Music interview: Take That – the band that came back for good

Take That celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2019.
Take That celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2019.
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No band has arguably negotiated the transition from teen idols to grown-up artists more successfully than Take That.

The Mancunian group, who dominated the singles charts in the first half of the 1990s, bounced back from a break-up in 1996 to become multi-million sellers all over again a decade later with a sound that had seamlessly shifted from boy band dance pop to stadium-sized anthems and ballads.

Next year the band – who since the departures of Robbie Williams and Jason Orange have slimmed down to a core trio comprising Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald – reach their 30th anniversary and they intend to celebrate the milestone by going on the road with a greatest hits tour that starts and ends in Yorkshire, with shows at the FlyDSA Arena in Sheffield in April and Huddersfield Town’s John Smith’s Stadium in June.

They precede it this November with Odyssey, a double album that includes ‘reimagings’ of some of their best-known tracks, produced by erstwhile Madonna collaborator Stuart Price.

Fifty-year-old Donald assures fans they can look forward to the same high production values on this tour as they’ve witnessed at previous shows since the band’s reformation in 2006.

“We put a lot of production in our shows and I think as this is more of a greatest hits, the Odyssey album, we’re going to try to make it as classic as the others,” he says.

Take That release a greatest hits album, Odyssey, in November. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Take That release a greatest hits album, Odyssey, in November. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

“I think the aim is not necessarily to better the last one [Wonderland Live], it’s just to make people go home with a smile on their face.”

The prospect of the looming anniversary has inevitably made the members of Take That nostalgic.

Donald says: “When we did the 30 years album we’ve actually revamped three or four of the songs and gone back to the other ones to bring them up to the sound quality of today. When you play the old tapes through the desk and you hear vocals from the 90s when we first started recording it’s quite an emotional moment, really. It does bring back memories of being in the studio and singing those vocals, also at the same time it’s unbelievable it’s 30 years from 1989 to next year.”

There are also a lot of memories wrapped in the songs themselves.

Who would’ve thought in 1996 when we split up? It could’ve easily been the end. You never know that you’re going to come back nine years later, to reform and come back as a four-piece and second time be as successful as the first.

Howard Donald

Donald reflects: “When you’re creating a new album you always go back to the last album or with this more you go back to the first album. There’s so many different sections, so many different areas of our career where one minute you’re a five-piece then you’re a four-piece then you’re back to a five-piece then you’re down to a three-piece, it does bring back the memories especially when you hear the songs.

“Each and every song reminds you of those times when you did your video or when you first sung it, when you first went on Top of the Pops, when you got your first Number One – there’s certain things attached to it.”

Publicity for the album mentions a host of special guests on Odyssey. Those however hoping they might include new contributions from former band members Robbie Williams and Jason Orange would appear to be wide of the mark.

Donald says: “Jason and Robbie obviously played a part in the greatest hits because they were part of the 90s and Robbie’s on the Progress album and Jason was on that and Beautiful Life and The Circus albums, so their vocals appear throughout. It’s not necessarily in a brand new vocal or a brand new song, it’s nothing to do with that, it’s just that they are part of Take That – or they were part of Take That – in certain areas of our career, so yes, they are on the album and there is a new version of Everything Changes where we kept Robbie’s original vocals.”

Having led the way for one-time boy bands to become artists of substance in their thirties and forties, Donald feels justifiably proud of Take That’s achievements. “Who would’ve thought in 1996 when we split up? It could’ve easily been the end, that’s how I imagined it. You never know that you’re going to come back nine years later, to reform and come back as a four-piece and second time be as successful as the first. I’m very, very proud.”

A total of 56 number one singles and 37 number one albums around the world, as well as eight Brit Awards, place the band among Britain’s most commercially successful artists. Yet Donald reveals there are still a few ambitions that they have yet to fulfil as a band.

“Mark’s always going on about how he wants to do Glastonbury,” he chuckles. “So that’s more on Mark’s wishlist, wanting to do that. I’m quite open to doing that [too].

“You can go on forever. There are countries we’ve never been to or we’ve never been big in. We want to go to South America at the end of the year and do gigs out there. We’ve never been as a band. America, for instance, we had a Number Seven there with Back For Good but we’ve never actually been big there. That’s not something I ever wished for, to be honest, to big in America because once you’re big in America you can’t really go anywhere, can you?”

Odyssey is due out on November 23. Take That’s Greatest Hits Live 2019 tour starts at FlyDSA Arena, Sheffield on April 15 and 16 and ends at the John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield on June 4. Tickets go on sale at 9.30am on Friday September 28. www.takethat.com