Why is Diana Ross in the studio with John Taylor? What do Joan Collins and Andy Taylor have in common? And what three little words brought all these guys together? Detective Peter Martin intends to solve these mysteries.
Remember John Taylor's original idea for Duran Duran, the one that planned to cross Chic with The Sex Pistols? Well, he's finally done it.
Called The Power Station, it's the culmination of three years' work and planning. Featuring John, Andy, debonair soul singer Robert Palmer and Chic's drummer Tony Thompson, they've all been kept in line by producer (and Chic bassist) Bernard Edwards. I caught up with them in New York's Power Station studio, just as they were putting the finishing touches to the single Some Like It Hot.
The studio (actually housed in a disused power station) is, in John's opinion, "the best in the world." Could have fooled me. Approached from freshly snow-covered West 53rd Street it looks very ordinary indeed. The elevator inside smells a bit and there's hip-hop grafitti covering every surface.
The reception area, though, is quite a different story. I mean it's not every day you step out of an elevator and come face to face with Diana Ross. Elegantly gliding around in a shimmery off-the-shoulder number, she's just "hanging out with the guys - I just go where the music is." After Bernard and Tony have finished the Power Station LP, they'll be working here on Diana's next LP - the studio's already booked, ready and waiting.
So who's in the third remaining studio? Bowie? Rolling Stones? Sorry to disappoint you but it's only Bryan Ferry.
So what makes this place so special you name your group and LP after it? If I go up one more floor, I'm informed, I might find someone who might be able to explain. Back in the creaky elevator once more, this time the doors open to reveal... John Taylor. Gosh. The way things are going if I go up one more floor I might bump into Madonna.
After having a drink, introducing his Swedish girlfriend Chris, getting very excited about "the way everything's going," he tells me what he's been up to: playing a one-off concert in New York with Billy Idol and friends - he's been asked to play on Billy's new LP but hasn't got the time - and appearing with The Power Station on Saturday Night Live. And if it wasn't enough, by the end of the year there could be a full-length cinematic production starring Duran Duran - that is if they finish the James Bond theme they're working on and complete the next Duran LP on time (September is the projected date for completion).
All well and good. But what about The Power Station? Casually turning the sound off the TV - Dynasty's on featuring Rock Hudson deep in conversation with Krystle - J.T. intricately unfurls an explaination.
"Three years ago I had an idea to do a cover version of Get It On (classic T-Rex song) using that Chic/Sex Pistols idea. I just worked on it with Andy using free time in various studios all over the place. First off we were planning to use lots of different vocalists, but when we contacted Robert we knew we needed no-one else."
"We all met Robert years ago and we asked him to support us at the Aston Villa concert. So when this came up I rang him up and tried to get him to leave his home in Nassau. I sent him a rough instrumental tape we'd worked out in Paris and he just took the next flight out. He wrote some words on the plane and litterally walked straight into the studio and recorded his bit. That's how the whole project's gone from the start, with that kind of spirit."
Which neatly brings us into the Chic connection. Long term admirers of the group, Duran have been using Chic's guitarist, Nile Rodgers, as producer since The Reflex, but it wasn't until the Bond theme that they actually worked with Bernard (pronounced B'naard, not Ber-nard for some reason best known to him). Along with Tony Thompson they had the perfect combination. After recording in Nassau on and off last year, all that was needed was "a mix that would give us what we needed - a big and muscular sound." Bags were packed in December and the whole thing was knocked into shape at the Power Station.
And, just as we're passing, who should step out of that Power Station elevator? Yes, it's Diana Ross again.
"I thought I recognized you in reception," she says, walking straight up to John. "I just never realized quite how tall and handsome you were." John, needless to say, is more than a little pleased by this. Always one to capitalize on a situation, he takes her off into the studio - "I've got something I want you to listen to." 10 minutes later the pair of them surface again - "Put a Linn drum on it and send me a tape," smiles Diana, and with that she's back in the elevator. So what happened in there?
"I played her one of my new songs and she liked it! She said she might even use it on the new LP. It's called You're The Only Girl For Me but I had to change the words as I went along to You're The Only Guy. I must admit I was a bit nervous - playing the piano and singing in front of Diana Ross! Still, she wants a tape of it. That's why I love it in New York: you constantly get the chance to meet and work with people like that. I definitely want to live here."
He's already bought some property, "with the best view, but all it's got is windows. I haven't got any furniture yet."
