The Critics: Why I'm a born-again Durannie

Duran Duran Birmingham NEC The Big Re-Wind Tour Birmingham NEC

Well, it's happened. I've become an old fogey. I've watched Top of the Pops and I've had to conclude that it wasn't like that in my young day. I've shaken my greying head at the boy bands and girl bands and boy/girl bands, then I've looked over at Duran Duran's Greatest compilation, and I've noted that - vapid, flat-voiced poseurs they may have been - at least they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments. At this rate, it can be only a matter of weeks before I start saying that Margaret Thatcher was the best Prime Minister we ever had.

What is so upsetting is that I never liked Duran Duran at the time - or any of the other bands which haunted Top of the Pops in the early 1980s. Their music had no oomph to it, no sweat, no rock'n'roll (I was at a difficult age), and I was delighted when it went out of vogue as quickly as the haircuts of the men who made it.

Now the wheel of fashion has spinned right round, baby, right round. Plays are being staged about New Romantics, there are clubs in which people dance to nothing more recent than "I Should Be So Lucky" and The Wedding Singer will not be the last film to look back at the red leather jacket with a wistful tear in its garishly made-up eye. So was I wrong? Was I letting snobbishness deny me the pleasure of some wondrous pop music?

I expected Duran Duran to reassure me that the answer to the above questions is no. Say what you like about an Eighties revival, but Duran Duran are in a pitiable state. They've been dropped by their record company, and three out of the five original members have jumped ship - or rather, jumped Mediterranean yacht - leaving just pouting keyboard player Nick Rhodes and pouting singer Simon Le Bon. And it's been several years since Dawn French joked that the Le Bons must be a very modern couple, what with Simon taking the surname of his famous wife. If you want to be convinced of the duffness of the Eighties, look no further.

No one seems to have mentioned this to the people of the West Midlands. Years after Duran Duran's last hit, the NEC Arena was filled with 12,000 fans, all of whom stood up and sang along with every meaningless word from the first rumblings of "Planet Earth". We can dismiss this reception as biased, perhaps - Duran Duran are locals - but, alas, it's harder to dismiss my own urge to join in. The music was distressingly exciting.

Nor do I think I was wearing rose-tinted, taste-sapping, I-remember-this- one nostalgic spectacles, because this was not how I remember Duran Duran. Yes, I recognised the gigantic tunes, but I don't recall the band ever sounding so dark or spacey. I don't recall their industrial techno edge or their avant-garde guitar: I was expecting garbage, not Garbage.

For the sake of my own credibility, I should point out that Le Bon sings like a drunken middle-manager on karaoke night, and in his grey suit he looks like one, too. "Wild Boys" is an embarrassing Adam and the Ants rip-off, and the "why-yi-yi" bit on "The Reflex" has lost none of its capacity to irritate. Also, I'm reassured that I didn't miss anything out in the 1980s. Those old records are still blighted by the production - the trebly, headless guitars, the drums that clicked like grasshoppers, the trumpets badly impersonated by synthesisers - and by the memory of the hideous yuppies responsible for them. Now, however, in a new context, there's no denying the grandeur of the melodies. Le Bon would be on a golf course today with his near-namesake, Bono, debating the pros and cons of being the British Isles's biggest bands, if only Duran Duran had spent more money in the Eighties on singing lessons and less on Mad Max's cast-offs, hi-tech recording studios, exotic videos and exotic girlfriends. Mind you, when I put it like that, it seems like Duran Duran got things the right way round.

Culture Club, The Human League and ABC were in the same venue the previous night, on the Big Re-Wind Tour. Its recent success in America, with Howard Jones deputising for ABC, is a reminder that the British invasion of 1982-85 scored enough direct hits on the US charts to make Britpop's efforts seem a firing-squad-worthy military disaster. All the same, on tonight's showing, none of these bands seemed as significant as Duran Duran. And that's not a sentence I ever thought I'd type.

ABC's albums have aged much better than the contemporaneous Duran Duran records, but ABC have not. Martin Fry is the only founder member left, and there is little remaining of the sound that made his/their name. The craftily orchestrated lustre of Lexicon of Love has shrunk to decidedly less debonair jazz-funk, with a lot more bongo solos and sax solos than tunes. Only "The Look of Love" and "All of My Heart" shone, not least because the bongos and the sax kept a low profile.

The Human League were more convincing, but as cult oddities rather than pop giants. The women kept changing dresses, and Phil Oakey strode manfully across the stage, but this showpersonship was in stark contrast with the chilly white stage set and the robotic music. When Oakey intones, "It took seconds of your time to take his life," over a severe, one-finger keyboard figure, it's obvious that Christmas nostalgia tours are really not his scene.

Indeed, both bands seem understandably gloomy about their consignment to the oldie circuit. In his new sleeve notes for Lexicon of Love, Fry writes, "It's every band's birthright to be as self-obsessed and 'us against the world' as they can possibly be ... That's what being in a band is all about. Anything less is cabaret." But when he changes into a gold suit for the encore, and when The Human League close with "Don't You Want Me", cabaret is the only word for it.

Culture Club are definitely cabaret, but they have the major advantage that they don't care. As they went their separate ways 15 years ago, and so never had the time to tire of their songs, they're as excited to be playing them now as the audience is to be hearing them. Jon Moss powers into "Church of the Poison Mind"; Roy Hay, on guitar and keyboards, can't stop wiggling; Mikey Craig, on bass and regrettable hat, can't stop grinning. George, naturally, is delighted by the opportunity to dress up. He wears a dark suit with dramatically flared sleeves and shoulders heaped with dandruff (later revealed by the video-screen close-ups to be a layer of embroidered flowers). The costume is topped off by a tight-fitting lace hood and a tall black crown. It's the outfit that Snow White's wicked stepmother wears to the office.

No doubt Culture Club's bubbling confidence has been heated by their reunion single going straight into the top five. I'm happy for them. I'd rather listen to Boy's band than a boy band, and "I just Wanna Be Loved" is a very nice slice of reggae-pop. All the same, there's nothing distinctive about it. Culture Club's music, as ever, is so determinedly, jauntily lightweight that they will never rank alongside the Bee Gees or Abba in the mainstream pop genius stakes. The reason they can make such an effortless comeback as a cabaret act is that they were a cabaret act to begin with.

Duran Duran: Belfast (0990 321321), tonight; Glasgow (0141 248 3000), Mon; Newcastle (0191 401 8000), Tues; Sheffield (0114 256 5656), Wed; Manchester (0161 242 2560), Fri; London (0181 900 1234), 21 Dec.

The Big Re-Wind Tour: Manchester (0161 930 8000), tonight; Brighton (01273 202881), Wed; London (0181 900 1234), Thurs & 22 Dec; Bournemouth (01202 456456), Fri; London (0171 538 1212), Sat; Newcastle (0191 401 8000), 20 Dec.

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
books
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes