Their right to Rome

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Their right to Rome
Alex O’Connell

In a triumph of style over heat (40C), Duran Duran find the Circus Maximus is a suitable backdrop to aesthetic and political needs

DURAN DURAN were never a band to let a good cause get in the way of their aesthetic requirements. How reassuring, then, that in the transient world of pop — even during a potentially style-sidelining event such as Saturday’s Live 8 — they remain utterly consistent.

“It was spectacular,” says Nick Rhodes, the band’s studiedly artful synthesizer player, minutes after coming off-stage at the Circus Maximus in Rome. “We chose to play in Italy because it seemed like the most beautiful venue,” he deadpans. “It was incredibly hot and we were surrounded by Roman ruins.”

“It was . . . sweaty, Italian, great!” Andy Taylor, the guitarist, shouts down the same mobile phone which, in the great rock telephone interview tradition, sounds as if it and the people using it are at the bottom of the river Tiber.

In 1985, at Live Aid, Duran Duran played Philadelphia, agitating thousands of their loyal British fans, who had to make do with watching the haphazard satellite link.

Twenty years on, they decided to avoid playing London again. Why? The band are speaking to me from the back of a sweltering coach making its way, with the help of a police bike escort, to the airport. They played Iceland the previous night and are heading for the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, where they are due to perform in a few hours.

It’s 40C (104F) and the coach windows are stuck. “We’re suffocating! Do something!” Andy Taylor squeals.

Meanwhile, Rhodes, always the cool customer even in a Roman heatwave, tries to explain how they got to be here: “We spoke to Bob [Geldof] very early on,” he says. “The phones were buzzing and, as with the first time, we said ‘Yes’ immediately.”

Simon Le Bon elaborates: “We did think about playing London, but it was said that they wanted some of the founding bands in another country to make it more of a world event.”

Which London live bands are they most missing? “Pink Floyd, it’s something for all the old rockers like us,” says John Taylor, the bassist, archly.

Roger Taylor, the drummer, agrees: “Coldplay are great in this situation, but also Pink Floyd.” He adds: “Are Oasis playing? I love Oasis.” [Er, no.] Rhodes namechecks young synth band, the Killers. To be honest, Duran Duran sound like a band who have come offstage after a pleasant but unspectacular set. The camaraderie could have been better. “Zucchero was on before us. He is the only one I’ve heard of,” says Roger. “The first time was much more naive, it grew from nothing,” Rhodes says.

I hear a car horn sounding out the Death March. “These are crazy, crazy drivers,” Rhodes says, clearly worried for more than his hairdo. “We were just thrilled to be involved,” he adds sweetly.

Le Bon is as flat as a cap: “It was pretty good,” he says, as though still to be convinced. “When you’re in Italy it is always a cross between disaster and brilliance.”

The band, who are recording a new album in September, played a recent hit, Reach Up for the Sunrise, their 1984 song Wild Boys and the ballad Save a Prayer.

Le Bon explains: “We played Sunrise because it’s an optimistic, new song, the rebirth of the band. Ordinary World: we’re trying to find sense in a really f***** up world, which seems appropriate. And Save a Prayer because we did it 20 years ago and it’s a humanistic song.”

“It was quite an emotional moment because we split up after the last concert and have come together again with this one,” says Roger . He pauses, the G8, for a moment, comes second to rock group oneupmanship.

“We are the only English band to have played the first [Live Aid] and the second!” he says, proudly. “U2 are Irish,” he adds.

Er, what about The Who? “Oh yes” [he shouts to the rest of the band “The Who! We’re not the first!]. But we are the only band with the same line-up to have played twice,” he points out, satisfied again.

On the politics of the event Duran are less confident. “Our country seems way ahead of the others. Bob and Blair have been exceptionally good on this issue,” Rhodes says. “Blair is a good statesman, and it’s down to his persuasive powers of getting the Americans on board.”

Le Bon continues: “It is the beginning of something that continues,” he says, in Duran haiku. “The last time people thought that they could make a payment and that was it. If we watch an entire continent crumble . . . We are a very humanist band, we have diverse party politics. We would have to find something that we are very comfortable with.”
John, who has spent a lot of time in Los Angeles recently, becomes serious: “It’s about self-awareness of one’s self as a human being on the planet,” he murmurs.

By the time that Andy gets on to the question of politics, his voice sounds like a plastic bag being scrunched up.

“At least Tony Blair cares, he really didn’t have to go on MTV.” he says. “I know we’re not UB40,” he adds, referencing the politically active, British reggae band who also played in both concerts (sorry, Roger), “but we are not stupid.”

Courtesy The Times UK