In a charity shop on the Walworth Road I spent two pounds on In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran by Duran Duran’s bass player, John Taylor. It is, I believe a signed copy, perhaps good for auction in 2050 when it will buy my grandchildren a house as big as the one in The Legacy……Read on….
Well, there are some very kind words on the back. “Resists the cliches of a rock memoir,” says Rolling Stone. A New York Times reviewer, albeit a self-confessed ‘Durannie’ heaps praise on “a disarming blend of candour, warmth and self-deprecating humour.” The Daily Express concludes that Duran Duran’s bass player is “one of our greatest living Englishmen,” and they should surely know. Who am I to say otherwise?
TAYLOR MADE AND THE SULTRY SIMON
Love or hate Duran Duran (it is possible to do both), this “brilliant best-selling memoir” is probably as good as you will get. On balance, I would advise Durannies, who most now mostly be pushing fifty, to settle down with this and leave for now vintage copies of Nick Rhode’s Interference, the collection of abstract polaroid photographs of television screens from around the world that came out in 1984. It’s £150 if you look in the right places, but “a catalyst for thought and inspiration.” I have a similar volume in the pipeline.
Original tour programmes and scrapbooks are also reassuringly expensive. But if you want a second Duran Duran tome, I would do with rival insider account Wild Boy: My Life In Duran Durani, from sometimes tetchy and often absent guitarist Andy Taylor.
Let us not forget that there were THREE unrelated Taylors in Duran Duran, the third being Roger, the drummer, not to be confused with Roger Taylor, drummer of Queen.
At the band’s creative heart was keyboardist Nick Rhodes (nee Bates – no puns please). But things really kicked off with arrival of sultry student Simon Le Bon. I had always assumed ‘Le Bon’ was a New Romantic confection, but no, the lad was of good Huguenot stock. Maybe that was where the poetic sensibility came from. He had already shown his acting chops as a six-year boy in a dirty shirt in the Persil ad.
THE BULLRING BOY
No such glamour for young Nigel Taylor, growing up in the Birmingham suburbs. Nigel became John, which was more muso-friendly, but it’s difficult not to warm to Nigel. He mostly skipped school, becoming instead a music devotee, forever rummaging in old record shops and hanging around at the back of sound-checks. Taylor talks of Birmingham with more lyrical affection and loyalty than the Beatles could ever muster for Liverpool, even making the Bullring sound like a great day out. The accounts of family life as an only chilld are kind and reflective, particularly John’s attempts to get closer to his ex-POW Dad. Both parents were wary of his choice of profession, but quietly supportive and delighted for their boy when he came good, much distressed but not judgemental when he became bad.
At with all bands, there were name changes, dodgy managers, personality clashes, nightmare gigs and regrettable influences. Quaintly, the final line-up, or ‘Fab Five’, agreed to split royalties and songwriting credits equally. Unlike the accursed Spandau Ballet, an altogether more sinister entity, the Durans worked their socks off on the gig circuit. They had a strong Gay following from the outset, but were unphased by it. Birmingham remained home for as long as it was feasible.
THIS IS PLANET JERK
So far so good. But then….. ‘Planet Earth’ hit. Success sees Duran Duran take off for real and the book becomes boringly bombastic and flatulent as the boys start “ridng a wave and living a dream of our own making.”
Clothes come from Antony Price. Up top, John goes for a burgundy look. Stars are-name checked ad nauseam: Bowie, Jagger the Rogers-Edwards Chic team, who really dig John’s Bass-playing. There is a turgid plugging of upmarket venues, from Sydney to Knightsbridge, which are always good for a drinks on the house and a couple of lines. Nick Rhodes gets hitched and it’s “the most divinely decadent event of a divinely decadenty decade.” Love the alliteration and I wish I had been there.
My God, life is almost as exciting as a Duran Duran ‘iconic’ video….”Everyone wanted to party with us…” even Princess Diana, who reputedly declared the boys to be her favourite band.
John falls in love with Australia (“a funky sand box”) and New York, as you do, what with Central Park and all that hanging out with Andy Warhol. Tokyo is a bit mad. John likes the elephants in Sri Lanka and gets a sun tan in Antigua.
And then there are the girls, just wall-to-wall you know, and so much fun to take drugs with. ‘Swinger-in-chief’ John enters a world where you can meet a chick at reception and be in bed with her within the hour…..and the services are second-to-none. John does get derailed by a case of crabs, Dad offering some kindly help, having become an expert on lice removal as a POW.
