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Staying Power: After nearly 40 years, Duran Duran still causing hearts to race

July 8th, 2017

It might be the least-surprising celebrity revelation ever.

But it seems Simon Le Bon could get a little randy in the early days of Duran Duran.

The lead vocalist is on the line waxing nostalgia about his band’s salad days hanging out at the Rum Runner. It was before the wild 1970s drifted into the not-so-wild 1980s, and the Birmingham nightclub was a booming hot spot where Le Bon would first meet his bandmates and, apparently, plenty of women.

“It was so much fun,” says Le Bon, in a phone interview from London. “I had so much sex. That will make you remember any period of your life.”

Next year, Duran Duran will celebrate its 40th anniversary. For most of those years, current members Le Bon, John Taylor, Roger Taylor and Nick Rhodes have been sex symbols. To this day, the vocalist still commands tabloid attention: “Simon Le Bon, 58, shows off his age-defying frame,” read a recent headline in The Daily Mail.

So it’s hardly surprising that some of his memories from the late 1970s and early 1980s are of a carnal nature. But that’s not all that was going on. Le Bon also remembers it as a time of manic productivity as the band fused disco and New Wave into a synth-pop sound that, for awhile anyway, helped make them one of the biggest bands in the cosmos.

This undeniable musical contribution may not have always got its due appreciation in the days when Duran Duran posters populated the walls of teenage girls around the world.

“It’s one of the greatest times of my life, when I first joined the band and it was all so new,” says Le Bon. “We were just coming up with music after music after music and I was coming up with lyrics and melodies. We were so extraordinarily creative. We wrote two albums in three months. Then we played and we recorded the first album. After that, we just went in and recorded the second album, which was almost written completely. And that was Rio.”

Released in 1982, Rio helped catapult Duran Duran to superstardom, kicking off its “Fab Five” phase and forever linking the band to the emerging MTV video era. Clearly, Le Bon has no problem talking about the band’s glory days. But Duran Duran seems so inextricably linked to that period it’s easy to forget that they have been steadily releasing music in some form or another ever since.

In 1993, they had their first comeback when their self-titled seventh record, commonly known as The Wedding Album, produced the hit single Ordinary World. In 2015, with four of the five original members back in the fold, Duran Duran scored another comeback with Paper Gods, which landed them back on the Top 10 for the first time in more than two decades. Co-produced by British musician and songwriter Mr. Hudson, icon Niles Rogers and A-lister Mark Ronson, the album was chock full of high-profile collaborators.

The guest list included everybody from guitarist and former Red Hot Chilli Pepper John Frusciante, to American singer Janelle Monae, to Danish vocalist Jonas Bjerre and Calgary-born dance-pop sensation Kiesza. Even actress Lindsay Lohan shows up to perform a curious spoken-word cameo on the pulsing Danceophobia.

“Oh yes … Lindsay,” Le Bon says playfully. “Lindsay Lohan did a vocal on a Duran Duran record. What about that?”

Well, what about it? The cynical may assume these guest spots were an attempt to stay current, or in the very least offer a certain sense of novelty to boost interest in a new Duran Duran record. But that’s just not the case, Le Bon says.

“I was very resistant to the idea of collaboration,” he says. “What happened was we started making the record and, by chance, John Frusciante’s wife got in touch with John Taylor and said ‘John has heard Duran Duran is making another record, he’s always wanted to play on a Duran Duran record, is there any chance you could send some stuff over that he could have a go on?” We said ‘Yes please!’ We sent the stuff in and got the amazing, amazing tracks that are Butterfly Girl and What Are the Chances. It’s just incredible, incredible guitar that he put down for us. When I heard that, I thought that this idea, this collaboration thing, can really add something to Duran Duran. Mark Ronson suggested that we see if we could get Janelle Monae to do the duet on Pressure Off and by that time I was completely in accord with the whole idea of it.”

Duran Duran have been touring Paper Gods for two years and will headline the Roundup Music Festival at Shaw Millennium Park on July 11 in Calgary. Le Bon seems mildly amused by the notion that he will be here during the Calgary Stampede.

“That means lots of cows, yeah?” he asks.

But when told that Kiesza, who collaborated on Paper Gods’ standout anthemic dance-pop track Last Night in the City, was a past contestant of the Calgary Stampede Talent Search, he seems to warm to the idea.

“Really?” he says. “I must get in touch with her to let her know that we’re going to come and play there. I’m such a fan of her.”

As for those past playboy days, it seems his reputation continues to follow him. The aforementioned Daily Mail, while pointing out his “age-defying frame,” also reported that he had been spotted in April with a bikini-clad “mystery woman” that was not his wife of 32 years, former supermodel Yasmin Parvaneh. The tabloid later acknowledged that it was an innocent encounter between friends. But Le Bon seems resolved to the idea that, after nearly 40 years in the spotlight, the paparazzi are still chasing him.

“I suppose they are,” he says. “But it’s better to have them interested in you than not.”

Duran Duran play The Roundup MusicFest on July 11 at Shaw Millennium Park with Walk Off the Earth and Capital Cities. Gates open at 3 p.m. Visit roundupmusicfest.com.

Courtesy Calgary Herald