Duran Duran in 1980: Birmingham’s fluffiest New Romantics
◼ 40 YEARS AGO TODAY the Birmingham club-band Duran Duran released their debut single Planet Earth, less than two months after signing to EMI. It charted in mid-March, peaked at No 12, and bagged the band a spot on Top of the Pops, Britain’s premier music TV show. They were the first New Romantic band from outside London to make good, and the writer Steve Jansen claims that “inside of three short years, Duran were officially the biggest band on the planet”.
He celebrated Duran’s birthpangs with a thorough survey of their origins titled Switch It On! – Planet Earth & The Launch of Duran Duran, on the blog gimmeawristband.com which though sadly defunct today, is preserved at the Wayback Machine. As a shorter alternative, Shapersofthe80s documented a few key excerpts from his epic account, where Jansen talked to all the key players involved during the run-up to the band’s chart debut. They are published here with his permission…
❚ UPDATE, MAY 29: Duran Duran now offer a fulsome apology for having to cancel their current UK tour dates — not, as sceptics suspected, because of unsold tickets but because of singer Simon Le Bon’s continuing “laryngeal problems”. Their website today reports: “Following a consultation with both a vocal coach and his team of ENT specialists today, Simon Le Bon has been advised that he needs to continue to rest his voice… Devastated by the news that they will not be able to resume the tour as planned on Tuesday, Simon said ‘We’ve been postponing shows with very little notice, in the hope each day that the improvement would have been significant enough for me to sing again without risking any long-term damage’.”
View John and Nick’s special video apology at YouTube . . . Today too, Roger Taylor blogs on the DD website on the horrible irony of Woody Allen’s famous quotation “If you want make God laugh, tell him about your plans” and he makes the promise: “I know that all the shows are very close to being re-scheduled later in the year.” . . . Read Simon Le Bon’s blog at DD’s website on June 1: “I reckon I got 6 semi-tones wiped off the top of my range and … it’s very difficult not to worry about it.”
❏ Here’s a sparky interview with the band just released by the SXSW festival, recorded in March. With former MTV reporter John Norris in the chair, Nick Rhodes says he still sees Duran as an art-school band and John Taylor reflects on the golden era of MTV. Stills from this interview have been posted at Flickr
❏ This stylish tuxedoed shot by Pierpaolo Ferrari comes from the current “Long Live the 80s” issue of L’Uomo Vogue, with a feature on DD by former Wag club host Chris Sullivan, translated for the Italian edition.
HERE’S A CATCH-UP ON PREVIOUSLY POSTED DURAN NEWS FROM THE YEAR SO FAR
❏ It was 30 years in March since the 80s supergroup’s debut single Planet Earth peaked at No 12 in the UK chart… This year their 14-track CD of AYNIN spent five weeks on the UK album chart.
❏ View highlights from Duran Duran’s Unstaged online concert March 23 at the Mayan theatre, Los Angeles, in 1080p HD at the band’s Vevo channel on YouTube /DuranDuranVEVO. Click here to find which global regions are licensed to view highlights at YouTube. The four DD Unstaged concert tracks most viewed via Vevo in the first three weeks after the live webcast drew more than 1.5m views — these are All You Need is Now with 700,930 views, then Notorious 298,505, Planet Earth 290,477, and Friends of Mine 274,935 way out ahead of all other tracks, most of which pulled only four-figure audiences.
❏ Rhodes and Le Bon give a seven-minute video history of DD for ABC News, Jan 2011 — “Rio was the album that made us the biggest band in the world. It made us big in America”
❏ Duran have been blessed by an interview at Quietus, its holiness the online magazine whose touchstone is “reverence” and claims “we’re not afraid of surprising our readers”. Writer Simon Price delivers two surprises. Plus this list of post-80s albums the band think most deserve to be listened to: The Wedding Album (1993) … Pop Trash (2000) … Medazzaland (1997) … Astronaut (2004).
❏ On the currentAYNIN tour Duran Duran played North America and Mexico March 16–April 27, just before their 11-date UK tour from Newcastle to Sheffield May 18–June 4. They take in Berlin on May 26 and continue across Europe, Paris to Bergen June 10–Aug 28. [Update — These were the original plans, which were substantially cancelled in May and June.] In between they return to the UK for the V Festival on both Aug 20 and 21.
