Duran Duran: After 30 years, still hungry like a wolf
WHEN Duran Duran first played Liverpool, it was all leg-warmers, backcomb your hair and revel in a bit of 80s nostalgia.
But while other acts from the same era might spend their careers reliving the past, Duran Duran are determined to make what they do relevant to a modern audience.
They were the most commercially successful of the New Romantic bands, and leaders in the MTV-driven second British invasion of America, and now they’re working with the hottest producer in the world on new material that already sounds like a classic.
In fact, Mark Ronson is such an avid fan of Duran Duran that he asked if he could work with them on what he describes as “the imaginary follow-up to Rio”.
“One of the things I like about this record,” says Simon Le Bon, “is that it’s unselfconsciously pop, it’s catchy without trying to be. To me, this sounds like an alternative album – and that’s what we were successful for in the first place. Mark just said, ‘Relax, and you’ll find it’.”
So when they play the Echo Arena in May, there will be a fair amount of new songs taking pride of place among the classics.
“It’s not like any old new album, where people go to the bar when you play the tracks they don’t know,” laughs Simon.
“This album stands on its own. A lot of that is down to Mark, but it’s also down to us feeling more confident, and to us going back to what we did at the beginning.”
Nick Rhodes is in no doubt about the importance of Mark’s contribution. “He revitalised us,” says Nick.
“He found an energy in us that hasn’t been there for a long time. Inspiration is one of the great mysteries of the world, of course, but if you are with you someone you trust, who has huge musical knowledge across so many genres, who is a fan of your band and knows all of the songs – that can only be helpful.”
All four of the band describe the sessions as a journey of rediscovery and creative liberation, where they had nothing to prove, and so worked painstakingly on the songs and the sounds, eyeballing each other in that cramped space, and recording the tracks, at Mark’s insistence, in real time, from start to finish – no computers, no fakery.
“It felt like going back to day one,” says Roger Taylor, “and maybe that was all part of Mark’s master-plan: to really take us back to how we first wrote songs, in the Rum Runner in Birmingham, in a funny little room at the back of a night club.”
John Taylor agrees. “One of the first things Mark said was, ‘You need to go back and recapture your ground. You know, everybody else is there, why aren’t you? Everybody’s using the funky bass, the synths, the hi-hat, the sequencers. Go back and reclaim that’. And that became a sort of manifesto for this album.”
So when they play the Echo Arena, they’ll be returning to the early days.
“We always had such a good time in Liverpool,” laughs Simon. “I remember the fans used to go mad when we played the Empire. We played the Summer Pops a few years ago, and it was just the same.
“When you go out and you get that kind of response, it makes all the difference. I’m hoping that we’ll see some of the same faces that used to come and see us in the Empire days when we play the Echo Arena.”
It’s easy to forget just how successful Duran Duran have been – a total of more than 80m records sold, 18 American hit singles, 30 UK top 30 tunes, and a global presence which guarantees them huge concert audiences on five continents.
When they broke in the early 1980s, they fought the trend for music videos as gimmicky marketing tools, and made theirs into one of the music industry’s most valued assets.
With exotic locations, beautiful girls and stunning special-effects, they took the visual imperatives of the New Romantic movement to another level.
Their impact throughout the 1980s was such that Rolling Stone magazine – adapting the old Beatles’ moniker – dubbed them “The Fab Five”.
Now, with their new Mark Ronson album, a national tour ahead and a re-ignited enthusiasm for what they do best, it seems the world is theirs for the taking . . . again.
And they’re loving every minute of it.
“I’ve been seeing lots of tweets about it, and that’s nice,” says Simon.
“I’ve become a real fan of Twitter in the last year or so.
“I like reading what people have to say.
“I’ve got some famous people I follow. I like what Fearne Cotton has to say, and Victoria Coren. Plus there’s a load of old mates on there who just make me laugh.
“I find I can spend hours on it, and my own tweets become increasingly unhinged,” he chuckles.
The band are currently in training for the upcoming tour which kicks off in May.
“We’re having to get ourselves fit,” says Simon.
“I’ve been out running a lot, with the dogs (he has a pug and a Chihuahua), although, to be honest, they’ve got such short legs that they’re running even when I’m walking.
“ If I really want something to keep up with, I should probably get a bigger dog.”
DURAN Duran play the Echo arena on May 23.
Tickets (priced from £30, plus booking fee) are available from the ticketline on 0844 800 3680 and www.echoarena.com
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