When the news broke last week that Duran Duran had been chosen to headline an Olympics concert in Hyde Park, the reaction was quick and brutal, with Twitter instantly abuzz with criticism of such a supposedly dated choice.
But keyboard player Nick Rhodes – the one with the floppy Warhol hair, Tippex-white complexion and panda-like eye make-up – remained blissfully unaware of the storm. For one thing, he’s in South America, Rio to be exact (where else?). But he is not the sort of man who is fazed by the constant nag of new media.
‘I don’t do Twitter or Facebook or anything like that, so I haven’t read anything,’ he says, sounding as aloof, camp and studiedly mid-Atlantic as ever. ‘I like to think my attention span is far too long for that kind of thing.’ I explain to Rhodes something of the ‘Twitterstorm’ that broke as soon as the line-up for the BT London Live concert on July 27 was released.
Comedian Al Murray tweeted: ‘Duran Duran to headline 2012 Olympics gig? Far more worrying than rooftop missiles’. And newspaper columnist Tony Parsons, the ex-husband of writer Julie Burchill, pitched in with: ‘Duran Duran to headline Olympic gig? Who is running the 1500 metres – Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett?’
My sharing that comment prompts a brief pause in our conversation. I decide to help him out by identifying Parsons: ‘You know . . . the top writer?’ ‘Oh that Tony Parsons,’ says Rhodes, archly. ‘Didn’t he used to be married to a top writer?’ It’s a typical Nick Rhodes quip – spiky, arid, off-the-cuff and skilfully deflecting.
‘Really, there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, isn’t there… and that’s not being talked about,’ he adds, echoing Oscar Wilde.
‘The fact that after more than three decades in this business we can still whip up a bit of controversy gives me enormous pleasure. I can’t think of anything worse than being average, or not provoking a polarised, opinionated response from people. That would be so boring, wouldn’t it?’
In Britain, Duran Duran have long been under-appreciated. But in the rest of the world they still have kudos – as popular now as in the Eighties when they were flag-bearers of the ‘Second British Invasion’ of America. They led a charge of bands whose glamorous image, cutting edge music and extravagant videos made them darlings of the new MTV channel.
Indeed, the band last week flew to the Caribbean to be reunited with the 70ft ketch Eilean, which featured in their Rio video and has now been rescued and restored. ‘We went to the Antigua regatta for the re-launch of Eilean,’ Rhodes says. ‘It was wonderful to see it looking in such good condition, even though I hated every minute of filming that video and once we’d finished it I vowed to never set foot on a sailing boat again. Somehow, the rest of the band persuaded me.’
The Rio video flew the flag for British music during the Eighties. A British band on a beautiful British-built boat painted a picture of glamour, style, sophistication and effortless class. For a generation too young to relate to The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and their contemporaries personified Britain. Which is one reason why they have been chosen to headline the Hyde Park concert.
‘For us, being asked to do this concert is a great honour,’ Rhodes says. ‘We are an extremely British band and we are proud to be British. Patriotic? Well, perhaps not in the combative, football-terrace way that some people are. But because Duran Duran has always been based in the UK, I think we all understand how this beautiful country ticks.'
‘For such a small place, Britain has given the world so much art, design, architecture, literature, music, fashion, cinema and eccentricity. We feel very much part of that.’
Rhodes is bullish, too, about what sets his band apart from the current pop mainstream. ‘We might have been together for more than 30 years, but we strive to be a modern group,’ he insists.
‘We have personality and charisma, glamour and excitement – elements that are sadly lacking in a lot of the homogenized, TV-generated music around now.'
‘I’ve never watched the X Factor or any other reality show, and I don’t intend to start. I am just not interested.’ And why would he be when his own life is, even at 49, far more entertaining than any television show could ever be?
I last encountered Rhodes a year ago in the Savoy Ballroom in London, taking photos of Cindy Crawford playing Scrabble and Yasmin Le Bon squirming around on the newly laid carpet as they shot a video for the band’s single Girl Panic!
It was as if the unapologetic excesses of their glamorous heyday were happening all over again as Birmingham-born Rhodes had flown in five supermodels to take over the roles in the band: Helena Christensen on drums, Naomi Campbell doing lead vocals, Eva Herzigova on keyboards, Cindy on bass, and Yasmin, wife of Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon, on lead guitar.
‘We’ve been involved in some pretty elaborate projects,’ Rhodes explained ‘But trying to get five supermodels in the same place was like some intricate military manoeuvre.’
You have to admire the tenacity of the band, who surely deserve their place representing Britain in the Olympic spotlight.
Who else would fit the bill? Dreary Coldplay? Cheesy Take That? Steps? The dazzling statistics of their hits, awards and export figures – not to mention the glamour – make them a class act appreciated everywhere except in their own land.
After we speak, their current world tour leaves Brazil for Buenos Aires, where they play two nights at the Luna Park; the 7,000-capacity grand ballroom where Eva met Juan Peron. It says something for their appeal that a British band who were at their peak at the time of the Falklands War should sell out as tension over the sovereignty of the islands mounts again.
From the moment their first single Planet Earth became a hit in 1981, Duran Duran (named after a character in Jane Fonda’s Barbarella movie) lived out their rock ’n’ roll fantasies to the full.
‘We were all kids when we formed the band,’ says Rhodes. ‘I was only 16 and had this beautifully naive vision of what my life as a rock star was going to be like. It turned out to be utterly exhausting.’
It was the start of a career in which they have sold more than 80 million records and had 21 hits in the US alone. Their breakthrough in America was, as Rhodes recalls it, ‘like Beatlemania’ – and the band broke records ‘for the loudest pre-show concert noise’.
By 1986, the gruelling schedule and ‘drugs diet’ of some band members caused cracks to appear. One by one, key members left. Guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor (no relation) quit to form Power Station. Drummer Roger Taylor retired to go and live on a farm.
Rhodes says: ‘That was the lowest ebb for me – the closest we came to giving up Duran Duran all together. I knew John had to clean up his act and that Roger needed to bring up his kids and be with his wife, but suddenly it was just me and Simon left.’
‘But even during those dark years, we never really fell out. I would bump into Roger at the odd party and I’d see John when I was in LA.’
The original line-up reunited in 2003 and the band (minus guitarist Andy Taylor who quit, apparently for ever, in 2006) continues to record and tour. Last year they released an album All You Need Is Now, which was produced by Mark Ronson, and a new live DVD is out this summer.
‘Being in this band is like being married,’ says Rhodes. ‘That’s hard enough when there’s just two of you, but when there’s five, it’s even harder. Yes, sometimes we scream our heads off at each other, but we still manage to inspire each other and play off each others’ strengths.’
I remind Rhodes that 2012 will not be the first time Duran Duran have performed an Olympics gig. In 1987 they were part of a concert in Ibiza alongside Freddie Mercury and Spandau Ballet to launch the 1992 Barcelona Games.
But when I tell him the next time we will meet will be at the Hyde Park concert, he replies, mischievously: ‘We’ll put Tony Parsons on the guest list, shall we?’
Courtesy Daily Mail