Return of the Wild Boys

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Return of the wild boys Feb 13 2004

Karen Price, The Western Mail

AS five men take centre stage at Earls Court on Tuesday night, you can guarantee that the screams greeting them will be heard the other side of London.

And it will be the 30-somethings among the audience at the Brit Awards who will be shouting the loudest.

The men in question are Duran Duran - the Birmingham band who enjoyed a string of hits during the '80s while the likes of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears were still in nappies.

In fact, they were compared to The Beatles, sold more than 70 million records worldwide and broke box office records.

They were also the group who had hysterical teenage girls hiding in hotel wardrobes and breaking into their homes just to get close to them.

Others queued backstage, offering their bodies freely and easily to the New Romantics who produced chart hits like Rio, Save A Prayer, Hungry Like The Wolf, Wild Boys and The Reflex.

When they split up at the height of their fame in 1986, their heartbroken fans were inconsolable.

But now, almost two decades later, the "boys" - leather-clad strutting frontman Simon Le Bon, heartthrob bassist John Taylor, shy drummer Roger Taylor, energetic guitarist Andy Taylor and pretty make-up-adorned keyboardist Nick Rhodes - are back.

And while they may now be fathers and 20 years older than most of their rivals, they are enjoying an incredible resurgence of fame.

Since reforming last year, they have performed celebrity-packed gigs in the States, supported Robbie Williams in Australia and New Zealand and received lifetime achievement awards from both the MTV Music Video Awards and Q Magazine.

They recently announced a spring tour in the UK, which includes a date in Wales, and tickets have been selling like hot cakes.

On Tuesday, they will be awarded for their outstanding contribution to the music industry at the Brits.

Incredibly, it will be the first time they have received a coveted Brit award.

"It's great to get recognition - we didn't get much recognition first time round as people were just dazzled by the videos and the hysteria," says drummer Roger, who once returned to his London home to find a love-struck fan had broken in and left a note on the kitchen table.

"But people are now thinking, 'Actually this is a great band'. They can see beyond the glitz."

Duran Duran have been rehearsing a set to play at the end of this year's ceremony, which will be screened by ITV1.

"We will combine most of our most famous songs.

"Save A Prayer is probably my favourite song - it brings a lump to my throat every time we play it.

"It just seems to have an emotional quality which always does it for me. It's one of the best songs we've done."

Roger, now a 43-year-old father-of-three, is amazed by all of the attention but he says fame is far sweeter second time around.

"It's great actually - it's so much better now," he says.

"I think we have maturity and we are all a bit more level-headed.

"We feel in control of our own destiny now. When we were younger I think we had a lot of people pushing us in directions we didn't want to be going in.

"It's good to be back in control and really enjoying what we got into this business for - playing live."

Devoted Duranies (yes, even the fans had their own tag), would never have dreamed that Roger would be saying those words in 2004.

For it was his decision to pursue a quieter life and Andy's dream of a solo career which led to the band's split.

"I think I was just burned out by the whole thing," says Roger.

"I joined the band when I was 19 and our global success just got too much for me. I was a very shy kid. When I was little, if I saw someone I knew walking down the road I would cross over.

"After a few years it (fame) became too much of a grind for me - I just wanted to get away."

After leaving the band, Roger and his wife Giovanna, a make-up artist, settled in the Cotswolds to enjoy a "very simple life."

"I had quite a bit of land and a few horses. I just looked after the land. It was great doing something completely different. Everyone thought I had gone crazy and turned into a recluse but I was enjoying a very simple life but it's nice now to be back among real people."

While most middle-aged men would be happy enough to lead a quieter life, what made Simon, John, Roger, Andy and Nick decide to compete with the younger generation of pop stars and attempt a second chance of fame?

"I started getting back into music during the '90s, doing some underground dance music and I really wanted to play the drums again," says Roger.

"And then John just happened to give me a call out of the blue and asked if I fancied getting the band back together again.

"I was really shocked as I really thought it was in the past and there had been a lot of water under the bridge. But after 24 hours I called him back."

Within weeks it was like they had never been apart and the once distraught fans have been rediscovering their passion for the band they grew up with.

"The reaction has been extraordinary," says Roger.

"We tentatively put on a tour in Japan for our opening concerts. We booked an 8,000-seater venue in Tokyo and wondered whether anyone would turn up.

"It sold out completely within a few hours and we were all gobsmacked.

"It's been the same story whenever we've put something on since."

Although he was painfully shy when Duran Duran released their first single Planet Earth, in 1981, Roger is now enjoying the recognition that comes with being in one of Britain's most successful bands ever - even if it means that at the end of most gigs his drum kit is covered in more pairs of knickers than Tom Jones receives from his fans these days.

"I am enjoying it - I think!" he laughs. "It's less intense now. When we used to tour we would find around 50 teenage fans screaming to get into our hotel. Now they are 30-year-olds and they are a lot less demanding - they are people we can relate to and have a nice chat with."

Although Duran Duran have been attracting new, younger fans who were just a twinkle in their fathers' eyes during the '80s, most of those attending their latest gigs were loyal followers first time around.

"We now have a whole army of 30-somethings who come to our show who were probably too young to come before," says Roger. "It's been great to reconnect with them."

Despite being apart for almost two decades, the fivesome have managed to gel again.

"We're a bit like a dysfunctional family. We all know each others' weird and wonderful ways. But we give each other enough space to function as a unit."

And despite being that much older, it seems they are still giving the younger musicians a run for their money when it comes to enjoying themselves.

"We still have fun. Our partying days were exaggerated a little bit. If we'd done all the partying people said we had, we'd have never achieved what we did. We were always a hard-working band."

As well as being recognised for their hard work, Duran Duran have provided inspiration for a wealth of today's bands, including Wales' Lostprophets who grew up listening to them.

In fact, the band's name comes from a Duran Duran live bootleg.

"It's pleasing to get recognition. We were always the band people liked to hate," admits Roger.

"We would bump into other bands and they would turn their backs on us. We had all this success but very little respect for some reason so it's really nice to get recognition from other people in the industry now."

Before reforming, Duran Duran were invited to take part in several '80s revival tours but they declined.

"We tried to keep away from the whole '80s revival scene. We wanted to do it on our own terms. We have been offered a lot of package tours but we like to think we still have a future and want to be recognised as a current act."

That, of course, means that they have ditched the New Romantic image they had.

The boys then wore frilly shirts which Lady Di would have been proud of and more make-up than the Elizabeth Arden counter at Boots.

"The less said about that, the better!" laughs Roger as he recalls his former penchant for heavy eyeliner.

The five members of Duran Duran say they will stay together for a long time to come and are currently working on a new album.

"We've tried to reintroduce the groove element and tried to return to some great songwriting.

"We're getting some contemporary mixers and producers in to finish it off so there will be a modern feel."

Although there will no doubt be plenty more highlights ahead, what is Roger's favourite memory of life with Duran Duran?

"We were touring the States in '84 and after one gig we chartered a private aeroplane to go straight from the venue to the airport.

"As we flew over the venue we saw around 10,000 people coming out of the arena. It was just a great moment."