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  • Gary Barlow says he’s taking ‘nothing for granted’ after standing ovation for The Girls

    Gary Barlow today said he was taking “nothing for granted” after his first musical The Girls won a standing ovation from stars at its West End debut.

    Mark Owen was at the show opener last night to support his “workaholic” bandmate, who is also filming the BBC’s Let it Shine and preparing a new Take That album.

    Graham Norton, Great British Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc, Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond and This Morning’s Phillip Schofield were among the crowd at the Phoenix Theatre.

    Barlow began writing the musical five years ago with childhood friend Tim Firth, who directed the play and smash hit 2003 film Calendar Girls starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. 

    Barlow told the Standard: “I didn’t watch any musicals to prepare. Tim instructed me to just go from the heart and stick to what I do best and not become a West End writer.

    “This is a very Northern show, this is kind of my childhood, the village is where I grew up and those women are like our mothers. It’s great hearing all the slang we used to say on the playground at school.”

    The Girls follows the true story of a Women’s Institute group who decide to fundraise by posing for a raunchy calendar after the death of one of their husbands.

    Barlow, 46, said: “The West End is such a competitive market, for a new British musical to become a hit is a really hard thing to do. We’re taking nothing for granted.”

    Graham Norton, who presents Let it Shine, said: “It’s extraordinary to see something on its opening night in the West End as polished and as confident as this was. It was the one of the best Mondays I’ve had in a long time.”

    Broadcaster John Sergeant, in the front row with wife Mary Smithies, said: “It’s a very tricky subject to tackle. 

    “Gary’s spirit and his tremendous force and energy pervaded the entire thing. There was just enough nudity — I was sitting very close which I can’t say if it’s a good or bad thing.”

    The Girls is booking until April 22 . Visit phoenixtheatrelondon.co.uk for tickets.




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  • Gary Barlow wants Jason Orange back for Take That anniversary

    Gary Barlow is eager for his former band mate Jason Orange and part-time member Robbie Williams to rejoin the group for their 30th anniversary celebrations


    Gary Barlow is desperate for Jason Orange to reunite with Take That to mark their 30th anniversary in 2022.

    The 46-year-old frontman is determined to persuade Jason, who quit in 2014, and part-timer Robbie Williams, 43, to be involved in the group's milestone celebrations.

    Gary - who is also joined by Mark Owen and Howard Donald in the man band - told Magic Radio: ''We are going to hopefully maybe get Robbie on board and get Jason on board. It might be the 30th anniversary that we end up celebrating.''

    Gary - who is currently head judge on his BBC talent show 'Let It Shine' - is adamant that one day Robbie and Jason will return at some point and he has assured fans that they are back for good.

    He previously said: ''We're at the point in our careers where we feel more excited than we've ever been.

    ''I do picture doing more solo stuff in the future.

    ''It's been a few years since I've done that.

    ''I don't think there's ever going to be an announcement that says, 'Take That is finished', I really don't.

    ''I just think it may be different. It may be four. It may be three, it may be five. I think it's always going to be changing, that bit.''

    The 'Could It Be Magic' hitmakers celebrate 25 years together in 2017, but won't be performing live to celebrate for some time afterwards as they want Robbie - who embarks on a solo tour this year - to join them on stage.

    Gary recently said: ''We are still trying to work out the reunion.

    ''We are looking at a tour in 2018 and we'll drop the album at the very end of next year. But these things can change, at the moment that's what we are hoping for. Robbie will hopefully come along but Jason is happy staying where he is for now.''



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    Notting Hill local Gary Barlow has crafted yet another musical masterpiece and, for the first time in his songwriting career, it has hit the West End. Here, he tells The Resident about teaming up with Tim Firth to write The Girls and how Notting Hill inspires him

    ‘The shops are off the scale in Notting Hill now,’ muses Gary Barlow, when asked what it is that he loves about the area in which he has a home. ‘And The Hill [Resident] magazine is great.’  [Why thank you Gary, you ol’ charmer!]

