A Blog from JT (Breathless)

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Wednesday June 12. Gela and I are driving north on the M5, bound for the Midlands. We take the Birmingham/Redditch road exit off the M42, and work our way south through Alvechurch. I know my way around these parts of the country like I know the lines on my face, or the groove to ‘Rio’. Directions are etched inside me, like I could never forget them. Turning off the Redditch road we head up a hill towards the village of Beoley. I tell Gela, this is the route my school bus took, every day. How pretty it is. It’s gloomy, and wet, of course (this is the English summer after all), but there’s a vivaciousness, a power in the nature of things here that the weather feeds. We slow down at the apex of the hill, and seeing a number of cars parked on the roadside, take a slow left turn onto the driveway of St Leonard’s church.

We are the last to arrive, and the service has already begun. The church is packed full. We find a pew next to Roger and Gisella. In the front row pew to our right sits Nick, with his Mom Sylvia, his daughter Taj and girlfriend Meredith. To Nick’s right I see Simon and Yasmin.

We have arrived at the funeral for Nick’s father, Roger, who died two weeks earlier, the day we were due to play the first of two concerts in New York’s Central Park. I had gotten a call from Davey at around four in the afternoon. It was the most upsetting news I had received in quite some time. Roger had been a Dad to me in my teenage years, the ‘anti-Dad’ if you like. Compared to the old stick in the mud I had to live with, Roger was lively, interesting, and had a hilarious sense of humour. I could hang with Roger for hours. While my own dad was (seemingly) emotionally AWOL, Roger was easier to communicate with. He was very encouraging of Nick’s and my enterprise and had continued to be a pal for many years of the band’s early life. When I came back to the band for the reunion I felt that something had changed with Roger and I, that he didn’t trust me the way he had once done, which is understandable I suppose. It wasn’t a big thing, but it was something I sensed anyway. It didn’t matter when I got the news of his death. All I felt was a massive tear rip through my guts, that something had been torn out from inside me, something I did not even know was there.

Of course for Nick I felt so upset. The news was completely out of the blue. He was in a state of shock, and to a certain degree, I think, still is. You never really come fully to terms with a parent’s death do you? How can you? All you can hope for is for them to have lived a lengthy, fulfilling lifetime, which for Roger, was certainly the case.

I sat with Nick as he gave the news to his daughter Taj, who had a wonderful relationship with her Grandpa, and my respect for him doubled, tripled, as I watched him navigate such difficult waters with love, and utmost care, like a jeweler making a clean cut through a diamond, most careful not to do any damage than what was unavoidable.

Nick played on that night, like I knew he would. There was never any question that he would, and that he would do it as the consummate professional that he is. His only reference was to Simon, before the show, asking that Simon make no mention of it during the show. He was not ready for that. Weeks later at Birmingham’s NIA we would dedicate our performance that night to the memory of Roger. By that time a certain amount of dust had settled, and we were able to touch the wound without causing too much pain, and talk about it.

Two days earlier, June 10 we were in Paris, to play a short set at The Louvre, underneath the glass pyramid (as seen in ‘The Da-Vinci Code').

It was a fund-raiser for the ‘American Friends Of The Louvre’, a fellowship of wealthy Americans (mostly Texans, it seemed to me) that party like no one else I know, then spent amazing amounts of tax-free dollars on auction items such as ‘ a week at David Copperfield’s (the magician) Bahamian getaway’. Raising money for The Louvre, perhaps the most spectacular public collection of Western art anywhere. I don’t mean to sound cynical, I believe in this sort of fundraising. Museums like The Louvre and the National in London, the MOMA in New York have to have awfully deep pockets to compete with the Abramovitches of this world. I mean, who wouldn’t hang the ‘Mona Lisa’ on their own wall if they could afford it? All of us. So it’s super important that no one is able to buy it. Which means the Louvre has to stay super-fluid, in the home economics department.

We have done a lot of work for the rich and famous this year. Whether playing a corporate gig for Deutsche Bank or playing at the wedding of some super-rich Italian playboy, we seem to be one of the ‘go-to’ bands to bop to, whilst shaking your diamond earrings. After we had finished playing ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ at The Louvre a sprightly Dame Peggy Ashcroft lookalike in the pit in front of Dom called out, ‘Stop the show, stop the show! Someone has lost a diamond!’

A far cry from the Rum Runner. Thinking this over in bed last night I was worrying myself, that we might be losing credibility with ‘the people’. I have always considered Duran a people’s band, despite what the press has made of us over the years as Thatcherite, Conservative, elitist etc…

I don’t think we are. I know that I’m not. I’m a working class kid that has made a career for myself out of music, without any formal music education. Eat that!

