How we opened the door to the 1980s
Birmingham in the late '70s had a club scene that broke new ground in fashion and music - and gave birth to Duran Duran. The group's keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who, with John Taylor, has put together an album of songs from those years, looks back on intoxicating times
By 1977 punk rock was exploding in Britain, and for that frozen moment almost all music of the past seemed irrelevant. There'd be no more bearded virtuosos singing about goblins in obscure time signatures.
Double concept albums and bands that got together at university were over. Wide was out, skinny was in. Trousers, lapels and ties shrank, shoes lost a couple of storeys and long hair was banished forever (well, at least until Bon Jovi).
If you couldn't afford to buy into Westwood/McLaren high style, DIY was an easy solution: dad's old suit, a pair of scissors and a spray can.
Everything was suddenly attainable. A new band was born every week. The rules had changed - everywhere you looked there were all-day punk festivals in intimate venues, thriving independent record labels, handmade fanzines such as Sniffin' Glue: a sense that youth could make a real difference. There had not been a revolution like this since, well the '60s.
However, although punk voiced the dissatisfaction of a generation, it failed to eradicate the problems of a nation. It certainly inspired what came next.
In 1978, Birmingham was finally creeping out from under the shadow cast by the IRA pub bombings of 1974 - despite continued unemployment, power cuts, and the three-day week.
Allegedly this was the UK's second city, but you couldn't help but wonder at the gaping disparity with the capital. If this was the second city, what might life be like in the thirteenth?
I was a teenager at the time, trying to remain optimistic about the future, despite the Sex Pistols' curse that there was not to be one. When the punk bubble burst, its residue splattered far and wide.
The Pistols imploded. Some bands clung on, only to wither slowly. The Cure and the Banshees made the natural migration to Goth, the Clash became a spectacular rock band.
But a new guard was already rising. Birmingham's clubs had been a casualty. Barbarella's and Rebecca's were quickly displaced by the Rum Runner and the Holy City Zoo. DJs scoured the musical no-man's land for clues to what would be the new soundtrack to life.
There were few major advertising campaigns for new records back then. We largely relied on Top of the Pops and trusty local record stores (Virgin being the most recent) to inform us about the next big thing. Radio One was a national monopoly.
Singles really meant something. As yet, there were no Walkmans, and CDs were still the stuff of Tomorrow's World. It was a fascinating period. Artists had begun to experiment again.
A new mutation was beginning to emerge; hybrids were everywhere. Ultravox and Simple Minds had fused the elements of rock and electronics. Gary Numan took on Bowie's icy cool persona, as the Godfather himself switched directions to reinvent his identity yet again.
My childhood friend John Taylor had been in a couple of punk bands. He and I intuitively understood each other, so we formed Duran Duran together and focused our vision.
Although the glitz of glam-rock, energy of punk and pulse of electronic music were driving us forward - all of them basically European in provenance - we also had a real fascination with America.
The Beatles and the Stones had discovered rhythm and blues; we were curious about disco, which was a filthy word among rock aficionados. The groove was irresistible. The dancefloor beckoned.
John and I had isolated the Rum Runner club as our Birmingham venue of choice - an oasis in a desert of industrial grey with a growing reputation for dance music.
On our first visit we bonded with the club owners. They had recently returned from a trip to Studio 54 in New York and within days we'd got a little more than we'd bargained for.
We were simply looking for a gig. We ended up with managers, a rehearsal room and lifetime membership of the coolest club in town.
It was here, at the Rum Runner, that we created our manifesto. During the daytime we commandeered the club sound system, pooled our records and played them in search of inspiration for our musical direction: Kraftwerk's Man Machine, Ultravox's Systems of Romance, Wire's Pink Flag, Bowie's Low, the Human League's Dignity of Labour EP, Giorgio Moroder's Midnight Express soundtrack
One afternoon, after listening to what I was spinning, our new managers asked me if I would consider being DJ one night a week. At £20 for the evening I seized the opportunity. It was to be Tuesday, their empty night.
Within weeks, our combination of glam, punk, electronica and sounds from the new frontier was proving seductive. There were lines around the block. But despite that, I didn't double my wages until they hired me on Friday nights too.
From a handful of likeminded friends the word had spread, numbers swelled and the whole thing had graduated to the status of a "scene". Now there was a palpable sense of excitement and huge anticipation for the bi-weekly gatherings.
Inside the club, a cast list of flamboyant local characters mingled with out-of-towners and the merely inquisitive.
Our central scene evolved around 20 or so people: fashion designers Jane Kahn and Patti Bell were at the core and predominantly responsible for engineering the look. It was bright, brash and colourful.
Regular participants in this soap opera were Mulligan, creator of the band Fashion, and his exquisite girlfriend, Jane, alongside Gay John, Whiskers, Patrick, Slag Sue and Martin Degville. There were also occasional visits by Boy George and, somewhat bizarrely, Pete Townshend of the Who.
There was a genuine passion for music at the club. People came in search of the future, and to be part of a story that would only ever belong to them.
Bald Bev with her meticulous plume would chat to a rubber-coated androgynous beauty, while a boy with bamboo on his back made weekend plans with a half-naked girl encrusted in rhinestones.
They were urban style warriors, more science fiction than over-dressed pedestrian. It seemed implausible that anyone anywhere else in the world could possibly be experiencing such intensity and elation.
But across the Atlantic in New York City an altogether different decor and dance had developed: the cavernous disco world of Studio 54 - Bianca making her entry on the back of a white horse; debauchery in the basement, publicity stunts, photo ops and, of course, the infamous Studio 54 door policy, which required that wannabes queue in vast numbers in the hope of being hand-picked for entry by the doorman.
Amazingly, this practice was adopted by the Rum Runner. Imagine a chilly Friday night on Broad Street in the late '70s, a Brummie girl dressed in an iridescent blue plastic catsuit guarding the door, blocking a posse of hopeful builders from King's Heath Some things are just destined to get lost in translation.
If you did make it beyond security, you'd find that the club had been remodelled to simulate a sophisticated New York environment: mirror flex, pink neon flashes, moving lights and a sad selection of sickly, etiolated palms - quite posh for Birmingham, really.
Still, the cultural divide remained. The Rum Runner menagerie was typically English, small, innovative and eccentric, filled with drama and humour. It was warm and friendly with a big personality.
Our tenancy there lasted nearly as long as punk survived. The scene was an intoxicating combination of unique music, beautiful people and divine madness. It was a true celebration of the individual. But the doors were about to open on 1980 and our invitation to the next decade had arrived.
'Nick Rhodes & John Taylor Present: Only After Dark' is released on May 8.
Courtesy Telegraph UK