Interview Simon Le Bon (1993)

Interview by John Archbell

A North Oxon Technical College Production

'John Tracks a Star'

It was September 1993 and I’d only been at college for a few weeks. I was in class when there was a knock on the door. I was asked to call home as soon as I could, but not to worry.  

 

It turns out that 80’s band, Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon had just called the house phone and asked to speak with me.  ‘Now that doesn’t happen every day’, I thought to myself.

 

Sharon had only just managed to lift her jaw back off the floor before calling me. Of course I couldn’t call him back but arrangements had been made on my behalf to take a train up to London to meet the iconic singer for an interview.

 

It wasn’t totally unexpected as I had previously written to Simon asking for his assistance with a college project I was working on.

 

Anyhow this is what happened 27 years ago.

Living in Doubt

It’s safe to say that 1990’s Liberty bore the hallmarks of Duran Duran at their lowest ebb, on a downward spiral to irreverence, a decline to obscurity. The band’s sixth studio album barely entered the charts before disappearing into oblivion. Its failure could be blamed on any number of factors. Was it the inconsistency of song quality? Was the choice of first single Violence of Summer the reason why radio stations declined to spin the vinyl? Or is the label to blame for not putting enough money into the PR?

Whatever the reason for Duran Duran’s demise, it was inconceivable that big songs such as First Impression, My Antartica and the title track Liberty would never get heard by the wider music lover. I love Liberty. It was the first album with Duran Duran back to five members.

 

I enjoyed Chris Kimsey’s production as I did the co-engineering by John Jones. It didn’t help matters when Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates got it spectacularly wrong when he played The Violence of Summer (The Story Mix) instead of the original 7” radio edit on its first listen, world premiere on his morning show. I was aghast as I waited and listened intently. From memory the single reached No. 20 in the UK, during a hot, sticky July in 1990 and then disappeared without trace over the following couple of weeks. Oh, the irony of the song title. Surprisingly, it reached a comparatively higher position in the USA at No. 13. Unlucky for some?

Simon Le Bon in 1991 wearing black leather biker gear. Stood next to motorbike. Photo by Gerard Hynes

"I'm playing with a Yamaha YZF750 road bike at the moment. I don't compete anymore as it’s too much of a risk."

The End of the Road?

Duran Duran Liberty Cover

Even more confounding was that Duran Duran had just reformed as a five piece band, with Sterling Campbell (who appeared on the Big Live Thing tour) on drums and Warren Cuccurullo, a guitar playing virtuoso, who had featured on both the Strange Behaviour Tour in 1987/8 and the Big Live Thing Tour of 1988/9.

 

The second single Serious enjoyed more success as the promo video was awarded plenty of airtime on MTV and UK music channel, Power Station. The highly credible song and fan favourite stayed on the playlist for weeks but stalled at a lowly No. 48. First Impression was then banded about as the third single that never happened. Was this the end of the road that Simon had told us about in the flute interlude on the Big Thing album?

The following year in 1991 you could almost guarantee that six months would not pass without ‘Hello’ magazine featuring the Le Bons at home with baby Amber Rose aged 2 weeks, Amber Rose aged 3 months and so on. It was getting to a Juncture where Duran Duran were becoming more acclaimed, not for their song writing abilities, but for the band members’ taste of house decor and how they liked their steak cooked.

 

Le Bon Is quick to say now that It was a mistake to pose for such publications as it ‘makes you too accessible’ although he did admit it was the only way he could make some money at the time.

Duran Duran Live Paris 1994 Photo Michael Ebelshauser
Duran Duran Live Paris 1994 Photo Michael Ebelshauser

The Comeback Kings

Fast forward to September 1993 and Duran Duran find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum. Nine months have passed since the release of the band’s chart topping, comeback single Ordinary World.

 

Duran Duran members, Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo have disembarked the slow, entombed ride of the ghost train that stared back hauntingly at us from the Liberty album cover and jumped onto the adjacent rollercoaster, climbing to the dizzy heights of World recognition and find themselves on cloud 9, enjoying the fruits of their success with an album produced by John Jones.

 

Incredible? Or should that be incroyable? Incredible because it’s only been a couple of years since the devastation I personally experienced as a life-long fan.

