Bassist John Taylor and photographer Denis O'Regan guide NME through a whirlwind tour
In 1984, a Duran Duran tour was as big as it got: like Adele backed by One Direction, with a dash of debauchery thrown in for good measure. Here, bassist John Taylor and photographer Denis O’Regan talk us through pictures from their photobook about the tour, ‘Careless Memories’, and reminisce about life on the road.
“That’s the view from the dressing room,” says O'Regan of the manic crowd shot that graces the cover of 'Careless Memories'. Did the attention ever get too much? “I was pretty good with it," says Taylor. "I just rolled with it. I had a fairly low dosage of booze and drugs and other forms of medication that enabled me to maintain this beatific vision."
O'Regan was invited to join the tour as official photographer because Taylor loved his work for NME: “Denis was one of a handful of photographers who had their name on every picture, so he was already a bit of a legend to me the first time we met. I was a bit of a train spotter, so I was able to say things like: ‘Oh, you took that photograph of Johnny Thunders or The Rezillos’. So we clicked."
“At the risk of offending anyone, each of them are very different," says O'Regan "They’re all unique characters, with their own pros and cons from my point of view. Simon really didn’t trust me at the beginning. Simon was very wary, partly because I knew John really well by the time we went on tour, and also because Simon was already reaching the point where he was being stitched up by the press."
Taylor remembers the band taking advantage of O'Regan's presence: “Each of us would want to go solo for photos. We’d be saying: ‘Denis, I see myself at the wheel of a Ferrari.’ When you’re locked into a long tour, you’re not a human being you’re a number. When you can break away and do something independently you jump at it. Of course, pre-selfie, you’d want to take the photographer with you!”
O'Regan says even ordinary car journeys were transformed by the intense adulation the band received at every turn: “I remember driving down the road past these girls and Simon saying: ‘Let’s see what happens.’ He opened the window and they went: ‘Oh my god!’ and one of them just keeled over.”
The tour took its toll on the band, as Taylor recalls: “It was a six month tour and we were done by the time it was over. It was a rocket ride from when the first single came out in Jan '81 until this tour finished in May '84. It was the kind of tour where every week we’d get a call about expanding the tour, because we were just exploding. At some point we went past the point of appreciating it."
Duran Duran were big business in the summer of 1984. Taylor says: "When we got to the end of this tour it was a case of maximising everything. There was a merchandising explosion off the back of this tour. It was a matter of making as much out of what we had.”
Duran Duran fans were a resourceful lot, as O'Regan recalls: “There were strange episodes to do with them appearing in odd places. They would come out from under the table! You’d be in a room for an hour before you realised that there was a girl hiding under the table.”
“If you’ve ever rode a horse and not really been entirely in control of it, that’s what those months felt like," remembers Taylor. "Around me, people like [guitarist] Andy [Taylor] would be going: ‘This is fucking crazy! We’ve got to fucking stop this right now!’ but from the haze it seemed liked fun. I’m really glad that we had the ride and that we all survived it.”
O'Regan remembers Duran Duran becoming another 'British invasion': “They went to America exactly 20 years after The Beatles had done, and they each had individual characters just like The Beatles did. The American press could hang their hat on that. They were called ‘The Fab Five’ on the cover of Rolling Stone.”
"We became a supergroup," says Taylor. "We were one of those groups where everyone in the band was a star. We were judging it by how many t-shirts each of us had sold. A big day for the band was the day that our five individual t-shirts went on sale in HMV. We were all going: ‘Who’s sold the most?’ It’s pathetic, looking back on it, but at the time it seemed important.”
“Here’s John in the empty arena,” says O'Regan. Taylor remembers being awed by the size of the venues: "I think the first American show was in Seattle. There were about 16,000 people in this room. There weren’t venues like that anywhere in the UK at that point."
“This is back stage stuff," says O'Regan. "A lot of these pictures are about those moments just before the band goes on or just after coming off. We had a laugh with people putting their makeup on. That’s the sort of stuff I like, because backstage is the other side.”
“After this tour we went our separate ways, but actually not for that long," remembers Taylor. "At the time it felt like we’d split up forever. We didn’t speak to each other for six months, which when you’re 24 seems like a long time. Then we had one of those Spinal Tap or Blues Brothers moments: ‘We’ve got to get the band back together, man!’ Then we went into a different phase.”
"Denis asked me what I’d say now to my 24 year-old self, but it wouldn’t have mattered: I wouldn’t have listened anyway," says Taylor.
After the 1984 tour, the band would never be the same again. Taylor says: "Subsequent to this tour we had to retreat a little, and take control again. We split with our managers and two of the band left. When we came back it was Simon, Nick and I and we did ‘Notorious’ with Nile Rodgers. It was a very different situation. We had about half the audience, so be careful what you wish for!"
Taylor says Duran Duran were always battling to be taken seriously: "We then had to prove that we were the real thing. A lot of people thought Duran Duran had been put together. The picture was too perfect. They thought some Svengali had put it together. We were always fighting that. That was part of our drive, to prove that we were our own creation."
Life on the road in 1984 left a peculiar aftertaste for Taylor: "The experience of this tour was very profound. You don’t want to return to it, but there are moments when you miss it. It was age appropriate. It was an amazing thing for a bunch of 24-25 year olds to do.”
"We reached a kind of insanity when the band hadn’t really been together that long," says Taylor. "One Direction got there really quickly. It took us about three years and three albums to get there.”
Taylor still remembers the shock of hearing the screams of a full arena: "It was like an assault. None of us could hear. Compared to the first time we’d played to a screaming crowd, which was Brighton Dome or somewhere like that back in 1981. This was on a whole other level. It was like what The Beatles had experienced at Shea Stadium, although at least we had a proper PA system!”
The band projected an image of luxury that MTV viewers lapped up, as O'Regan recalls: "Duran Duran were the first MTV band, really. They became huge on television, and of course these fans just went berserk."
The year after this tour, Duran Duran would go on to release the theme tune for the James Bond film 'A View To A Kill'. As Taylor remembers, this was part of a quest to keep the high going: "The following year was all one off things, like when we got the Bond song. Everything had to be number one!"
For Taylor, the 1984 tour was a dream come true: "It was a fantasy for me. I was such a fan of music, and we wanted – Nick and I particularly – that fame and that success. We got more than we bargained for, in a way."
Fortunately, O'Regan fitted straight into life on the road with the band. “Denis was a mate," says Taylor. "It wasn’t like having an outsider there. You didn’t have to be self-conscious. We were just friends hanging out.”
"Someone in the crowd had a 'Fuck me John' poster," says O'Regan. "For these pictures I was standing at the edge of the stage, and John was coming closer and closer. You can see how much he’s enjoying it.”
“This was the sum total of what you could achieve in popular music in the early Eighties," says Taylor. "Not many people got to do it. We were a band who’d been raised on Odeons, town halls and nightclubs. To get over to America and play basketball arenas or to 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden where they’re all stacked up in tier after tier was a kind of insanity."
Coinciding with Duran Duran's new UK tour, kicking off on Friday, Denis O’Regan has partnered with Sanderson, London to launch a pop up shop stocking his new, limited-edition, Duran Duran book 'Careless Memories' – priced from £250. The shop at Sanderson is open until December 11th. For more on the book, visit: ddcarelessmemories.com