Music interview – Steps: ‘We wanted to get people back on the dancefloor’

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Faye Tozer is bubbling with enthusiasm. Having seen her reformed group Steps restored to the upper reaches of the charts earlier this year, she and fellow singers Lee Latchford-Evans, Claire Richards, Lisa Scott-Lee and Ian ‘H’ Watkins are about to celebrate their 20th anniversary with a tour of the nation’s arenas.

The 42-year-old says the past 12 months have gone “more than better” than even the five of them could have imagined when they first began discussing how to mark the two decades since their formation (after successful auditions for manager Tim Byrne and songwriters Steve Crosby and Barry Upton).

“When we said we wanted to do something to mark the 20th year we were thinking of a one-off gig and it’s turned into a comeback. It’s been an incredible year, starting off at G-A-Y [the London nightclub] to test the waters, seeing if people were still interested, and then having a new album to breathe new life into Steps has probably been the biggest asset that we’ve had this year, and a brand new, incredible [management] team, it’s overwhelming to think that we’re celebrating the 20th year with a 22-date arena tour. That’s like what we did in back in the peak of our time.”

When Steps last toured, five years ago, it was on the back of a documentary series for Sky Living and a Christmas album. With all five of them now leading separate lives, reassembling requires meticulous planning.

“I’m up in the North East, H is based in Wales, Claire and Lee are in London and Lisa is in Dubai, so to start off with that’s an issue,” Tozer notes. “But thank heavens for social media and Whats App and emails and Skype, so we can discuss things and try to move forward, but it’s a massive feat even just getting us in a room. It’s taken a lot of planning, especially with our families and children involved.”

One thing they could all agree on this time was the need to release new material. “We didn’t plan on making an album but our management had some incredible songs and had a vision for us, I guess,” says Tozer. “We had to trust in them but I think that’s what definitely has pushed us forward. I think the fans were crying out for it. We had some amazing music before but I think it had been really important to bring us into today’s charts and make us relevant to the music scene now. I think it’s one of the things that has actually made the difference for us to be able to come back this year.”

Steps

Steps

The album Tears on the Dancefloor – which was recently re-released in a deluxe edition – is filled with dance-pop numbers such as Scared of the Dark and Neon Blue. For Tozer & co., it was important to provide an antidote to all the doom and gloom in the world. “We wanted to get people back on the dancefloor,” she says, “people who were with us in the 90s and rekindled their love for Steps when we did our reunion back in 2011-12.

“There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the world at the moment. Steps has always been unadulterated happy, we don’t apologise for it, we just go and do it and if you want to join in fine, if you don’t that’s fine too.

“We just wanted people to be able to let their hair down, dance like no one’s watching and be able to leave their troubles at the door. For us to come back and have such a dance-orientated album was a massive part of that too. We didn’t want to have slow songs on it, we didn’t think it was relevant for us. We were just like ‘Come back to the dancefloor, come back and feel how that used to feel’.”

The album also includes Story of a Heart, a lesser-known song by the Abba songwriting team of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. It’s a gentle acknowledgement of one of Steps’ biggest influences, Tozer admits, explaining: “Benny and Bjorn got together to write for an album and our management had connections with the guys who produced that album so they knew of that song and because we’ve always had the Abba influence with the production in our music, and of course Pete Waterman [Steps’ one-time producer] famously said when we first came out as a band that we were like ‘Abba on speed’, there’s always been that homage to it. We shamelessly were more than happy to do a song [of theirs] and actually it’s a really beautiful song and lesser-known as well. It brought more of a grown-up element to us and gave us a chance to do some nice vocals.”

We had some amazing music before but I think it had been really important to bring us into today’s charts and make us relevant to the music scene now.

Faye Tozer

Looking back to the two Steps Reunion series on Sky Living, Tozer says she entered into it with some trepidation. “Anything to do with reality TV you never know how it’s going to be edited. We had some great times recording the show, we approached a lot of questions we probably wouldn’t have if it was just us five. It was scary and therapeutic at the same time but we had to go through that to be able to move on us a band.”

Tozer chuckles at the idea of Steps going on to toast their 25th or even 30th anniversary on stage. “That’s a scary thought,” she says, “but we didn’t think we’d be celebrating 20, so you never know. I don’t think we’re ready to put the microphones down yet and we’re having loads of fun doing this. We feel very blessed and very lucky to be able to come back a third time and for people to still be interested. It’s something very precious to us all individually and if we have the opportunity, yes, who knows?”

Steps play at First Direct Arena, Leeds on November 21. They are also due to perform at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 29, 2018. www.stepsofficial.co.uk

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