"Ordinary World is one of the best songs we've ever written."

Italian Styling

While he’s not In the recording studio, finishing work on Duran Duran’s forthcoming ‘secret’ 10th album and caring for his model wife, Yasmin Le Bon, whom is expecting their third child, Simon straddles an obsession of his that features Italian styling.

 

Its characteristics include a 160 mph blur of racing red paintwork, superlight alloy and slick grip tyres. It weighs 208 kg, costs £18K and does 0-60 in Just 2 seconds. It’s obviously a Ducatl 888SP3-S motorbike, the ‘S’ for speziale.

 

“Isn’t she beautiful?” I try to make up my mind if Simon is asking me or telling me. “You know there’s only one of its kind in the UK”, he enthuses as he sits astride his pride and Joy.

He's a Metalhead!

Simon seemed to be the focus of the press for much of 1992. He used to compete in novice motorbike race competitions on a Yamaha 400 and came off it on one or two occasions at Pembrey race track, near Llanelli In Dyfed, South Wales. “I’m playing with a Yamaha YZF750 road bike at the moment. I don’t compete anymore as it’s too much of a risk and I can’t afford to spend another 2 weeks in hospital, waiting for injuries to heal. It just isn’t practical.”

Simon Le Bon Letter to John Archbell 1993
Letter from Simon Le Bon to John Archbell, January 1993

I’m here to interview Simon Le Bon, lead singer of one of the most influential and successful 80’s bands ever. I dared not think too much about my esteemed company for fear of messing my lines up. With Simon now dismounted off Doris as he affectionately knows ‘her’, we were about to enter privacy when a group of Duran Duran fans at the end of the drive started to yell out “Simon!” at the top of their voices. Although remaining nonchalant about the commotion, he still shakes his head in disbelief.

 

Does this Invasion of privacy annoy him? “Actually there’s a few more than usual. There’s normally a couple of Italians sitting outside waiting. I can’t understand it – haven’t people got better things to do?”

Simon showed me into a room and I’m asked If I would like to have some lunch. I realise that I have turned up early than arranged but it’s not every day an opportunity arises to sit at the same table as your icon. I graciously accept. Simon gestures for me to take a seat and he disappears into an adjacent room.

The Book Keeper

I looked through the French windows and there is a most beautiful spacious garden. Inside, I can’t help but notice the neatly columned books stacked up on the immaculately polished wooden floor of which there must have been hundreds, possibly a couple of thousand. Mr. Le Bon has always expressed his love for reading and the evidence stood clearly before me. I learn that a few of his favourites include Fear and loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, The Bone People by Kerl Hulme and Gabmela Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado.

Wedding Album Duran Duran Cover
Wedding Album Cover, Duran Duran

The Bisto Kid

Simon John Charles Le Bon was born on November 27th 1958 In Bushey, Hertfordshire. He spent his childhood in Pinner, Middlesex and developed a curiosity for acting after landing roles in commercials for Persil washing powder and Bisto gravy.

 

In 1980, while studying drama at Birmingham University, Simon was summoned to audition as a singer for the in-house band at The Rum Runner night spot. Legend has it that the singer, also known as Charlie to the band, walked into the club wearing pink leopard skin trousers, carrying an exercise book of songs that he had written.

Mr President..

Duran Duran were at the height of their popularity in 1984. Celebrated for hit singles Rio, Save A Prayer, Is There something I Should Know?, The Reflex and Wild Boys, the band that culled their name from a character in the cult sixties movie, Barbarella, were renowned tor filming expensive exotic videos, using the technology to enhance their image immeasurably.

 

Nowadays, the Anthony Price designer suits are replaced by outrageous Vivienne Westwood costumes for Duran Duran stage shows.

Meeting You...

The film score tor the James Bond film, A View to A Kill was the final piece of music recorded by the original Duran Duran line-up in 1985, prior to the split that proved to be the beginning of a decline for one of pop’s most successful bands ever to be conceived since The Beatles.

 

Roger Taylor suffering a breakdown of sorts, sought sanctuary at his farm located In the Cotswolds. Andy Taylor and John Taylor (of no relation) formed The Power Station with Robert Palmer. Then finally, Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes released an album under the name Arcadia, without Roger, even though he had been credited on the sleeve notes for the album So Red the Rose.

