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TAKE THAT: We Sit Down with Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen

As the new musical The Band rehearses in Manchester prior to its world premiere, Natalie Anglesey talks exclusively to Take That

“We’ve been talking about the idea for a musical for about eight years now and just waited for the right time to come along,” Gary Barlow explains. We’re sitting in The Lowry Hotel with fellow Take That members, Howard Donald and Mark Owen, discussing their eagerly awaited new musical, The Band. Written by playwright Tim Firth, it features the music of the multi-award-winning group.

The Band will enjoy its world premiere in Manchester where Take That was first formed. Although there are four members of the original line-up down as co-producers, Robbie Williams was absent as he’s currently on a European Tour. 

“Rob will be joining for us for some of The Band’s first nights but we’ve been keeping him updated with rehearsal footage wherever he’s on tour. Unfortunately we’re all so busy it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get us all in the same room at the same time,” Gary smiles.

Looking fit and healthy, the friends are obviously enjoying this new venture. With a chuckle Mark reminds me: “We’ve been preparing this catalogue of music for many years ­– so hopefully we’ve got the right songs in the right places. But I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!” Howard adds: “We’ve co-produced our own songs and shows before, but this is our first musical. So we’ve chosen songs from 1992 through to the 111 album." He reassures me that my favourite, Never Forget, is included because, as he says: “it’s just a fantastic song.”

If you were fortunate to see the musical, The Girls, you’ll be aware it was based on the story of The Calendar Girls written by Tim Firth, with music by Gary, who are both from Frodsham. “Tim is first and foremost a lovely man and a good friend. He’s not only a brilliant playwright, he has an eye for writing and directing comedy. He’s been coming to our concerts since 1991 and because so much of our life and heart and love is involved in this musical, I knew I could trust him writing the story.”

Mark chips in. “But we wanted it to be more than just a story about the band because most of our loyal followers know that story – we also wanted it to be about the fans. Even after that ten-year break, they were the ones we listened to when they wanted us back.”

Gary had been a judge on the X Factor so I wondered if that’s where he got the idea of open auditions. “We had the music, the plot, and a good storyline, then I had the idea of holding open auditions on television under the title Let it Shine. I was a bit worried that we may get people who just wanted to be famous. But we were so fortunate – we could not have found a better group than the one we have. They are so good, so talented and they are totally committed to the work ethic. Theatre is hard work with eight shows a week – you have to be committed to do that and they are. I can’t praise them too highly.“

During the television series, both Mark and Howard were off stage encouraging and supporting each team auditioning. Mark, who comes from Oldham, points out: “It was a nice thing for us to do. We were young like them when we started. Rob was only 16 and I was 18 so we tried to cheer them on." Howard, from Droylsden, agrees: “We just wanted to be there for them because it reminded us of the time we started when we were hard-working and appreciative and so are The Band. We really feel responsible for them.”

Take That are all fathers and their new stars seem to have brought out the daddy in them, as Gary points out: “You’re right we do feel protective towards them. It’s like when we‘re on tour, the team we work with becomes like family and that’s the same with this talented group.”

The Band is played by young stars AJ Bentley, who studied dance, and Nick Carsberg, who was a classic car restorer. Curtis T Johns had been a song-writer for the past eight years for Matt Cardle and Ray Quinn, as well as owning and running a rugby club in his native Leeds. Yazdan Qafouri is from Iran but was raised in the north east while Sario Solomon made his professional debut at the age of 11 in Oliver! at London’s Theatre Royal. Together, they are collectively known as Five to Five, and won the BBC’s Let It Shine audition against stiff opposition. 

As we say goodbye before Take That head off to take part in Pride, I wondered what they’d like audiences to take away at the end of the show. Gary sums up. “We’d like them to come out saying, ‘What a great night. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried and we’ve enjoyed ourselves.’ That’s what we’ve always wanted to do in Take That – to make our audiences feel happy! The world premiere had to be here because this is where Take That started. This is Manchester’s musical."

As the song says 'Never forget where you’ve come here from!' 

The advance box-office is already well over the £10 million mark so if you’re a fan don’t leave it too late before you book! (atgtickets.com)