There is a kind of narrative that the journey of a music fan starts with generic chart pop and gradually develops towards Proper Music like rock and indie. There are a lot of problems with the narrative, in particular its inherent sexism – it’s no coincidence that Proper Music generally means ‘music made by and largely listened to by men’. As such, I take a little bit of pride in the fact that I took an uncharted turn on this journey and, less than a year after the Manic Street Preachers became my favourite band, they were joined at the top spot by Take That.
Oh – and apologies in advance for illegal overuse of exclamation marks in this post – but what can you do when it’s TAKE THAT!!!!!
I don’t think any of my lightning bolt moments have been quite so uncomplicatedly joyous as the moment I became a Take That fan. In July of 1994, the five boys were on a promotional tour of Australia, and appeared chatting cheerfully and irreverently on many a pop TV show. (Oh for the days when there actually were many a pop TV show.) On one such show, they performed “Pray”, a UK number one for them the year before, only now being released in Australia. I’d previously quite enjoyed “Could it be magic?” and “Relight my fire”, so watched with some interest. My thought pattern went something like this:
Hmmm, those are some eccentric dance moves… Nice tune though… Actually, this is really good… BLOODY HELL THIS IS THE BEST POP SONG I HAVE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE
My TT fan life began in secret, as I was not immune to the prejudices of music snobbery, and having been an indie kid for so long I feared ridicule for declaring undying love of a boy band. But this secrecy came to a crashing halt in mid 1995, when the boys’ Australian tour was announced, as I knew I’d have to procure the services of my parents to get a lift to the Entertainment Centre and back. So I outed myself as a fan of teen pop’s fave boys a month or two after I’d turned twenty. Timing has never been one of my strong points.
1995 is not a year I look back upon with any degree of fondness. Having breezed through the first year of my BA in 1994, suddenly things seemed a lot more difficult and stressful in year two. I coped very badly with the disappearance of Richey from the Manics in February, and made some very bad life choices in the boyfriend department later in the year. It was, in fact, one of the worst years of my life, and I was very depressed.
In the midst of all this there was one ray of sunshine – the pure, uncomplicated pop of Take That never failed to cheer me up. It seemed unnecessarily cruel then, that the day before tickets went on sale for their Australian tour, it was announced that Robbie had left the band. For gods sake, I thought, is there not one thing that’s important to me that’s not falling to bits? But happily, it did not detract completely from my glee at the chance to see the remaining four boys, even though Robbie was my fave. (My first foray into running a website came the following year when I created The Babe Bob Appreciation Society, which I believe was the first ever site devoted to Robbie Williams, as he didn’t even have an official site at the time. Claim to fame indeed!)
Take That were then and still are rightly renowned for amazing live shows. I have witnessed no other pop group quite so adept at creating truly transporting live experiences full of spectacle and wonder. However, this Perth gig of 1995 was not one of them. The expense of taking their intricate sets, props and cast of extras to Australia was prohibitive for the boys, as Australia was not a huge market for them. Indeed, Gary Barlow noted in his 2007 memoir ‘My Take’ that they were playing to half-empty arenas on many of the dates. So we Aussie fans were treated to a vastly scaled down TT experience, which did not sit well with some. Even I was not immune to a slight sense of disappointment, for quite early in my diary entry I am compelled to list my qualms with the show I’ve just seen:
“Okay, problems first. Basically the Entertainment Centre is not the place for the ultimate TT experience, it’s just too small and lacking in atmosphere I think, and doesn’t allow for all their celebrated stunts + effects – no moving platforms, not even any cars driven on stage. It was much simpler than any description of their last few tours I’ve read. And the sound was a bit dodgy, which coupled with the SCREEEAMS meant that you sometimes had to rely on memory to tell how the songs were sounding. And it was too short! Only about an hour and a half, and we got both the Beatles medley and the Pink Floyd/Nirvana tribute, so that was probably close to half an hour of non-TT tunes performed.”
Yet my glee was still undimmed. “Having said all that, may I say now that it was also BLOODY GREAT!” First I was initiated into that spiritual ritual that comes with the best of gigs: the Merch Frenzy. “It started early with a program (yes!) bought outside as we were all being ordered to line up and sit down(?). Once inside I was in the crush to the merchandising stall. I was just going to buy a necklace but while I was waiting the button badges caught my eye and then I thought I might as well get an enamel badge too while I was at it.”
(My jubilant ‘yes!’ at procuring the programme was no doubt inspired by the fact that I’d neglected to buy one at the Pet Shop Boys show the year before, which tortured me so much with regret that I ended up phoning the Brisbane Entertainment Centre a week or so later to get them to send me one from the PSB’s show there that evening. Life was tricky in the days before internet shopping.)
