That time Neil Tennant reviewed a Duran Duran gig in Smash Hits. Talk Talk bring up the rear

Date: 17 December 1981

Reviewed: Duran Duran & Talk Talk, Hammersmith Odeon, London, Planet Earth 

Reviewer: Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, 7-20 January 1982 (very possibly the future Pet Shop Boy’s first article for the main magazine)

 

A lot of headbands and scarves in the audience tonight: red silk scarves tied around bushy barnets; thin chiffon numbers screwed round youthful necks; Palestinian scarves tossed over leather jackets; a rather dodgy scarf tied round the head of support band Talk Talk bass player, making him look more like Hilda Ogden than Rudolph Valentino.

“It’s so seeeeerious!” sang their lead singer and indeed it was. Throaty singing over a full synthesizer, melodic bass lines and precise, noisy drums. All received with polite enthusiasm by the Hammersmith Odeon crowd — for which Talk Talk seemed as grateful as they no doubt were for the large advance they recently received from EMI Records.

Duran Duran are, of course, the standard bearers of the scarf-and-headband-wearers. Simon Le Bon wore a red scarf round his head and a large white scarf round his neck, dangling down across his black stage uniform. After a lengthy build-up with searching spotlights and smoke drifting from under closed curtains, the pretty(ish) boys from Birmingham bounced into view looking just like pop stars — and even sounding like them sometimes. Smiles, pouting and bouncing accompanied the hits ‘Planet Earth’, ‘Girls On Film’ (sounding as if the film had been overexposed) and the recent ‘My Way’* — described as “a song for young people”.

But the searchlights and the scarves and the smoke couldn’t hide the dullness of much of their set. Duran Duran are at their best with good tunes and they ain’t got a lot of them. A new song like ‘Last Chance On The Stairway’ has the same hollow ring as old faves like ‘Careless Memories’ and ‘Faster Than Light’. A bloke in front of me sat and read his souvenir programme for much of the time.

But leaving aside the thinness of their material, Duran Duran looked and sounded confident. With the three Taylors on guitars, bass and drums providing a solid, if plodding, setting for Simon Le Bon’s vocal enthusiasm, Nick Rhodes’s keyboards had a similar effect to the smoke that periodically drifted across the stage. In the stalls and on the balcony everyone stood up and danced, cheered, took photographs (Instamatics a go-go in the front stalls) and even screamed at the moving colour pin-ups on the stage.

With Duran Duran success is not a matter of music. It’s the show that counts: the look, the moment, some music and being there.

And, of course, they’re great to wave a scarf at.

© Neil Tennant, 1982

BONUS BEATS

Duran do Sinatra? Really? No, it’s obviously a typo in the original magazine and should read ‘My Own Way’, of course.

With an hour of Duran Duran’s set having been broadcast by Radio 1 as part of their BBC In Concert series, various bootleg albums have emerged over the years, though I think I can safely say the Andy Earl image (for the ‘Planet Earth’ single: story here) used for this very article in 2022 isn’t Hammersmith, or even London. It’s — get this — Cotton Valley sewage works on the eastern extremity of the ‘city’ of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, a mere five minute drive from where I happened to be living at the time. 

Any way the wind blows. Cough, splutter.

Steve Pafford

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