It was the summer of 2017, and a season of gigs was upon me, starting with these two miraculous shows from Take That.
Eleven long years had passed since I’d last seen Take That at their reunion tour in 2006. To my eternal regret, I had missed many spectacular tours from them, including their never-to-be-repeated reunion as a five piece in 2011. More recently, I’d been put off venturing back into TT land by the newly trimmed down three piece line up, as I feared it would make them little more than a vanity project for Gary Barlow, who I’ve never warmed to as a solo artist. But in 2017, with my vigour for gigging renewed, I could not leave out this most important band, and so off I strode to the O2 on a Friday night in June. And there was something pretty incredible in store for me. From my diary:
‘Bloody hell. I have never experienced a gig like that. Not just the spectacle – which truly was wondrous – but me, what was I? Yes I went to shout and dance and sing but it was all completely involuntary, like I vacated my body for two hours and some TT demon took possession. By halfway through I was completely shattered but with each new song my arms were in the air, leaping about and hollering along. I mean, I’d completely lost my voice by the end of All Saints (fabulous) support set, and yet I had no trouble singing every single TT song.’
I have never before or since experienced a gig where I was so utterly taken over by some sort of demonic gigging possession, as though an alien spirit of wild abandon took over my entire being. ‘It was completely out of my control, like something primal took over, a deep and neglected need being sated at last.
How completely strange and slightly marvelous.‘
“Wonderland” was a new kind of tour for the boys, performed in the round in the centre of the O2 arena. I’d watched many bits of footage from previous shows on YouTube already, and it was strange and wonderful it was to actually, finally be there. Given the unusual setup of the show, on arriving at the arena, some strategic planning was in order.
‘After an eternity on the queue followed by airport-style security, I carried out a recce of the arena. Three walkways to the central stage were marked off, but only one had any barriers put up around it, so I knew that must be for Gaz. The other two were just marked out with white tape. Some intuition propelled me to the one on the left, and I was rewarded with close-up Marky during the opening “Wonderland”. I reached out over the hastily assembled rope barrier in hopes of a high five but only managed a quick grab of his arm. Still, what a thrill to be so close.’
Once he was through to the stage, the rope barrier was removed, and the crowd surged forward. ‘So I was five or six rows back and had a great view, but good lord it was HOT, and even hotter as flames and fireworks erupted from the edges of the stage for “Get Ready For It”. That opening barrage of “Wonderland”, “Greatest Day”, “Get Ready For It” and “Giants” was pretty untouchably storming. Even the tunes I’m not so keen on were singalong monsters, and anyway I was already under the possession of the TT demon the moment Marky appeared mere metres away from me.’
And now, in true Scruffy style, it’s time to go into raptures about my favourite boy of the evening, in this case, the delightful Mark Owen.
‘Marky! How wondrous to be so close to him. and to hear him sing his lead-vocal songs, I could pretend for a moment I was at a Mark gig, and he was having a marvellous time, making faces at the crowd, waving and laughing and doing silly dances, it was a pure joy to watch him be so happy. “Superstar” was a highlight of the first half, as well as “Relight My Fire” which was a retro thrill and of course included even more flames. Then came the acoustic interlude of which “Satisfied” was another burst of joyous nostalgia and “Love Life” of course another chance to revel in the glory of Mark.’
But this was a gig of sheer physical force and intensity. I don’t think I ever expected to become quite so knackered by a Take That gig.
‘I think it was around the time “New Day” appeared I began to feel somewhat feeble and headachy. Luckily I’d bought a bottle of water, decanted into a large cup by the mobile water vendor, and despite it being a mild hindrance to hang on to it during the show, I’m sure I’d have passed out without it.’
But no matter how much I may have wanted to take it easy and hang back for a few songs to recover, it was quite impossible this night.
‘And then it was “Shine” and the TT demon had me bouncing and singing. Then they slammed us with “Back For Good” then “Patience” and then, without warning, it was “Pray” and I screamed like a lunatic at the multiple wonders of (a) the song (b) the dance and (c) the fact that I was in the right position and not viewing it from behind!’
Alas, the logistics of the show meant I was not able to fully appreciate the glory of my most favourite Take That song.
‘Unfortunately, once Gary commenced singing the first verse, the O2 staff chose this moment to clear the pathway again, and we were pushed into a tight squeeze so that the rope barrier could return. I pretty much missed the first verse which was very annoying. Could they not have waited for “It’s All For You”? Mind you, that was probably the most awe-inducingly magical moment, Gary on a pink bed, Howard and Mark just spinning, and the swan and the unicorn and everyone throwing glitter.’
It all came to a raucous and overwhelming conclusion.
‘And then it was “The Flood”, the three of them encased in a rainfall projecting images of their logo and the “Progress” silhouettes, and then they returned through their walkways, Howard at my end this time, and I had a swift grope of his back. They started “Cry” from their three respective corners of the arena before returning to the stage for a full-on rave. And then it was “These Days” and tho’ teetering on the edge of passing out from the heat and fatigue I was still not in control of my limbs and I danced and sang and held my arms aloft. Ditto the encores “Never Forget” and a phone light waving “Rule The World”.’
So it was over. ‘I was very very hot and dizzy and my heart was racing and I did wonder for a moment if I was going to end the night in A&E, but once outside I began to recover and by the time I got home I fest simultaneously shattered and energised.’
Somehow I’d made it home without collapsing on the way. Two days later, with the wonders of this show still swirling round my head, I found myself inwardly (and slightly inebriatedly) shouting ‘credit card be damned!’ and headed back to the O2 for another adventure in Wonderland – one in which the heat and fatigue did not overwhelm me quite so much.
‘Oh praise be to the three glasses of wine that made me say “fuck it!” and call the O2 box office. I had the best possible night tonight. I stood back, just below the staircase where Marky made it his first entrance, so I still got to see him and later Howard up close, and for the rest of the show I had a fabulous view with ample space to dance. No possession tonight, just me fully and completely engaged in the spectacle. I took bucketloads of pics too and some vids but it didn’t detract from the moment, because there were so many and all so wonderful. They boys were all in top spirits again and in fine voice, in contrast to All Saints who tonight sounded a bit worse for wear (perfectly reasonable on their fifth gig at the O2 in six days!)’
But most importantly of all, I was able to experience one of the most important songs of my life without hindrance from O2 staff.
‘And oh god “Pray”! No distractions, and the most amazing view. Those boys, and that song, may just combine to be my favourite thing on Earth. If I may steal a phrase from the millennials, it gives me life. You know, I still remember the exact moment I became a TT fan, and it was watching the youthful five sing this song and dance this dance on some Oz TV show back in ’94. And I remember thinking “well those are some eccentric moves” and then they hollered “and all alone!!!” and they had their hook in my heart. Twenty three years on, it’s still there, and they reel me in ever closer to them every time I hear and see that song.’
I’ve seen Take That twice more since these incredible nights – at a Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Royal Albert Hall, and at the O2 again in 2019. The latter show, on their Odyssey greatest hits tour, stands out in particular as one of the most incredible gigs of my life. But no pop concert I have ever attended has quite been as magical as Wonderland, and it’s hard to imagine any ever will. I may have ignored many amazing Take That eras in the 11 years it took to get me back into seeing them live, but I’m so glad that when I did return, it was to this truly uplifting, spell-binding and miraculous show.
Categories: All the gigs of my life