And with that he toddles off with Chris to meet the others in Limelight - a deconsecrated church transformed into swish nightclub - to see Billy Idol's "secret gig". Is this the "crazy rock'n'roll lifestyle" or what?
The next day none of them see the light of day much before 3.00 pm. All, that is, except for Robert who stands in for John on a couple of interviews. This noctural behaviour has supposedly been going on for months now, working all night and sleeping through the day. Last night was the first time they'd been out "for ages". As John explains, "we're all here living the life of a New Yorker. We're not posing in clubs all the time, we're working harder than ever before. All I do is sleep, eat, hail a cab, go to the studio and work all night. No way is that glamorous."
All this from a man who's wearing a dress, might I add. A very tasteful silky effort, John wears it with leather trousers underneath and matching belt.
"It's really funny, I bought it in London, right, and Simon came over here for New Year and said he'd bought one exactly the same for Clare the week before."
Around 6.30 they all meet up for a group photo session with Brian Aris (who did the official Band Aid photos). A cable TV camera crew are poking about, with make-up artists and hairdressers. Together they look like the pop group equivalent of the A-Team. Robert, all dapper in crisp grey morning suit, casually strolls around, nibbles at his special sushi take-away - a snip at £30! - and is very much the calm, collected one. Tony, sporting beret, is terribly quiet, slightly edgy, definitely not a home in front of a camera (even though he's taking acting lessons). Andy whizzes around, telling jokes, remarks how he's been made to "look like Joan Collins", and drinks beer. John discusses the "shoot" with Brian, goes off by himself and thinks about things, comes back, snaps out of his thoughtful state, makes a wisecrack, comes on all cheeky, looks at the polaroids again and whispers in his girlfriend's ear a lot.
All done, it's outside into the waiting limousines and back to the hotel. I travel with Tony, Andy and Robert. So what do rock stars talk about in the back of limo's, you might ask? Well, they tell rude jokes about Joan Collins, go on about how fab they think comedian Eddie Murphy and actor Al Pacino are. They all saw Pacino's gangster film Scarface at the weekend and it's obviously left quite an impression. At various stages during the evening Andy remarks that he'd "like to be Scarface for one day - then I'd show people." One of the people he'd "show" is Margaret Thatcher. "It still makes me sick to watch what she's doing to the country. That's just one of the reasons why I don't want to pay any tax."
Within minutes we sidle up to the Carlyle Hotel and step out into the coldest night of the year - minus 12 degrees. It's stopped snowing now though. All retire to the hotel bar. A rather swanky place, it seems you're not allowed to take your jacket off here, a ruling which Andy apparently approves of. Sometimes.
"Yeah, I like rules like that. It stops you from coming down in t-shirts and stuff - it makes you make an effort. But there's one waiter (adopts Scarface accent) he just drives me mad! I mean, I'm paying 500 dollars a night here and I think I deserve a bit of respect but he just keeps on staring at me, winding me up. I just feel like punching him. I mean, people like Nancy Reagan were staying here last night. I could have easily invited a few of my less considerate musician friends around and caused a racket but I have a bit more respect than that and I think I deserve the same treatment back. I tell you, I'll have him before I leave!"
Talk, naturally, turns back to music. Robert asks about the more interesting things coming out of Britain at the moment. Art Of Noise? A "big fan". Frankie? "Haven't heard all the LP yet. Like what I've heard though... and I like Sayd." What? "Sayd. They're quite good." Oh Shar-day! "Oh, is that how you pronounce it? I just thought it was the Americans doing their usual trick of making names sound more fancy."
Like Diana Ross, in the near future Robert will be working with Bernard and Tony on a new solo LP. "Before working with this lot I must admit I was turning into a bit of a crooner. This has set me back on the rails and I want to continue in a similar, stronger direction."
Andy, meanwhile, will be back in Britain for a while as Duran are coming back to London to make their next LP.
"It's funny how things change," he muses. "When we started, all we wanted was a hit single - now we talk about selling millions here, there and everywhere. It's like a rollercoaster. It's almost like we can't put a foot wrong here at the moment."
"But, in a sense, that's why I think it's really healthy that we're doing these solo things at the moment. It's a kind of getting back to basics and hopefully it will result in us making better Duran records. I'm going to get old one day and I won't be able to do this anymore. So now I've got the chance I might as well milk it and burn myself out. When you're hot you might as well go for it. But even when all this does disappear I'll be happy. I've got a fantastic wife, a healthy kid, a house, a car, loads of money, and I can go back to all of that."
Star Hits - Mai 1985