"I'll certainly get a ticket for the Arena show if I'm not playing somewhere myself," says Dave. "You could tell he had the potential even back then."