COKE AND THE COMEDOWN
That kind of detail suggests John remains a human being, but seems to have disappeared up his own backside for much of Duran Duran’s upward trajectory while powdering his nose. Coca Cola are one of the band’s main sponsors. Note to Stephen Fry: Coke memoirs are desperately boring for the rest of us, although John rapidly progresses to Ecstacy, sorry Methylenedioxyamphetamine.
It does all get a bit much, as it would. There are tears and tantrums, too much fanmail to cope with. John may have a Roladex to die for, but pretty soon he finds himself in a “vortex of fear, arrogance, loneliness and extraordinary popularity.” Marrying aspiring, but not wholly inspiring TV presenter Amanda de Cadenet seems to make things worse.
John comes out the other side of this remarried and big on self-knowledge and humility. He writes touchingly about the loss of his folks and the relationships within the group, but should know that the rock star redemption tale is as hackneyed as the druggy bad boy memoir. Was the man helped by a ‘Higher Power’ ? Sure looks that way. Rock writer Nick Kent, who hit depths far lower than Taylor’s, is much better at all this.
HER NAME WAS RIO
But what of the music? For that, you really have to go to Rio, Duran Duran’s ‘difficult’ second album and the perfect soundtrack if you want to get stuck in the Taylor Pleasure Groove. Better still, revisit BBC 4’s Classic Albums series and try not to choke as you listen to band members, music industry boffins and um…..Bob Geldof rave and rhapsodise about pop perfection turning a black and white world into colour. Bach and Mozart were not available, but you know they would have wanted to quiz Nick Rhodes on the ‘Gothic’ intro to The Chauffeur. Voltaire might have been intrigued by the name check he gets in Last Chance on the Stairway.
And that title track…….All is revealed. The song is not about the great Brazilian city per se, but John remembers dreaming in his Brummie bedroom of how just the word ‘Rio’ “had the power to cast a spell, conjuring dreams of exotic calendar pictures from my bedroom wall as a child.” ” Give those dreams to master poet Le Bon and magic is made, although I’m still not sure where the cherry ice-cream comes in. “Simon’s genius was infusing this girl with all the hedonism and romance of the Brazil of my fantasies.”
“We knew it was an anthem,” says Le Bon modesty of Save a Prayer, all that stuff about one night stands being paradise. Lucky man. An admirer notes that “Simon’s harmonies were thick and lush”. It must have been the choral training.
“A masterpiece,” says John. “Does that sound arrogant?” A little, certainly deluded. I professed to hate it at the time after relentless over exposure at the hands of a student neighbour. But………..Rio is awash with hooks and thudding bass lines. Portentous doesn’t begin to cover the lyrics. But leave aside all the rubbish about an album that defined a generation, you have to like it, even (oh God, oh God), Hungry Like the Wolf.
John ruefully admits that follow-up Seven and the Ragged Tiger just wasn’t as ‘visceral’ and singles like Union of the Snake (please God) were never going to be chart-toppers. That honour did fall to a remixed The Reflex, lyrics as batty as ever – DANCING ON THE VALENTINE – I SOLD THE RENOIR AND THE TV SET, but you must know the tune. Then there was A View to a Kill, a full-on John Barry collaboration and the only Bond theme to hit the Number 1 spot in the USA as Simon and the boys find “crystal tears fall as snowflakes on your body.”
They gave it their all at Live Aid, but the vibes were already bad and John was more fired up by his exploits with ‘supergroup’ The Power Station, whose cover of T-Rex’s Get It on is the worst thing Robert Palmer ever committed to CD.
In fairness, with shifting line-ups, Duran Duran have gone on making albums at respectable intervals and gigging. Reviews of the later incarnations talk excitedly of ‘electro’ segments, co-productions with Timbaland, reinventing and stripping down old songs.
I must admit that Ordinary World is all I can remember from beyond their peak period, used to memorable effect in the cafe breakfast beating scene in Layer Cake. But is there not scope for a Mama Mia-style musical? At the sign of a New Moon on Monday, a New Romantic arrives on Planet Earth, forms a New Religion involving a Union of the Snake. It all get a bit Notorious as it gives him the power to Hold Back the Rain…..Please, Please Tell Me Now how it is going to end….