Shopping done – for now – I went in to find my seat. I would have preferred a standing gig as with the Pet Shop Boys, but I was pleasantly surprised with the seating arrangements. “My seat was MUCH closer then I’d ever expected it to be (only about 10 rows in front of me), though a bit too much to one side. But! As I waited a girl came up to me and explained she’d been separated from her friends and could we swap seats? So I went from M4 to M12 which was much closer to the middle and an absolutely brilliant view.”
All the gig crowds I’d been in thus far in my short gigging life had been predominately male and indie (as with the Big Days Out) or male and slightly older (as with the PSBs). This was my first time in a crowd of teenaged girls who were ready to scream their lungs out at the merest glimpse of our fave gang of British boys or anything remotely related to them. It was a pretty amazing experience for this retiring and withdrawn 20-year-old. “And then the lights went down, and I was directly in the middle of my first Teen Scream Experience. The noise! It’s like your ears are suddenly aflame! It’s fantastic!” It was only the support band, “a strummily acoustic female duo. They were okay but irrelevant, largely ignored.” I have tried to google who these ladies were but to no avail. Perhaps they went on to great success, who knows?
“When the lights went down again it was probably about 8.15pm. SCREEEEEAM!!!!!! “Please welcome… TAKE THAT!!!” SCREEEEEEEEEEEAM!!!!!! Yes, that was me.”
Take That, in their 90s incarnation, were sometimes gently mocked for the fact that they had released more videos than they had albums. By this point I owned at least two of their videos of different European live shows, and had possibly watched them more times than is strictly healthy. It seems that it took me a while to adjust to the fact that I was seeing the boys actually in the flesh and not on a TV screen.
“Fireworks explode at the front of the stage! And as they subside THERE’S TAKE THAT BEHIND THEM!!!!!! In jackets + helmets! And they start dancing! Just like in their videos! But they’re THERE! Here! Right there in front of us!!!! They sing “Satisfied” with a bit of the old Stones tune thrown in, and it’s a bit strange actually. Strange to see them right there, doing the very same routine from the “Wembley” video, RIGHT BLOODY THERE!!! It felt a bit unreal and yet too real at the same time.”
Take That’s recent album “Nobody Else” had disappointed me slightly with its leanings towards an Americanized R&B sound and middle of the road blandness. However, as with my Pet Shop Boys gig the year before, the joy of being in the presence of my faves made even lesser tunes sound amazing.
“After “Satisfied” they do “Sunday to Saturday” which is wonderful, “Sure” which is fantastic… Gary was alone on stage with a keyboard and sang “Holding Back the Tears”, his favourite song on the album apparently, and it was quite beautiful actually, much nicer like that than with the album’s tinkling production.”
But the classic hits of the first two albums were what I really wanted to hear, and it seems like it was a good thing I knew these songs inside out, as the previously mentioned sound issues became apparent. “After this there is a medley of “Could it be magic” with everyone singing (a bit subdued, maybe, without Rob); “I Found Heaven” (quite nice though fairly inaudible); “It only takes a minute (inaudible) and “Everything Changes” which sounded astoundingly wonderful with Gary and Howard’s harmonies (but then what doesn’t?). And a magic moment when we were invited to sing one of TT’s millions of Great Pop Moments: “Forevermooooore!!!” “
The boys were not above a bit of innuendo, perhaps making the most of the fact that their Aussie audience skewed slightly older than their British fans. They encouraged the crowd into a Mexican wave, enticing first the left hand side of the arena, then the right – ““not forgetting you lot in the middle” says Mark about us in the lounge, “’cos we’ve heard that you Perth people like it up the middle!”…Crap extremely rude joke! It was great, for some reason.”
They were also, my diary entry reveals, not above a bit of lying. During a rendition of their very recent, somewhat world-conquering hit “Back For Good”, which was “the first truly sublime, breathtakingly godlike, headspinningly brilliant GENIUS moment of the concert”, they had a little chat with the crowd.
“After the main bit of the song it’s stripped down to the beat and they tell us they won’t split up, they’ll continue for as long as their fans want them (cue lifethreatening screams)(sorry SCREEEAMs) and then they talk about “Back For Good” being no.1 in the UK and Europe and Australia (SCREEEAM!!!) and they thank everyone in Perth who helped get them to no.1 (SCREEEEAM!!!) and then they finish the song, getting us to sing the “Want you back! Want you back! Want you baaack for goood” bit. I was particularly offkey.”
While I’m sure, on the night, it was wonderful to be reassured that they weren’t going to split up, reading this now with the knowledge that they did in fact announce their split only four months later is a little bittersweet. You can’t help wondering what was going through their heads during that tour. Did they truly mean it when they assured us they wouldn’t split, or were the cards already on the table, the solo albums in pre-production?
