Tim Hughes talks to Roger Taylor of Duran Duran about the glory days and renaissance
Roger Taylor doesn’t sound like an international pop star – far less a global sex symbol.
The Duran Duran drummer, once listed by Tatler as the fifth most eligible bachelor in Britain, is relaxed and chatty, modestly playing down his role in one of the most successful bands of all time.
“We didn’t go into this for fame and glamour, we did it for the music. We started this band to be musicians and play instruments; the rest was a bit of a hindrance.
“Those days were pretty ‘out there’,” he laughs. “It was a very intense period of my life. I was 19, and it all happened in two years. There was no time to get used to it.
“We have a much greater sense of normality now. I wouldn’t change it for a second, but I don’t miss it. Nobody in the band does.”
Formed in Birmingham in 1978, and taking their name from a character in the sci-fi film Barbarella, Duran Duran went on to dominate the early 80s pop scene.
Emerging fully frilled and coiffured as poster boy new romantics, they evolved into a slick, fashionable and highly photogenic band which encapsulated the glamorous excesses of Thatcher’s decade. Here was a band tailor-made for the MTV generation – their racy, high-production value videos showing them gallivanting on yachts and tropical beaches – always accompanied by beautiful women.
They have sold more than 70 million records and scored 14 UK Top 10 singles – include the Top Five Union of the Snake, Save a Prayer, Is There Something I Should Know? The Wild Boys, The Reflex, Girls on Film and Hungry Like the Wolf.
They had a Bond theme and a Number Two hit with A View to a Kill, Played Live Aid in front of 90,000 people in Philadelphia – and 1.5 billion on TV, and have picked up two Grammys, an MTV Award – and millions of adoring fans.
Now they are back with their 14th studio album, the acclaimed Paper Gods.
On Saturday Roger and bandmates Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor reconvene for a headline set at Common People – the 30,000-capacity event taking shape at South Park, Oxford.
“I am just having a bit of down time after weeks of touring in America,” says Roger – formerly known as the ‘quiet one’ of the band. “It’s a bit mental. Not many bands this far in are able to do that. We are very fortunate.”
He adds: “It took a while for the Americans to really get us, but by 1983 we were huge and were playing Madison Square Garden. We really broke America – and not just the east and west coasts, but right across. In Texas and the Deep South they love us.”
Saturday’s set follows last year’s ‘come back’ headline slot at Bestival on the Isle of Wight, organised by the founder of Common People Rob da Bank. The bombastic stage show, studded with special effects, went down a storm with fans old and new.
“We were taken aback because we had never done this festival thing before,” says Roger.
“I was surprised by how young the audience was and that they knew the songs. It was astonishing that in 2015 we could get up there and play to so many people. We were grinning all through the show!”
To what does he attribute the band’s longevity?
“The songs have just stood the test of time,” he says. “And we were always a real band – not just a couple of keyboard players. And that’s continued through the years.
“We have always been a band that played together, and people could name every member. That has disappeared a little bit these days. It’s not like that now.”
Things waned for Duran Duran in the 90s, with the band dwindling to two long-term members: Le Bon and Rhodes.
And while Roger was happy, he admits to being thrilled when word came through that they were back in business.
“I thought it was over, but thankfully it wasn’t,” he says, wistfully. “I left for a number of years, then got a call from Simon in 2000 saying he wanted to put the band back together again.
“There was so much water under the bridge, but we still had chemistry and started the ball rolling again.
“I had been living a family man's life with three kids and a low key role in the music business. This is like a second coming. How lucky are we that we can come back? There are not many bands that can do that.”
He adds: “Nick and Simon kept the flame burning, and there has always been a Duran Duran, which gives us credibility. We are not a band that folded and came back for a reunion.”
And how has life changed? “In the early days there was so much dressing around the band,” he says.
“The glamorous videos almost overshadowed the music and it’s great to see the music come from beneath that and become so enduring.
“We wrote these songs ourselves – and in this age where a lot of stuff is written for artists, people like that. and we have a few good ones.”
That’s why, he says, they are back on the biggest stages, more than 30 years on.
“People might not know what we look like, but they like the sound – and are open to new things.”
Though, he admits, nostalgia is a factor in the band’s recent success.
“There are a lot of people who want to re-live that period of their youth. Forty-somethings are in their element when they come a to a show, but we also keep pushing forward. We always play the catalogue but have new music as well. The new record reached the Top 10 in America, and it’s important to feel viable and vital, not just peddling hits from 1983.
“The new album is a real labour of love, and had full band involvement. To see it accepted as a good album is great. The more we play these songs the more people love them, which is a great validation.”
And does he miss the adulation? “Normality has prevailed and I can go on the Tube and walk around these days – usually!” he laughs.
“We are in a much better place now, and it’s all about the music and performance – which is what we went into it for in the first place.”
Duran Duran play Common People on Saturday. For tickets go to oxfordcommonpeople.net
Courtesy Oxford Mail