❚ HAPPY 30th ANNIVERSARY to Planet Earth. On March 5, 1981, Duran Duran made their first appearance on the nationwide TV show Top of the Pops, a vital consequence of their debut single hitting the UK Top 40. Along with Spandau Ballet and Visage, Duran were the third British band to confirm the gathering force of the New Romantic movement, and TV’s pop flagship was to showcase a rush of new bands as springtime blossomed. Duran’s strongly contemporary electronic style is attributed to producer Colin Thurston, who had co-engineered David Bowie’s “Heroes”, and on his death in 2007 John Taylor paid tribute to Thurston as “a major catalyst for the 80s sound” which he was to reinforce on the band’s first album. “Without Colin’s depth of vision, we would never have become the band we became.”
Simon Le Bon: live on video at the Rum Runner in 1980
In the Planet Earth video mix above we see original footage of DD performing in 1980 at the Rum Runner, home of Birmingham’s then underground New Romantic scene.
The futuristic and stylish official video, shot later in a studio by director Russell Mulcahy, has been spliced in, all overdubbed with the audio track recorded at EMI’s Manchester Square studio with lyrics refreshed opportunistically to include the line Like some New Romantic looking for the TV sound (available as the Manchester Square Demo on the debut Duran Duran album remastered in 2010). One of Duran’s earliest songs, Late Bar, completed the B-side of the single released on Feb 2, 1981. An alternative arrangement of Planet Earth was also released on a 12-inch extended remix as what DD called a “night version” for the dancefloor. The single spent 14 weeks in the chart, peaking at No 12 in late March.
Among comments at YouTube, Jeremy Thirlby, musician and school friend of Nick Rhodes, points out that the dancers we see during the filming at the club were “drafted in actors” because for some reason “most regulars were excluded”! Unknown to everyone at Birmingham’s Rum Runner the very week when Duran were being filmed in July 1980, London’s ITV station was to air its 20th Century Box documentary about the Blitz club house band, Spandau Ballet. Bang! This was the starting gun that signalled the record-industry race to sign up the first of the New Romantic bands.
New Romantics in full fig at the Rum Runner in July 1980: note the tell-tale moves in the Planet Earth video, such as the Ballet sway at 1:20, crucial handpasses at 2:18 and Pierrot’s wonky head at 3:06
Duran Duran in 1980: Birmingham’s fluffiest New Romantics
◼ 30 YEARS AGO TODAY the Birmingham club-band Duran Duran released their debut single Planet Earth, less than two months after signing to EMI. It charted in mid-March, peaked at No 12, and bagged the band a spot on Top of the Pops, Britain’s premier music TV show. They were the first New Romantic band from outside London to make good, and this week the writer Steve Jansen claims that “inside of three short years, Duran were officially the biggest band on the planet”.
He celebrated Duran’s birthpangs with a monumental survey of their origins titled Switch It On! – Planet Earth & The Launch of Duran Duran, on the blog gimmeawristband.com. As a shorter alternative, Shapersofthe80s has documented a few key excerpts from his epic account, where Jansen talked to all the key players involved during the run-up to the band’s chart debut. They are published here with his permission…
The New Romantic Jive: Rum Runner regulars Gay John Lupton and Lavinya Jatjm, dressed to the hilt and dancing in the official 1981 video for Planet Earth, co-directed by Blitz Kid Perry Haines and Russell Mulcahy
Duran Duran as full-on Romantics: Betty Page thought only co-founder Nick Rhodes (second right) passed the bouffant test convincingly
❚ ON OR ABOUT THIS DAY IN 1980 (MAYBE) some say Duran Duran signed their contract with EMI. The band seem mysteriously unable to remember when, so guesses might run from Dec 9 because Andy Taylor recalls the news of John Lennon’s death ruining his breakfast in London, and possibly Dec 22, date of a celebratory gig at Birmingham’s Cedar Club. However, the first official book, Their Story by Kasper de Graaf, places the signing firmly at 5 January 1981. According to co-manager Paul Berrow, the contract paid out a £28,000 advance (£90,000 in today’s money).
As the house band of the New Romantics in Britain’s second city, Birmingham, they were styled locally by Kahn & Bell, photographed by Paul Edmond, and managed by Paul and Michael Berrow, owners of the glitzy Rum Runner nightclub on Broad Street.
The Berrows had inherited the family business from their influential bookmaker father who had opened the club in the Swinging 60s and the sickly odours of Brut and Estee Lauder still lingered. Inspired directly by a visit to New York’s Studio 54, the brothers refurbished the Rum Runner in 1979 with state-of-the-art mirror-tiled walls and zigzags of neon. They then introduced a playlist heavily flavoured with Moroder-style imports and the American club-funk championed by the Nile Rodgers band Chic, whose string of chart hits was restoring credibility to disco music following the ridicule inflicted by the low-rent movie Saturday Night Fever. But how to become the Studio 54 of the Midlands?
