Duran Duran bassist John Taylor reinvented the funk bass-line in the 1980s, and in the process became a pin-up for teenage pop fans’ bedroom walls. Three decades later, Dave Clarke talks to the great man about fame, fortune, Chic, Aria and his bestselling autobiography
When Duran Duran’s debut single, ‘Planet Earth’, crashed into the UK singles chart in February 1981, it marked the beginning of a meteoric rise of near Beatles-esque proportions. The Birmingham band, founded in 1978 by bassist John Taylor and keyboard player Nick Rhodes, would sell over 100 million records. Thirty-one years later, and long since established among the UK’s musical aristocracy, the band are riding a wave of critical acclaim following their 2010 album, All You Need Is Now, which has topped charts in 15 countries.
The band has recently completed an 18-month touring cycle, and performed to millions of fans in sold-out arenas across the globe, including a date at London’s Hyde Park in front of their biggest UK audience to date. After all that touring, you could forgive Taylor for wanting a well-earned break.
Instead, when BGM met the 52-year-old bass icon in his suite at Manchester’s Malmaison Hotel, we found him at the beginning of another world tour promoting his autobiography, In The Pleasure Groove. At the time of our interview, Taylor’s book was sixth in the hardback book charts, alongside literary offerings by celebrity chefs and Premier League footballers.
“It’s good to know that all the work can have an impact,” he says, looking understandably pleased. “Now I’m nervous. Is it going to go down the book chart next week? I thought I’d given up the chart obsessions!”
Replete with rock memoir prerequisites of sex, drugs, the journey to Top Of The Pops, the difficult third album, the wilderness years, rehab and, ultimately, redemption, In The Pleasure Groove is an engaging read, stylishly written and punctuated with a rich seam of candour and self-deprecating humour. Taylor wrote the book with Tom Sykes, a former society diarist who also enjoyed the hedonist lifestyle and, like Taylor, battled his demons when the party eventually caught up with him. “We both spoke the language of recovery,” Taylor says, “which enabled us to work together very effectively.”
It was Sykes’s sister who introduced the pair while working on a planned biography with Taylor’s wife Gela, the co-founder of the designer clothing line Juicy Couture. Shortly after that book fell through, Sykes and his agent approached Taylor about working together. “I’d been cooking it up for some time, actually. I just needed somebody to say, ‘we can help you have this baby’. I don’t think I could have done it on my own.”
As with all the best stories, In The Pleasure Groove concludes on a high. As Taylor explains, “We knew very quickly that we were going to end the book with Duran’s Coachella slot in 2011. I didn’t really want to talk about the band post-Live Aid. I really only wanted to write about the first five years, but there were things that came up that had to mention – like Notorious (1986), and our time as a three-piece.
“And I had to write something about Italy,” he continues, “because Italy has been so good to us, especially around Notorious, so now I’m getting into 1986 to ‘87. I also wanted to include the deaths of my parents, and my re-marriage – and the next thing you know we’re at the reunion in 2004.”
Taylor discusses his reluctance to write about that reunion, explaining that it was a stepping-stone to more personal matters. “I really didn’t set out to write the group’s story. I didn’t have a right to do that. I felt like I had a right to tell my story using the most pertinent parts of the band’s career, as they had a really personal impact. I would love to write a book just about the reunion – and about reunions in general, because it’s a very difficult thing to do. You start off with this idealism, but it’s much more complicated than just turning up and playing. I had to touch on it.”
In the Pleasure Groove also explores the band’s early days, as seen through the eyes of a more mature Taylor. Due to Duran Duran’s overnight success, Taylor experienced early adulthood as the bassist in the world’s biggest band. Living the dream, he took to ‘80s excess like a duck to water, but the fame and the high life didn’t come with an instruction manual. “When writing the book,” he says, “I tried not to get caught up in what had gone on. There was no self-judgement involved. I said to myself, ‘I was a 22-year-old kid. Look what I was dealing with. No fucking wonder.’ I feel you’d have to be tough to think, ‘What an asshole, he’s got no self-control’. Most people, I hope, will get it.”