This job never kills anybody. It’s the stuff you do in between, says Duran Duran
INSIDE a cavernous film studio in North London, Duran Duran are adding the finishing touches to the setlist and special effects for their UK tour.
John Taylor, Roger Taylor and unofficial guitarist Dom Brown are rehearsing Hungry Like The Wolf while Nick Rhodes watches on, waiting for his call, and backstage Simon Le Bon is finishing lunch with backing singers Rachael and Anna.
The past 12 months have been pretty special for the band, who have enjoyed UK Top 5 albums in five consecutive decades, from the Eighties right up to today.
They have played at the Platinum Party at the Palace — the Jubilee celebration for the Queen — as well as headlined the Opening Ceremony of Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games.
And if you were one of the 60,000 fans to see their BST Hyde Park show, you’ll know how exceptional it was.
Tomorrow the band kick off their UK tour in Manchester and I’m joining them as they prepare for the seven shows, before they head off to the US for a five-month stint.
Bounding into the room, full of energy, Simon says: “We’re at the top of the hill on the rollercoaster again, waiting to go — what’s gonna happen?”
As he takes a break from stage time, svelte bassist John, 62, says: “It’s essentially the Future Past tour, as we haven’t taken that tour around the country yet.
“There are cornerstones that you’ve got to play, like Ordinary World, Come Undone and Girls On Film, but this tour is very different to Hyde Park because there we had to go very broad. It had to be a hits show — whereas this, the audience gets a deeper set.
“We don’t want to disappoint anybody.”
Simon, 64, adds: “I think the past year’s shows have been great because the quality of our new material has accelerated.”
Fifteenth album Future Past, released in 2021, gave the four their biggest commercial success since their 2003 reunion.
John adds: “And just think, when we did the reunion I just wanted to tour . . . Nope, we had to make a new album too, which was Astronaut, and it was like Spinal Tap trying to get it together. We don’t make things easy in the studio.”
Simon says: “You don’t have to run out of passion just because you get older. I don’t think we’re terribly ambitious. There’s no frustration because we’re not Ed Sheeran or BTS. We are Duran Duran and we actually like being Duran Duran.
“And when you’re passionate, you make good music because you get the emotional thrill from it.
“If I get an emotional thrill, then maybe somebody else will, but if I don’t then there’s no chance that anybody will.”
Duran Duran have always been about looking forward.
Someone gave me lyrics by ChatGPT and I was horrified.
Simon Le Bon
The band who were the biggest in the world in the Eighties have embraced technology, teaming up with Snapchat to use augmented reality to bring some surprises to the set and to the audience in real time.
Long-term manager Wendy Laister gets the AR team to show me a taster of the interactive part of the show as Nick Rhodes appears on stage with a tarantula crawling across his face.
Without giving away any spoilers, fans will enjoy some special experiences throughout the show.
It’s another musical first for the quartet who are thought to be the first band to offer a digitally downloadable song online, with Electric Barbarella in 1997.
They also worked with AI artist Huxley to create the 2021 music video for Invisible — another first.
But Simon is less impressed with song lyrics written by AI.
He says: “Somebody gave me some lyrics that had been written by ChatGPT and I was horrified. I looked at them and they were so cliched and expected.
“I don’t feel at all threatened by that because they were absolutely awful and dull. There’s no emotion.
“There’s nothing behind those words. They don’t come from feeling happiness or because someone is sad.”
Going on the road & walking out on stage is such an honour.
Duran Duran have been working on their “Halloween album”, a new project set for release later this year, which will feature covers of songs meaningful to the band.
John says: “It came out of a show we played on Halloween last year in Vegas.
“We played a lot of dark cover songs and it’s grown into an album. After the Vegas show, we just started throwing songs around.
“We decided to also write a new song, so we went back into the studio last week and wrote three songs in a week. We also had Nile (Rodgers) and Ben (Mr) Hudson in the studio with us for two days.
“Going out on the road and walking out on stage is an honour.
“If you’re in a band like ours, it’s a victory lap, there’s so much love.
