Guitar legend John Taylor of iconic band Duran Duran explains why this month’s Birmingham Music Awards mean so much to him – and the city that shaped him
It’s four decades since John Taylor and the Duran Duran story began. The legendary band formed and played for the first time at Barbarella’s – the seventies’ night club and music venue in Cumberland Street, Birmingham. The club lasted just seven years before closing and a further seven years before the building was completely demolished. Gone, but never forgotten by bass player John.
Despite travelling all four corners of the world many times over with the band and spending much of his personal life in the US, John’s musical roots are founded firmly in Brum and he has always been set on giving something back by supporting young talent from the city and ensuring they have the best possible chance to get their ‘big break’.
This month the Birmingham Music Awards return, celebrating the best of what the city has to offer. Launched in 2018, the awards are heavily supported by John, who told Birmingham Living: “I like to keep in touch with new and aspiring musicians and musical artists – it’s where the energy is – and I love coming back home and rekindling my passion for the city, so I am proud to support the Birmingham Music Awards. It’s going to be a great night for the local scene!”
Typically – best-laid plans and all that – John is unable to attend this year’s awards night on 16 May at Trinity Street’s great new live music venue, The Mill Digbeth (he was a presenter at the 2018 event). He’s away with the rest of the band who are busy recording in readiness of big plans for their 40th anniversary next year. But awards organisers know that he will be keeping a keen eye on who wins what among Brum’s rising stars.
The event is the only city-based awards to exclusively celebrate music achievement and rewards the best of Birmingham’s musicians and contributors to the music business, bringing together high-profile artists, labels, managers, publishers, producers and the industry’s media for an evening of live performance, networking, opportunities and recognition.
Winners will be chosen from shortlisted nominees in categories including Best Song, Best Male, Best Female, Best Band, Best Live Venue, Best Rap/Grime Act, Rising Star, Best Radio Station, Best DJ, Brum Bastion and Lifetime Achievement.
Each award recipient will be hoping for a career as impressive as that of John and fellow Duran Duran members led by Simon Le Bon. “Despite all our global success, not a day passes when I don’t think of home, Birmingham,” said John. “There are so many haunts that I will never forget.”
John is an only child of loving parents who grew up on the same street in Birmingham. He remembers when he got his first electric guitar and wasn’t happy with the colour of it. His father found some white paint used on the family’s Ford Cortina and helped John respray the instrument. While never a big family with instruments or lessons, his mother always had music playing on the radio which she would sing along to. After her death, John discovered a notebook containing the handwritten words of 50 popular songs. Unsurprisingly, mum became Duran’s Duran’s biggest fan and both John’s parents took great pride in his music and career.
John played with Duran Duran from its founding in 1978 until 1997, when he set off on a solo recording and film career. He re-joined Duran Duran in 2001 for a reunion of the original five members of the group and has remained ever since.
The band still regularly tours and John explained: “We enjoy getting out and about seeing the country and the fans. The performance is the part that I love. It’s a buzz for me. We love playing outdoor festivals in the UK in the summer and indoors in the winter.”
Duran Duran hit superstar status in the early 1980s, subsequently selling more than 100 million records and racking up 14 UK Top 10 singles, including hits Rio, Notorious, A View To A Kill, The Wild Boys, The Reflex and Union of the Snake.
They won two Brit awards and two Grammys and with their Paper Gods album reached the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart in 2015, making the band one of the few artists ever to achieve the accolade in three different decades.
John was also voted in the top 10 of a poll by Birmingham City University to name the Greatest Brummies of all-time, ranking alongside the likes of Sir Lenny Henry, Dame Julie Walters, Ozzy Osbourne and Jasper Carrott. The poll celebrated the university’s 175th anniversary and included inspirational people across arts, business, education, sports and science who either hail from Birmingham or have made a significant contribution to the city.
“We’ve got a special thing with Birmingham and people are proud of Duran Duran for being a Brum band – that’s how it feels to us,” said John. “We’re proud to be Brummies. Broad Street and the old Rum Runner and Barbarella’s is where the band first started and used to rehearse. It’s not just where we met but where we first worked.”
John Taylor and the Birmingham Music Awards support the work of Changes UK which helps those less fortunate in our city to find recovery and fulfilling lives free from addiction. See its website: https://changesuk.org