Enter a band called Duran Duran in January 1980, armed with a four-song demo recorded at Bob Lamb’s studio which included Rio as a work in progress. The DD line-up were offered the club as daytime rehearsal space and jobs by night, including deejaying for Nick Rhodes. Roger Taylor recalls that the brothers “were looking for a band that was a cross between Gino Soccio, Genesis and Chic” — all the more curious that they made many attempts to contact Steve New to recruit the Rich Kids guitarist into the band, but they heard nothing from him.
The Melody Maker ad that landed Andy Taylor in April 1980: unearthed by Duran fan Figital
Inevitably the lineup was rationalised and by the summer Andy had been recruited (“They were quite blatant,” Andy told Rolling Stone much later. “They said, ‘We’re posers. We want a good-looking poser band”). Then came Simon Le Bon as singer. According to him: “They had this thing about being between Chic and the Sex Pistols, but I thought they were more like in between Roxy Music and the Sex Pistols.” The band were searching for a musical direction.
Meanwhile as the rival nightclub Barbarella’s fell from favour, the Birmingham poser scene was reinventing itself in local bars around the peacock clothes designers Jane Kahn, Patti Bell and a veteran of Billy’s club in Soho, Martin Degville, who was commuting to London weekly to run a branch of his shop in Kensington Market. That summer the Rum Runner gave over Tuesdays to a Bowie/Roxy night. Sounds familiar? Enter journalist Betty Page and the rest is history.
Within three years Duran Duran’s synth-pop had made The Fab Five one of the handful of British supergroups dominating the global stage. Duran can claim to have led the MTV-driven “Second British Invasion” of the United States from the autumn of 1981 with their raunchy and cinematic videos, and over 30 years enjoyed 21 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 and sales of 100m records.
BETTY PAGE OF SOUNDS RECALLS HOW SHE WAS
INVITED TO “DISCOVER” DURAN DURAN
Betty Page in youthful bloom, more recently identified as Beverley Glick
In September 1980 in the pages of the music weekly, Sounds, Betty had slapped the label “New Romantics” on Spandau Ballet, house band of London’s Blitz club and then received a call from the hungry manager of this Brummie band called Duran Duran…
“ Paul Berrow was a smooth operator. ‘Come to the Rum Runner,’ he said of the club he co-owned with his brother Michael. ‘We’ve got a scene going on up here to put the Blitz to shame, and a band to go with it.’ Clever, I thought. He had singled me out to be the first journalist to write about his group. And they actually wanted to be called New Romantics! Nick was the most obviously New Romantic — a bouffant blond David Sylvian lookalike who sported extravagantly frilly shirts and shiny suits — but the style sat rather uncomfortably on the others.
Years after both bands had achieved superstar status, Steve Dagger, the manager of Spandau Ballet, wrote this nugget summarising Duran Duran’s contribution to the 80s music scene. It was published in a partwork published by The Sunday Times in 1997 titled 1000 Makers of Music, which spanned all genres from classical to pop:
“ Duran were among a new group of artists who provided a glittering, sexy contrast to the prevailing dull corporate pop-punk of the 1970s. Taking their influence from the art-school underground of electronics/Ferry/Bowie, they came to prominence as the Birmingham ‘it’ band at the same time Spandau Ballet reigned over a similar scene in London. After an awkward but successful period as the Birmingham ‘answer to’, Duran metamorphosed in 1982 into a sleek, glamorous international entity with the seminal album Rio, having perfected a distinctive Duran sound fusing synths and guitar licks over post-disco rhythm. Inspired songs such as Hungry Like the Wolf were accompanied by cinematic videos, together creating an electric pop culture moment. After being derided for years, Britain had produced a group America could not ignore: Duran surfed in on the newly conceived MTV to conquer the States. They continue to make great British records and should recently have won a Novello for their lament to the 1980s, Ordinary World. [Key work: Is There Something I Should Know? (1983)] ”
❏ View this hilarious early video of white-faced New Romantics doing their wobbly dances to Duran Duran’s first single Planet Earth, performed at the Rum Runner in 1980 (now remastered in high quality). Note the hijacked Warren Street Jive in the official promo video sequences shot much later in a studio . . .
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
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VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
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UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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