Anyway, the boys then turned into a tribute band for a little bit. I had heard their Beatles medley already, as it was included as a B-side to a recent single, and I loved it, but it was not exactly what I wanted from the boys that night. “It’s very good and all that, especially the dancing and Marky’s bit and “Hey Jude” but! I still would have preferred it if they’d done their own tunes, especially as we were then treated to another covers section.”
I’m not sure what prompted the boys to do a section of covers of rock classics, but I can’t help feeling that including it in their first Australian tour was a bit of a misstep. Still, it was a lot of fun to see the boys done up like a glam rock quartet. “They come back all rawk’n’roll in shiny leather trousers (“ooh I think these trousers are too tight for me” says Jason) and do “Another Brick In The Wall”. Jason’s singing is particularly fantastic and Howard is a BRILLIANT drummer. Mark’s bassline didn’t sound too taxing but he looks great with the instrument strapped on him so who cares?”
And then it was time for their legendary Nirvana cover. “Gary rips off his shirt and throws it into the audience (quite close to me actually, but alas not close enough) and they dive into “Smells like teen spirit”. “
It was certainly a lot of fun, and the crowd were so up for it they could probably have come on and sung a medley of Gregorian chants and we’d still have screamed. But it was not really the kind of thing I had hoped to see in my first TT gig, especially as I had no way of knowing when I’d get to see them again (and indeed, my next chance didn’t come for another eleven years).
“What with the gleaming trousers and Gary half mincing, half moshing his way through the tune it was really incredibly camp. The thought of the alternogrunge no-lifes being horrified at the blasphemy is quite delightful too. And it was fun. But… in the end it was just four (incredibly beautiful, talented + famous) guys doing a Nirvana tune. Great as a surprise to people who’ve seen TT live a billion times already and think they know what to expect, but for those of us who’ve never had the chance to see them before, it might have been nicer to hear more of TT’s own tunes with their own dancing (which is, after all, what we love them for).”
Next up was “Babe”, “beautiful though a bit inaudible but they didn’t finish it! Just left it hanging in the instrumental break before they all returned for “Never Forget”. Howard sings as the other three do some particularly slinky dancing and it really is great though (pattern forming here!) a bit hard to hear. And sad ‘cos you know it’s the last song before the encore.”
And what an encore. Nothing can quite compare to the experience of hearing live a song that changed your life. And “Pray” did just that for me – it ended my musical snobbery, opened up worlds of amazing, life-affirming experiences to me, and brought me a band whose music can light up the dark times like no other.
“The encore arrives soon, beginning with the diamond of lights above the stage swinging up and down over the crowd and changing colour, filling my eyes with yellow and red dazzle as it goes. I try to recognize the resounding chords that accompany it … it’s the middle bit of “Pray”!!!!! And I am in heaven. They sing “Pray”, and do that wonderful dance routine which must be the dance equivalent of a Genius Pop Moment, and though like “Babe” it’s slightly shortened it’s probably the most downright glorious moment of the night.”
All good things must come to an end, and with Take That, this also included a rear end, as Howard came on stage in a pair of bottomless chaps. “And the final tune is “Relight My Fire”, complete with devil’s outfits and Mark’s purple platforms! Jason was incredibly screamably delectable in red hotpants and not much else, but the real star of this song was of course Howard’s beautiful and perfect rear end.”
And then I was once again in that post gig haze. “Afterwards I just stood there for a bit, clinging to the seat in front of me (the row in front had been a bit empty so I spent most of the concert leaning precariously over) and coming to grips with it all.” This didn’t last long though for I had an important mission: Merch Frenzy part two!
“I made my way sharpish to the merchandise stand, for I’d realized during the encore that I had to have a T-shirt with tour dates on to remember this by. As I waited in line I thought I might as well get a cap as well, as I don’t really have a hat myself right now, so I bought the cap and a particularly nice beige T-shirt. Outside then, to wait for Dad. “Take That posters! $5!” yelled someone. I don’t really need a poster, I thought, but I’ll go and have a look anyway. The poster’s from the same shoot as the second “Pray” single I bought, in fact, from the scene of the “Pray” video. I bought a poster. Then I waited some more for Dad who was taking a while as I hadn’t known it would end so early. My mind wanders back to merchandise. I don’t need stickers and postcards! I try to convince myself. Dad still elusive. I go back towards the entrance. Alas! they’re shutting down the merchandise stall. Oh well, I tried.”
Soon my Dad arrived and drove me home. “Dad asked me about TT, were they male or female? what instruments do they play? are they better than the Beatles?” Then at home I put up my new poster, put on my new T-shirt and commenced in a purple pen what even at the time I admitted was a “hysterical report.” Which could end in only one way.
“I WANT THEM BACK! WANT THEM BACK! WANT THEM BAAAACK FOR GOOOOOD!!!!!!”