    It’s perhaps not surprising that Barlow loves this creative hub so much, given that the taxing job of songwriting requires constant inspiration. It’s particularly necessary, he tells me, when penning songs for a musical, as opposed to pop bangers, too.

    We are chatting at rehearsals for musical The Girls, where Barlow found himself writing eight songs for every sequence of the show, before whittling the choices down to create the finished product. This amounted to around 76 songs being written, with the musical only featuring 12-13 of them. Fortunately, he is not short of inspiration from the small Cheshire village that he grew up in either, the village in which he met Tim Firth, the original writer of the screenplay of Calendar Girls.




    With Firth having won the Olivier Award and UK Theatre Award for Best New Musical and the British Comedy Awards Best Comedy Film for Calendar Girls – and Barlow having written and co-written 14 number one singles, selling over 50 million records worldwide and being a six times Ivor Novello Award winner – it’s perhaps no surprise that they’ve teamed up to create the masterpiece that is The Girls.

    Tim Firth called me up and asked me if I’d like to see his play, Calendar Girls. Half way through when I realised he wanted me to make it into a musical

    Based on the true story, the film and the award-winning play Calendar Girls, the musical opened at the Phoenix Theatre at the end of last month, following a sold-out run at the Grand Theatre Leeds and the Lowry Salford late 2015. ‘I met Tim when I was 15 and doing a songwriting competition called a Song for Christmas and he was one of the judges on it.

    ‘We realised we both came from the same town and we got to know each other,’ says Barlow. ‘Five or six years ago he called me up and asked me if I’d like to see his play, Calendar Girls. I thought it was strange that he wanted me to watch it, until half way through when I realised exactly what he wanted and that he wanted me to make it into a musical.’

    Considering the heartfelt inspiration for the storyline came from a group of women mourning the loss of their beloved friend, it is unsurprising that Barlow fell in love with the concept from the off. ‘I was blown away with the story, it’s such a beautiful narrative and it’s true,’ he says. ‘I was moved by it and knew we could do something special. Where we both come from certainly helped with inspiration too.’

    Although writing music is something that is second nature to Barlow, writing a musical was a whole step further and a little more difficult. ‘Firth very cleverly set me on the right path, as I’d never done it before,’ says Barlow.

    ‘He said: “I’m going to send you some lyrics. I don’t want you to pretend that you’re a musical writer, but I just want you to do what you do. Use the lyrics and see if you get anything.” So, I’d make a mini album for him for each sequence and then he would cleverly take bits and put them together like a patchwork quilt of songs.’

    From here, Barlow would revisit the songs and complete the compositions, making it a much longer process than when he would write songs for Take That. ‘It’s been a constant workflow of going through piles and piles of music,’ he says.

    ‘It’s nice to be on the other side of it though and to be able to sit with the audience and watch – it’s moving and rewarding as a writer to be able to watch your music take on a new life and story.’



    At the heart, it comes from the people involved and the narrative lyrics are chatty, conversational and not pop songs. ‘It was all very natural, the whole procedure, and it just came about organically with the help of the community around us,’ he says.

    ‘I cannot wait; I’ve got to be honest. Obviously I’ve never had a show in the West End before and I can’t wait to walk into The Phoenix and have a thrilling night of entertainment.’

    Having had the pleasure of sitting in on the dress rehearsals for the show, I can honestly say that this is one not to miss. It’s a show that – although set in a Yorkshire village far, far away from the bright lights of London – oozes community, love and laughter. This is something that Notting Hill can get in line with – the focus on community is something you will all relate to.

    In fact, I’m told by Firth himself that the first 20 minutes of the movie were actually written in The Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill. ‘There is a similar village feel in Notting Hill,’ says Firth. ‘As much as this is about loss, it’s about community.’ This is one musical that’s sure to go off the scale.





