THEY have been around for three decades but I had no idea Simon Le Bon is a Charlie. That’s what the rest of the band call him, anyway.
“There were a lot of Simons around when we started,” explains the 52-year-old.
“It was (now departed guitarist) Andy Taylor who came up with it. We were in the studio and every time somebody shouted ‘Simon’ two guys would answer. He said (affecting Geordie accent) ‘This is ridiculous. Le Bon what’s your middle name?’ John Charles. ‘Right you’re Charlie!’”
He’s not Welsh is he? (I’m mocking his impression)
“Thank you,” he laughs.
“That was first week I was in the band and it stuck.”
Back in 1981, with just the one single under their belt (Planet Earth), Duran Duran made their first visit to Nottingham.
“I remember that place because the lights were about a foot from your head. It was the hottest stage I’ve ever stood on. But it was a fantastic show.”
The same month that Duran Duran dropped by the fledgling venue had Altered Images, Echo & The Bunnymen, Selecter, The Sweet and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.
Tickets to see Birmingham’s future pop giants were just £2 and their fee £1000.
“That was really quite good at the time,” says Le Bon.
Better than the £100 paid to a little known DJ from Radio Trent called Dale Winton.
“Blimey,” he laughs.
This time round they’re playing the Capital FM Arena on a tour billed as their ‘first UK arena shows in seven years’. Though fans of the band will recall them playing here in 2008, after the release of the album Red Carpet Massacre.
“We played some shows with that but it wasn’t a big tour,” Le Bon clarifies.
In time for this tour, Duran Duran will release their 13th studio album, All You Need Is Now.
“It was a lot of fun making it but it took a long time, mainly because the lyrics had to be just right.”
Which is his job. And the reason the rest of the band ended up helping out.
“There comes a point when the band get a little tired of waiting,” he laughs.
“John said ‘look I have an idea for one of the songs, it sounds like Kraftwerk’. That was Blame The Machines. Nick and John also came up with the story for The Man Who Stole A Leopard. Nick wrote a version of Girl Panic, which I objected to strongly.”
He thought the lyrics a little too risque.
“But Yasmin talked me round,” he says of his wife of 25 years. “She said ‘it’s better than what you’ve been writing’”
What’s with the title: All You Need Is Now?
“It’s about where were are in our lives and careers. It’s about our fans as well, some of who have followed the band for 30 years. It’s been a long road. Sometimes it’s like standing on a mountain and looking down. It’s quite daunting and can make you feel quite dizzy. The idea is, if you just concentrate on where you’re at at the moment now, it’s a wonderful life.”
With 80 million albums sold and every award going, there’s nothing left for Duran Duran to prove is there?
“Prove to who? Not to other people maybe but to ourselves... it’s not so much proving but we love to be part of what’s going on. We feel very left out when we sit at home and watch other bands on telly.
“We want to be part of it. It’s egotistical, probably. We have some talent in the group and you have use it, you have to exercise it because you don’t know how long it’s going to last for.”
The album was produced by Mark Ronson, whose talents behind the desk launched the careers of Amy Whitehouse, Lily Allen and Adele. On their first meeting Ronson told the band he wanted to make “the follow-up to Rio”, the band’s 1982 album which broke them internationally.
How did that go down?
“What he said was ‘I think you guys went off the rails a bit after your second album’. Which was true. It was disjointed and lacked direction. He thought the album (Seven And The Ragged Tiger) was safer than what he had been used to. He liked Duran Duran -- the experimental art school band. And that’s what he wanted to rediscover.
“He said ‘I don’t want to make an album that sounds like the ‘80s, I want to make an album that sounds like it’s been written and recorded by that band.’ And he was right. It had always remained unsaid. It took someone from outside the group to say it.”
The album features guests vocals from R&B star Kelis, Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters, with Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett contributing the string arrangements.
“I find them to be one of the most exciting groups there is at the moment,” he says of the Montreal group, adding that he’s also a fan of Plan B and Dizzee Rascal.
The band is in talks with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to support their tour of the US but Le Bon doesn’t yet know who’ll be opening for them here.
And yes, the can pick who they like.
“You don’t want to go on stage after someone you don’t like,” he laughs.
Home is London, where he grew up. He met his future band members while studying drama at Birmingham uni.
“I live right near Richmond Park. I get a lot of fresh air. and I have wonderful family. I have a good time.”
He rides a motorbike, when the weather suits.
“I’ve got an old XT500 from 1984 and it’s been in the shop getting mended.”
He and Yasmin have three daughters, the eldest Amber, 21, is in a band.
“They’re called Thirteen And The Brave. The do indie folk. She’s fantastic, she’s an amazing singer,” says the proud dad.
Time for a bonkers story from the height of their fame, I think. Female fans posting themselves in the mail perhaps or exposing themselves during gigs?
Well, it does involve nudity...
“We were on a promotional tour in Belgium. The drummer we had at the time had taken to taking his trousers off in public. And he never wore underwear. We were driving along in a pair of limousines to the airport, he took his trousers off and began waving them out the window. So we pulled up next to him, grabbed them and drove off. At the next set of lights he got out and knocked on the window, just as the lights changed, so we drove off, as did the other car, leaving him standing there semi-naked in the middle of Brussels in the rush hour.
“Because of the one-way system it took us ten minutes to get back to him. By the time we did there was a crowd of people around watching and there he was stood between two enormous Belgian policemen trying to cover his willy.”
Who: Duran Duran
Where: Capital FM Arena
When: Sunday May 22
Tickets: £30/£40/£55, 08444 124624