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The long and winding Rhodes
7:00am Saturday 4th August 2012 in Music
Duran Duran are celebrating their hit live DVD A Diamond In The Mind and kicking off the Olympics in style at BT London Live on Friday, July 27. The band's founder member Nick Rhodes tells Andy Welch all about it plus their future plans.
By Andy Welch
There's something rather reassuring about finding Nick Rhodes in Rome, with its images of espressos on pavements outside chic cafes, sharp tailoring and girls with even sharper cheekbones.
Throughout all the phases of his band Duran Duran - from New Romantic beginnings to 'the prettiest boys in rock' and now the distinguished gents of stadium pop - the keyboard player and founder member has always cut a dandyish, sophisticated figure.
"Italy has always been good to us," he says with the nonchalance of someone well versed in continental travel. "We were given the keys to the city in Milan last year. I'm not sure what exactly they open - presumably not the bank vaults. And look, the sun is shining here. It's making me feel very tolerable for this time of the morning."
It's actually midday when we talk, but given the band's rigorous touring schedule across various time zones of late, Rhodes, who turned 50 in June, can be forgiven for feeling a little jet-lagged.
He says Duran Duran, the band he founded in Birmingham in 1978 when he was just 16, are sounding better than ever. It's a bold statement following a period of uncertainty just over a year ago.
The band postponed most of their European tour, including the entire UK leg, due to ongoing problems with singer Simon Le Bon's voice. The problem stumped many specialists and, while it was said he had severe laryngitis, Rhodes says his long-time friend was never given a full or accurate diagnosis.
"Fortunately he got better when we just had lots and lots of rest. It was hugely disappointing to have to postpone those shows, and for our fans," he says. "But it was necessary. It was a very worrying time, when we didn't really know what would happen next.
"Simon's since been absolutely rigorous with his vocal exercises and the way he cares for his voice, to the point where I think he sounds as good if not better than he ever has done.
"When we did eventually play those UK shows last last year, there was something rather triumphant about it. We came back feeling like we had to make the shows better than ever, which was another reason we wanted to film a concert.
"The MEN in Manchester was the perfect venue for it - it's one of my favourite arenas in Europe because it's so broad and tall and absolutely perfect for filming.
"We also wanted to include more of the atmosphere than you get in a lot of concert films, which I think are often just a few sweeping shots of the crowd and a fixed angle of the band on stage."
Directed by Gavin Elder, who has previously filmed the band in more fly-on-the-wall settings, A Diamond In The Mind does achieve what Rhodes wanted: interaction between band members on stage and long, establishing shots of fans having a ball.
Duran Duran's only UK show before the end of the year is BT London Live in Hyde Park on Friday, July 27 where they represent England in a four-way headlining show alongside Paolo Nutini (Scotland), Stereophonics (Wales) and Snow Patrol (Northern Ireland).
When their tour finishes in September, Rhodes, along with Le Bon, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Dom Brown, will take a few months off.
Rhodes plans to catalogue his photography and perhaps arrange an exhibition, as well as finally releasing the TV Mania album he and former Duran Duran member Warren Cuccurullo recorded 13 years ago. John Taylor, meanwhile, will publish his autobiography In The Pleasure Groove in September.
"We'll reconvene in February to start work on the next record, and we're going to work with Mark Ronson again, hopefully," he reveals, referencing the band's most recent album All You Need Is Now, widely acclaimed as their best work in 20 years.
"We just need to sort diaries out, he's a busy guy, but I'm confident it can work.
"Working with Mark is definitely good news for us. We got the best results in many years from that album, and when we finished the sessions there were still things we wanted to start and do, so it's a natural progression to want to try again.
"Mark's intelligent, sharp, has a great knowledge of music and there's nothing he can't pick up and play. He has a real understanding of what Duran Duran are and what we should be. He really guided us that way.
"There's no one in Duran Duran that couldn't produce a record themselves, but having someone that you respect, outside the band, to look in to what you're doing is very valuable. I think we made a really good decision for once and besides all that he wears nice suits, which I appreciate."
When Duran Duran first appeared in the early Eighties, they were part of the New Romantic scene, although they quickly moved to a sharper, more high-end aesthetic.
In 1981, they were among the biggest bands in the world and got on board with the fledgling MTV, being the first group to employ bona fide film-makers to direct their videos using 35mm film.
The end of the decade didn't end so well, and Rhodes admits they were almost forced out of popular culture by those who "wanted to close a door on the 1980s, determined Duran Duran and lots of other artists were going to stay there".
He adds: "So we had to reinvent ourselves, accept what had changed culturally, especially in music. In 1990 we were faced with house music, hip hop and grunge, none of which we were about to try to replicate, so we had our work cut out coming up with something relevant and appropriate.
"We just had to continue to write songs and develop in different ways. We're now three decades in and we finally feel we can relax a little and do things we want to do. Although I still wouldn't say I was in a steady job. You never know what's coming next."
Extra time - Duran Duran
:: Nick Rhodes was born Nicholas Paul Bates in Moseley, Birmingham on June 8, 1962.
:: He formed Duran Duran in 1978 with two friends from art school, Stephen Duffy and John Taylor.
:: The name Duran Duran was taken from the villain (Dr Durand Durand) in Roger Vadim's sci-fi film Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda.
:: Duran Duran have to date sold more than 100 million records.
:: Rhodes has also released music with Stephen Duffy as The Devils and, confusingly, with other members of Duran Duran as Arcadia.
:: Duran Duran play BT London Live in Hyde Park on Friday July 27. Their new live DVD, A Diamond In The Mind, is out now