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  • Robbie Williams to rejoin Take That on Let It Shine as he appears as guest judge

    Robbie Williams will rejoin Take That for the final of Let It Shine next weekend.

    The singer has agreed to take to the stage with his former bandmates Mark Owen, Gary Barlow and Howard Donald on the BBC talent show on February 25 to give the nation a special performance of one of their biggest hits.

    The 43-year-old will also take on the role of guest judge alongside Gary , Dannii Minogue and Martin Kemp as they decide, along with the public, which band will be crowned the winners of the series following weeks of performing on stage.

    Robbie said: "I’m looking forward to being back with Gary, Mark and Howard on 'Let It Shine' and am excited to be a guest judge for the very special final."


    Robbie's decision to rejoin his band, which he left in 2014, comes soon after Gary revealed that he would like the group to celebrate 25 years together in 2017.

    And Robbie's return won't be permanent as he's got solo ventures to push through with including trying to crack America.

    He said recently: "Nobody knows who I am. I can look at them and they can look at me. I get to stare at them and they get to stare at me, but they don't stare because they don't know who I am. I don't like this. I want this to change.

    "Back in the 1990s when I went out there to promote my album I was not really dealing with fame very well at all - if I am honest I was not really dealing with much very well. It was when I realised that the more fame I got, the more insane I became.


    "So I just stopped as I needed a place where I was not famous, because that would be the most sane thing to do. So I just lived over there and nobody knows me. Now I have changed my mind and I really regret it."





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  • They've battled drugs, depression and the departure of TWO of the band. But the Take That trio say they want to Rule The World again (with help from their greatest rival Robbie)

    A quarter of a century ago I sat in a van with five unknown northern lads in a school car park near Manchester just minutes after they’d performed to a bunch of kids on their lunch break.

    An excitable teenager called Robbie did backflips in the playground then grabbed my notepad and pen to practise his autographs, and an intense 19-year-old called Gary, looking rather self-conscious with his newly peroxided hair, talked about The Beatles and how doing a tour of local schools might just help them ‘get a leg up’ into the music industry.


    The three others – Mark, Jason and Howard – just smiled, nodded and passed around a bag of crisps. The interview ended when the school caretaker told us all to clear off.

    Within a year no one would tell Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams, Howard Donald or Jason Orange to sling their hook ever again.

    By then, as Take That, they had become five of the most famous people on the planet in a multimillion-selling band that would go on to have 56 No 1 singles internationally and win eight Brit Awards and six Ivor Novellos.

    Over the next decade I often ran into them at awards ceremonies or behind roped-off areas of exclusive nightclubs. But today we are sitting in the bedroom of a house in south London to talk about their new album, Wonderland, and upcoming tour. It is a cold, wet winter’s day. Only three of the original five remain: Barlow, Donald and Owen.


    ‘It’s like the ten green bottles song with us now,’ jokes Owen, 45. ‘But none of us is going anywhere,’ Donald adds. ‘I’ve only been trained to do two things – spray a car or be in Take That. I’m sticking with Take That.’

    They are older, wiser, more comfortable in their own skin. Hair is flecked with grey, conversation is peppered with talk about golf, school pick-ups and house renovations. Donald, 48, is about to become a father for the fourth time. Everyone is drinking tea or water. Barlow (now star of TV shows from The X Factor to Let It Shine, which will lead to a West End show featuring Take That’s biggest hits) is lying by my feet on the floor – doctor’s orders for a bad back.

    ‘It’s sitting hunched over a piano all the time that does it,’ he says in his lugubrious Cheshire drawl. ‘And I’m getting old.’

    Over the course of the afternoon they will talk openly for the first time about how Jason Orange’s departure in 2014 almost ended the band for good, how they overcame drugs, depression and failure, and grew from emotionally vacant pop stars into proper men. They confess to still seeing Williams as their greatest competition, and believe both Williams and Orange will return for their 25th-anniversary tour.