Three to get Ready

Duran Duran reformed in 1986 to commence work on their 5th album, Notorious, with just three original band members. They were vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor. Top producer Nile Rodgers was called in to assist in the studio.

 

“When Andy and Roger left the group It affected us deeply. We tried to carry on as normal really and it didn’t honestly work. It took us a long time to find the right chemistry and balance.”  Simon Is interrupted when we are called for lunch. As we take our seats opposite each other, plates of soya bean, roast potatoes, roast turnip and yorkshire pudding are served. To drink there is a gIass of fizzy water each. Having researched my Interviewee thoroughly beforehand, I knew Simon was a vegetarian.

“I don’t think we found our bearings until pretty much The Wedding Album.  Notorious is very much our album with Nile Rodgers and I would have loved to have Nile join the group but it wasn’t going to happen because he had too much going on at the time. Yeah, Andy and Roger left a big hole and It took a long time for us to figure out how to fill it.”

Duran Duran hadn’t realised it at the time but one of those holes had already been spoken tor. A session guitarist, who was recovering from the demise of his own New Wave band, Missing Persons, was hired to play on the Notorious album to replace Andy. Warren Cuccurullo, the virtuoso guitarist (Frank Zappa) is now currently a full-time permanent member of the group.

 

Does Simon think he played a vital role in reclaiming Duran Duran’s niche in the music Industry? “Warren? Definitely yeah. Like I said, we needed to fill the hole and Warren stepped in. It didn’t have to be Warren. It wasn’t like there was only one guitarist for us in the world, but he grew into the space. What he did on Notorious was good stuff but it wasn’t as assertive as it is now. He’s really learned to fill the gap.”

Warren Cuccurullo Duran Duran at Maison Rouge Studios Wedding Album Recordings
Warren Cuccurullo at Maison Rouge Studio 1992

Not Crying for Yesterday

Duran Duran’s 23rd single Ordinary World proved to be the miracle performer earlier this year, giving the band their first number 1 in the USA since 1985. The song was equally as successful In Europe, so why did It do so well?

 

“Well Ordinary World is one of the best songs we’ve ever written”, he says without a thought. “I think It’s one of the most potent pieces of music that’s been in the charts for the last year or so. It’s Just very emotional. It sounds like it’s coming from the soul and it’s meant and it is really meant. People want to hear that and it’s that kind of nakedness. lt’s a really good tune, you know? Those songs are rare and people want them.”

After Notorious in 1986, Duran Duran released four more albums. There was Big Thing in 1988, Decade (the greatest hits) In 1989, Liberty in 1990 and finally 1993’s remarkable comeback The Wedding Album. Thing’s got so desperate in 1988 that their image changed radically in order to attract a new following. Duran Duran became Duranduran, Simon grew his hair, John Taylor began wearing long overcoats and Nick Rhodes?

 

Well, his dress sense became more bizarre, wearing clothes that somewhat resembled a vicar at a church.

Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran from 1988 dressed looking like a vicar
Save A Prayer for Nick Rhodes?

Where there's a will..

Simon admitted it was a mistake to have done that and all it succeeded in doing was to confuse people. Back to present day and seemingly with the dysfunctional times behind them, what exactly motivated Duran Duran to bounce back?

 

“I guess it’s just the excitement and buzz we get out of music really. Once you ever lose that I think you lose your direction and your appeal. It’s a kind of charisma that the music carries. If it excites us, then we know it’s good. We’re very discriminating listeners to music ourselves. If it works for us and exciting for us, then it should be exciting for everybody else. There’s also a will to survive that we’ve got. We never gave up.”

Even though the last album they wrote was entitled ‘The Wedding’ there wasn’t actually a song of the same name included. In fact, the only relevance were pictures of the band members’ parents wedding photos on the album cover, hence the reason for its adopted title. How did his parents react when they realised that such an important part of their lives was to be shared with the rest of the world? “My mum was really over the moon because she knows it’s a good photograph and she looks great in It. My dad was a little bit worried because he wasn’t quite sure how his second wife would react to it.”

