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Interview: Duran Duran drummer Roger Taylor

Eighties pop icons Duran Duran launch their first Arena tour for seven years in Newcastle this week.

Duran Duran's Roger Taylor
Duran Duran's Roger Taylor

FLASHBACK almost 30 years to when a “girl” named Rio was dancing in the sand. And five boys in suits, hair blowing in the Caribbean breeze, clung to a speeding yacht.

Duran Duran’s iconic Rio video, shot off the coast off Antigua in 1982, caught the band nicknamed “the prettiest boys in rock” riding the crest of their own New Romantic wave.

The early 80s was their time. They were known as The Fab Five and said to be Princess Diana’s favourite band and their hits – such as Girls on Film, Hungry Like The Wolf, Save A Prayer and Is There Something I Should Know? – flowed thick and fast. The “Rio” of one of their biggest was a reference to the river bordering America which they wanted to conquer next. And of course they did.

Those glam and glorious sunshiny days were conjured up once again when the original five – Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor, John Taylor and Andy Taylor (none related, but it still causes confusion apparently) – reformed in 2001. Fans were delirious with delight.

And now the boys, save for local member Andy who left in 2006, are back in town, a little greyer around the edges maybe but, hey, who cares.

Their new tour, kicking off at Metro Radio Arena this Wednesday, is the biggest since their reunion and follows the frenzied reaction to new album (their 13th) All You Need Is Now – which took even the band once dubbed the biggest in the world by surprise.

“It went to number one in 15 different countries and we were absolutely gobsmacked,” drummer Roger Taylor tells me. “We had no expectations for this record.”

Taylor has settled back nicely into the limelight he abandoned first time around while Duran Duran were at the height of their fame.

He’s in Boston when we talk, completing their tour of Canada and the US where they still have a big fan base and are “revving up for the UK tour”.

Having just turned 51, he says the whole audience at their gig in Montreal sang Happy Birthday to him in French.

“It’s great to come back as an adult,” he says. “I’d joined at 19 as a kid straight out of school and was thrust into the public eye.

“Nobody prepares you for that, nobody teaches you how to be a pop star.”

He adds: “I was such a shy kid when I was growing up. If I saw somebody I knew I’d cross over the road to avoid saying ‘hello’. I put my passion and my energy into playing the drums.”

He cites Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson – also shy as a boy when growing up in Jarrow – as “one of my heroes and definitely my biggest influence”.

He says: “I got into Roxy Music as a kid and I thought he was amazing.

“And I related to him being in a successful band and quite happy to take a low key role.”

But, as Duran Duran’s fame rocketed, that became impossible. “I had to take myself out of the equation for a while.”

He explains: “It was pretty intense for us.

“We’d have hordes of screaming prepubescent girls chasing us around. If we were on Top of the Pops they’d be hysterical.

“Before us there’d been The Bay City Rollers and we were the next ones to take up the mantle of teen heroes.

“Justin Bieber has got it now to a certain extent. It got to the point I really needed a break from it.

“I didn’t know how long the break would be ... a month, a year. or whether that was it. It ended up being more than 10 years.”

After marrying and having a family, he rejoined temporarily in 1994 – then came the big 2001 reunion.

“That was huge. We always had a feeling that was going to be a big moment for us.

“Duran Duran really split up when we were at the top of our game; we were supposed to be the biggest band in the world at that point.

“Unfortunately it fell apart for different reasons and there was always a feeling that if we reunited the original five it was going to be a big moment.

“But this album is more of a surprise. We’d parted company with Sony music and didn’t have a record deal.

“We were down to writing in a tiny studio in South West London.”

It was Grammy Award-winning music producer Mark Ronson who advised them to get back to their original sound rather than make the mistake of some reformed bands who forget where they came from and try to capture a contemporary feel.

The result is said to be their best album since Rio. “It’s been pushing all the right buttons with people,” agrees Taylor.

The music business is a different game nowadays, of course, not just in terms of digital releases.

“It’s harder to sell records in large quantities,” Taylor admits. “We used to sell six million copies. It’s extremely hard to do that these days.

“With Top of the Pops, 16 million people a week sat down and watched whether they liked you or not! I think we’ve lost that thing where you’re really getting into people’s lives.

“It’s much more difficult to reach your audience.”

In their heyday Duran Duran were cutting-edge ... one of the first bands to use professional directors and movie cameras to give their videos polish and panache.

They sold over 80 million records, had 30 UK chart-toppers and were a byword for glamour – the South of France picked as the location for the documentary they made with Jools Holland for The Tube, filmed by its North East crew.

And he says of that Rio video: “It was the defining image of Duran Duran: the suit and the boat!

“But we’ve outlived all that stuff. We’ve outlived being a video band, a glamour band, a teen band.

“We’ve stood the test of time and people come to hear the songs.”

And those screaming fans are now women “and they bring their kids to the show”.

“It’s great. They’ve grown with us and not many bands get to have that. Their loyalty is incredible.”

The fans will be rewarded with, alongside the new songs on the tour, old favourites chosen from a 30-plus-years back catalogue.

Taylor says: “I went to see Madonna live. Vogue is my favourite and I sat all night just waiting to hear it and she never played it. I was so disappointed when I left.

“You’ve always got to play the big songs.”

Duran Duran play Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle on Wednesday. Call 0844 493 6666 or visit www.metroradioarena.co.uk

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