Here’s what I came up with in bed last night; Would a plumber turn down work in a wealthy house? Not unless he was a fool. If anything, the corporate work we have done this year has helped make us a better band. We are never far from a stage these days, even when we are not in a ‘touring cycle’. Which means that each of us, individually and as a group, keep our edge, or at least our edges don’t get to become quite so fuzzy as they do when we don’t do any live work for a year. For a musician work is good, period.

That same night in New York that Nick had to contend with his dad’s death we all spent some time with Mark Ronson. Smirnoff the vodka people had come to us in March with a proposal to play a concert in Paris. A one-off concert collaboration with Mark. Would we be interested? Well of course we would! Would Mark be interested we all wondered. Well yes, as it happened, he would too! And so began an interesting project quite unlike anything we had done before. Mark would basically create a DJ mix of his favourite Duran moments, and then we would play it, LIVE.

We had one or two phone conversations, Mark telling us ideas he had, how he felt ‘The Chauffeur’ and Blur’s ‘Song 2’ were so similar he envisaged the two mashed up, played simultaneously. ‘Crikey!’ we thought, ‘that sounds like fun!’ But will it stand up in court?

Willingness and Open-mindedness are the keystones of working a successful twelve step step program, and it turned out to be the best way to approach this Ronson gig. After a week off in LA following the New York shows, the band convened in Europe for a short week of shows, then rehearsals in London with Mark’s band. Did I mention that? We would augment the Duran live sound with Mark’s horn section, his string section, his percussionist and singers. Even his bass player would have something to say. How cool is that? You know me, I love having players on stage. I’ve never liked using programmed sounds or sequences where it’s possible to have breathing blood-pumping musos to boss around. The more the better. What was tricky was to forget the song arrangements that we have been playing night after night around the world on the RCM tour, and put in mind these new arrangements of Mark’s- where ‘Is There Something I Should Know’ would be interrupted by ‘The Valley’, where ‘A View To A Kill’s outro would stretch out for miles (about thirty two bars) and medley into the ‘Planet Earth’ groove.

What had been planned for thirty minutes of music ran into just over an hour. ‘I just can’t do it in half an hour’ bemoaned Mark, ‘it has to be at least an hour. There’s too much good stuff’. ‘Don’t you worry Mark’ said we, ‘The more’s the better!’ Until it came to D-Day of course, and learning all the frigging stuff. And you guys know just how much we love rehearsing…

I’m having a little joke. In actual fact I enjoy rehearsals. It’s the second most fun thing to do (having an audience to play to being the first) that I know. There was some concern in the ranks, getting Dom and Simon to relax and not worry, that it would all work itself out required some doing. In point of fact, when it came to the day, the one solitary day that we spent at our Hammersmith rehearsal location with Mark and his cohorts, it turned out to be one of the most fun days I have spent with my bass strapped to my skinny ass ever. Mark was just so pleasant to be around, and his ideas all held water. There wasn’t anything we had to drop, or alter in any major way.

I was most impressed with his guitar playing, which he played carefully, and thoughtfully, like the great producer he is. Everything he did was well considered. I seriously dug having second guitar chugging along on ‘Notorious’ and ‘Planet Earth’. He was nervous at first but we made him right at home. The ‘Bond Medley’ section he had built out of parts of ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’, before Simon was to enter singing the first verse and chorus of ‘A View To A Kill’ alone, with orchestra, was fantastico. And he played guitar along with his string medley like the brazen hussy he is. John Barry would have been proud, and I told him so.

It was our second visit to Paris in three weeks, and the performance at La Cigalle just blew by. After all the work that was involved, the time spent on stage seemed negligible. What counted was getting it right, for ourselves, for the crowd, and for the cameras from TV’s Channel 4. I think, looking back, we got it as right as it could be gotten. My favourite moment was playing Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ‘5.55’, the biggest French hit of the year, which I wanted to play for Gela, and medleying that into ‘Ordinary World’, then the final sequence of ‘The Chauffeur’, ‘Song 2’ and ‘Rio’.

When I take the time to read back these entries I write for DD.com I always think they should be subtitled ‘Breathless’. That is my writing style, if I have any, ‘Breathless’. Always running short of breath. Or so it seems to me when I read it. The 48 hours around the Cigalle gig with Mark, next night our biggest European show that summer at London’s O2 Arena were the busiest of our often hectic 2008 schedule. Everyone had been freaking out, saying ‘How are we going to remember the old arrangements, without some kind of ….rehearsal?’ ‘Don’t worry my sons’, I would tell them, ‘It shall be like slipping on a very familiar, favourite item of clothing’. And so it was. (I’m not always quite so right, but this time I was).

The O2 was a DREAM gig. The audience raised us up from bar 1, and carried us through to the end. It was by far and away our best gig of the year, and when we came off stage that night I allowed myself some pride at pulling off these two radically different yet both important performances, back to back, and doing it as well as we did. By the time I got to my bed that night I was ready for a day off.