“But going into the studio with these f***ers, it’s like, ‘What have you got?’ Everybody must prove themselves. It was fun, and what made it amazing was that we had a concept — it was dark. It has this Gothic element too.”
Simon adds: “I think the fact that we’ve been in the studio makes it very exciting to get back on stage.
“We did an incredible amount of work, including some with Nile Rodgers, which is banging.
‘We are a family’
“We won’t be playing that on this tour, but some of the other songs that we put in our Halloween show, we are going to, and that’s going to be very exciting.”
John adds: “It’s definitely a different project and there’s a lot of heart in it. It’s also great that we’ve got Andy on it.”
Former guitarist Andy Taylor, 62, who left the group for the second time in 2006, revealed he has terminal stage-4 prostate cancer in a letter read out at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in Ohio, when the band were inducted in November.
Original band member Andy was due to join Duran Duran at the prestigious event, but his illness stopped him travelling.
Simon says: “It was a huge surprise and shock to us when we heard he had cancer.
“Reading out his letter, I was devastated. It hadn’t been easy splitting with Andy but as this kind of news comes, that doesn’t matter at all.
“He was really disappointed not to be able to accept his award and be with his buddies.
“We had the best times, so I thought it would be nice if I took the award to him in Ibiza (where Andy lives).
“I hadn’t seen him for seven to ten years. Then we decided I should go back over and maybe we’d do some work together.
“This album was getting bigger and more important all the time. So I thought we should get Andy to play on it.
“We sent him some music and it was fantastic working with him again.
“He’s got a unique style and he’s inspired. We’re used to working with top-class guitarists like Graham Coxon, and Andy is in the absolute top league. I love working with him and he’s such a lovely guy.”
John says that any past band disputes were quickly forgotten, and adds: “We are a family and when one of us is struggling a little bit, you’re just there for them.
“Andy was my guy, he and I have been through so much together. Times have been challenging between us but you forget it.
“I was looking forward to playing with him at the Hall of Fame. We were texting back and forth.”
The band have been at the top of their game for 40 years and their secret is that they’re all equals.
Simon says: “Nobody’s in control of everything in this band.
“It’s nice for people to have their thing.
“I write the lyrics and we all have our own roles.
“Somebody always starts doing something, whether that’s Nick coming up with these weird chord structures or Roger will get a beat going.
“Then when I find the melody that’s when a backbone forms.
“When we’re in the studio, things get really heated, but that’s because we care.
“We don’t bear grudges. I’d say 90 per cent of any disagreements will be about artistic matters. But you’ll remind yourself that you love this guy, because you’ve worked with him for 40 years.
“He probably knows you better than the person you are married to.”
So how do they cope with the challenge of performing as they get older?
Simon says: “For years, John would want to start the show with Wild Boys. I said, ‘We can’t do that as it’ll blow my voice out’.
“But I’ve learned how to do it and I like to push myself while I’ve still got a decent range.”
‘I don’t need a plan’
It’s time for John to go back to rehearse but first he shows me his signature Dingwall bass inspired by their 1982 hit Rio.
He says: “I started using these instruments about five years ago. They’re beautifully made and I’m lucky to have this.”
John reveals that it took a while for him to be comfortable in Duran Duran.
He says: “When the first album came out in 1981 I was like a running horse — I was never really comfortable in the saddle, I was hanging on for dear life. Now we’re a great musical band.
“And the job never kills anybody. It’s the f***ing stuff you do in between.”
At the height of their fame Duran Duran partied hard, but today Simon is a family man with two young grandchildren while John splits his time between LA and England with his wife Gela, the fashion designer.
Simon says: “The band is different from the early days. We all have other things in our lives too, and families.
“I get a kick out of working but I need time out from the band to want to come back to enjoy it.
“So I don’t know how long we will do this, and quite frankly I don’t need a plan.
“I’m just happy to take it as it comes and right now it’s great being in Duran Duran.”
- Duran Duran’s UK headline arena tour begins tomorrow in Manchester and runs until May 9.
- For full dates, and tickets, go to duranduran.com/tour.