GLANCE through snaps from our youth and there’ll be plenty of us who can blame some hair crimes past on Duran Duran.
Once as inventive with Boots No7 as they were with dye and clever crimping, the band from Brum inspired a generation of young adults to not just follow their music.
As a witty and well-preserved Simon Le Bon prepares to lead his original line-up to Sheffield this summer, he acknowledges the spin-off impact of the New Romantic rompers.
But does he wince at any of the clothes and imagery DD once sported?
“Maybe, but everybody’s got photos in the album that they think ‘My god, what did I look like?’,” he responds. “That’s just a normal condition for a human being.”
But with a new album out ahead of a major arena tour, Simon isn’t looking back so much as aiming to keep his band current. Comebacks might be all the rage, but he says they’ve never really been away.
The title of their 13th long-player – All You Need Is Now – sums up the mission statement of a band whose offspring now make music.
“It’s a feeling of where we are in our career and realising the only way you can continue is not to look back or forward but to get this bit right.
“And it’s a message to the fans as well.
“When we were younger, we told people all you need is now – the message is the same. Now, 30 years later we’re still saying ‘Get this bit right’.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been to see the band. It’s just this snapshot, right now.”
Formed in Birmingham in 1978 by keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor, Duran Duran’s early sound was an exciting stew of influences: the soul music of their youth, the vibrant New York underground scene of the 1970s spearheaded by Velvet Underground.
Then there was the iconic art pop of David Bowie and glam bands such as Roxy Music, early exponents of innovative music that celebrated visual context and artistic motivation alongside entertainment.
In a very different musical world a generation on, Simon extols ability to play above good marketing and an expensive video.
“I remember sitting in the park in 1975 on a Friday afternoon waiting to hear the first play of the new single off Bowie’s album Diamond Dogs. It was Rebel Rebel – six of us grouped around a little transistor radio and how amazing that was.
“What’s becoming more apparent, and where the young kids seem to be heading now, is if you’re in a group you’ve got to be able to play live.
“It’s much more about the live show.
“And it is for us too – the tour in a way is the fruit on the tree. You get directly into people’s minds. It’s what I love about it. You’re there, it’s the moment.
“And that’s a big theme with the album. It’s what you’re doing. If you can get this bit right, the ‘now’ right, then it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you do in the future.”
So while certain bands from the 1980s will join lucrative revue-style tours, Duran Duran refuse to overplay the nostalgia card.
“It’s funny but we’ve been accused of it, many times. I can remember stories like ‘It’s Christmas again and Duran Duran are being wheeled out for their annual show’ and it’s ridiculous – it’s not true.
“That’s exactly why we want to go back in the studio and make new records because it makes you part of what’s going on now rather than something that people were listening to that is five or 10 or 20 years old.
“There’s real currency in having a new record out and basing a show around it.
“We’re not going out playing a greatest hits tour with this show, it’s fully integrated new music and old, but we’ll put new songs in so they make sense with the old.”
Happy to be caught in the moment
DURAN Duran wouldn’t have a hope of filling the Motorpoint Arena on June 4 or thrilling crowds at V Festival this summer if it wasn’t for era-shaping hits such as Girls On Film and Rio, of course.
Alongside plush videos, the sound hallmarked Le Bon and cohorts as progressive, circling the New Romantic movement by being more rock than other members of the synth brigade.
Their legacy is an incredible stash of hits across the decades, 80 million album sales and five Lifetime Achievement Awards alongside Brits and Ivor Novellos. Then there’s been the off-shoot bands such as Power Station, The Devils and Arcadia, while two tribute albums have seen Kylie to Deftones cover their music.
“All of that stuff, all of our history has coloured us in as people,” considers Simon. “We started off as kids and over the years we’ve developed. We are men and we’ve lived lives and we’ve got a story to tell.”
A glimpse at Duran Duran’s discography shows a band reluctant to stand still stylistically or musically.
“We never try to be difficult to predict. If you do that you make yourself very predictable. We’ve just got our own way of doing things.”
For All You Need Is Now they called upon the skills of Grammy Award-winning producer and fan Mark Ronson with Spike Stent (Madonna, Björk) mixing. There were guest vocals/rap from band Scissor Sisters’ Ana Matronic and Kelis, with string arrangements from Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett. Previous album Red Carpet Massacre saw them work with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.
Ronson has dubbed the new record “the imaginary follow up to Rio that never was.”
“He gets on with everybody really well,” says Simon. He’s charming and he doesn’t offend you when he tells you he doesn’t like what you’ve done. So if he wants to guide you, you never feel like you’re being pushed.
“He made us try very hard at things, and relax as well. He’s really good fun and he’s a proper musician.”
A nine-track version of All You Need Is Now was first released on iTunes in December, topping download charts in 15 countries.
But how Duran Duran figure in the mixed bag that is 2011’s music scene hasn’t demanded too much thought.
“I pay some attention. I’m kind of in and out, especially when we’re working. Because you’re surrounded by so much music anyway you tend to want to switch off. You want to watch telly, watch sport, cricket.
“It’s come full circle with us because our kids love putting records on now. We got my daughter Amber a little Dancette portable last Christmas.”
And his middle daughter Saffy makes her own music in a band – as do Roger and Andy Taylor’s offspring.
“I managed to turn her on to Nick Drake which I thought was a great achievement. I’m about to try unloading Leonard Cohen on her.
“That’s kind of the area she’s in. It’ll be the Cocteau Twins next week.”