Thanks to You

Duran Duran went back into the studio earlier this year to finish work on a new album. Simon told me that after they had finished recording The Wedding Album  they had a spare six months prior to the release of Ordinary World so they put the time to some use by ‘jamming’ ln the studio, the result being a collection of cover versions. The album’s working title is ‘Thankyou’, a song originally written by Led Zeppelin.

 

Other artists covered include The Doors, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, T.Rex, John Lennon, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Producer John Jones is involved yet again. Simon was reluctant to say much more about It.

 

“That’s all there Is to know. I’m sure they’ll be released sooner or later but there’s no definite plans at the moment.”

Duran Duran Thankyou Album Cover
Duran Duran Thankyou Album Cover

She's Just a Little Tease

During Duran Duran’s 13-year tenure, this is the first time, with the exception of Bowie’s Fame and of course Femme Fatale, the band have chosen to ride off the back of song writing talents of other people. Take That and East 17 are relatively new yet they’re already covering artists.

 

I asked Simon what his feelings were on that. “Well Take That have done a few cover songs haven’t they and East 17 did that version of the Pet Shop Boys Classic West End Girls. God I hate that! It’s just the same as the Pet Shop Boys with the same beat behind It but PSB’s version is so much better. I don’t know – they don’t really come into my sphere of thinking.”

Duran Duran Live Paris 1994
Duran Duran Live Paris 1994

Pull some Weight Take That!

I had remembered watching a television interview with Simon and the interviewer had asked him If he had any messages for Take That. “Make some decent songs guys”, came the humorous reply! Did he remember saying that? “(Laughs) No I don’t, but It sounds just like the kind of thing I’d say though! Yeah, pull some weight, do some work! No, they’re negative feelings. They’re very nice guys actually, the boys from Take That, but I’m not a fan of their music.”

Signed Wedding Album CD From Simon Le Bon to John Archbell
CD Signed by Simon, 'To John, Good luck on your course'

To be or Not to be?

William Shakespeare will always be known for writing classical literature. How would Simon Le Bon like to be remembered? “Simply as a songwriter. I’m proud of It, I love songs, I love music and I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Interview and feature by John Archbell

My gratitude to Simon for making the interview happen is immense and it is a day that I shall always look back on as perhaps one of the best of my life. My only regret is that I was not in control of the actual interview. I was very much a novice and a more experienced journalist would probably have got some bigger, more informed answers.

 

I had distractions, one being that we were shut in one room and his eyes were on me for about sixty minutes, sussing me out, while I shuffled through questions. He would wait, pausing before answering or saying anything. I sensed he was suspicious of me if that makes any sense. Of course, the last thing a fan wants to do is upset their idol.

 

While it’s a regret, I’m kind of happy that it was a fairly easy ride for Simon. He was fabulous, to the extent he was providing tips on how to change things when I took the tape back my college suite to edit. I probably came across as a bit arrogant if I’m honest and I hope he didn’t pick up on that. I put it down to nerves.

 

As soon as I walked out of the meeting, thoughts in my mind went over and over that I failed to capitalise on this or I didn’t ask enough about that. Overall, Simon Le Bon is an easy interviewee.

 

I’d had interview experiences with Hi Di Hi’s Ruth Madoc, Magician Paul Daniels and 90’s threesome Let Loose (Remember those guys? – Crazy for You). I was at a distinct advantage with Simon as I had more knowledge about him and could adlib if needed.

 

Anyhow there’s more to the interview! Click here and you’ll be able to listen to a version of the audio recording that I edited at college. It’s a little hit and miss and quiet in places but it exists and I’m very proud of what I achieved! Please feel free to comment or if anybody has any questions they’d like to ask then please do. Please also use the share buttons if you’d like to share on your Facebook or Twitter.

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1 thought on “Interview Simon Le Bon (1993)”

  1. I was beyond jealous and so damn excited when your interview with Simon was sent on a cassette as part of the Notorious Duranzine.
    I’m pretty sure I remember speaking on the phone to you and coming off that call and with the Zine and then the interview cassette, I felt so connected to the band and that’s all down to you.
    Can’t thank you enough mate.
    And hey 27 years later, I want to say thank you again 👍

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