    Originally put together in 1989 by Manchester-based music Svengali Nigel Martin-Smith, Take That have become British pop’s Establishment. They gave us multimillion-selling songs such as Back For Good, Relight My Fire, Never Forget and Shine, as well as thrilling doses of high pop drama, mainly from the chaotically entertaining Williams, whose escalating drug abuse and partying ended with him quitting in 1995. He promptly launched a vicious tabloid war against Barlow, whose solo career (in 1996) plummeted as Williams’ star rocketed.



    When the four remaining members of the band reunited in 2006, the public response was extraordinary. Their tour sold out in minutes, the first single, Patience, held the No 1 spot for four weeks and their comeback album, Beautiful World, was the second-biggest-selling record of the year. Four years later Williams returned (with hatchet buried) for a tour and album, and told me: ‘All that anger was always more about me and who I was then. I always missed them but I never wanted to admit it. I just wanted them to miss me.’

    Robbie’s return was always only temporary but in 2014 Orange jumped ship, leaving the future of the band in jeopardy. Until now, it is not a subject they have ever addressed.

    ‘When Jay left,’ says Barlow, ‘we were all ready to quit. Game over. We sat in our manager’s house in London and he wrote our statement for the press. For me it was the saddest day in the whole story of the band.

    ‘He’d had enough. He’d made his decision. Some people can just walk away, some people can’t. When I think about it now, he was the one I thought would never come back in 2006. So we were lucky to have him for eight more years.’


    They are, they confess, still unclear as to his reasons. Owen shrugs: ‘When we were making the last album (III, released in 2014) we’d be getting messages saying he didn’t feel well, he couldn’t come to the studio.

    ‘We knew something was wrong but we were in denial. We all thought, give him a break and he’ll be back, everything will be fine.’

    They still talk to Orange every now and again.

    ‘He’s still part of the band – we keep him in the loop of everything that’s going on,’ says Owen. ‘I still think he’ll be back for the anniversary tour. I’m sure he will. I think Robbie will be back for it too. But then again I’m always the optimist.’

    Of all of them, Donald was the most anxious about the split. ‘I’ve always known that basically it had to be Gary’s decision. And I didn’t want to beg him to keep it together. We spoke afterwards and he said exactly what I was thinking. Wait a bit before we make any decision. We spent two days looking at our social media feeds; all the fans were telling us to carry on. In the end that’s what did it. If the fans were happy with three of us, we’d carry on.’

    It is puzzling to think that Orange’s departure should have been so unsettling for the band. After all, it was when Williams first quit Take That in 1995 that the whole boy- band ideal truly upended, making headline news and causing the Samaritans to lay on extra volunteers to deal with the fallout from traumatised fans.

    Owen shakes his head. ‘This probably sounds weird but I barely registered Robbie going. You didn’t have to think about anything back then, nothing sunk in, it was all about getting up, keep going, the show goes on.’

    Barlow concurs. ‘Robbie leaving wasn’t traumatic. It was just inevitable. It was a completely different crazy time. It always felt like we were all gripping tight, trying to hold on to a speeding car. He jumped out and the rest of us kept hurtling along with just this one bump along the way.’

    Donald, the oldest member of the band, pitches in. ‘The truth is you don’t emotionally connect to anyone in those circumstances,’ he says. ‘You don’t develop on any level. There weren’t big rows because you don’t really row. You don’t even have much to say. I didn’t, Mark didn’t, because you don’t really know what you think because you’re not thinking much, you’re just doing things non-stop.’

    Owen adds: ‘People think you have all these incredible memories but you don’t. When you go through all that madness you just can’t process it. I look back and I see a blur. If you ask me what I remember of the Nineties, my actual clearest memory is of holding a pineapple at a photo shoot.’


    They all agree that they didn’t become real friends till several years after Take That ended, and they didn’t become formed as adults until they sank into personal difficulties. It also took them a decade to realise that – as musicians – they only really worked as a band.

    ‘When we split [in 1996] we all went our separate ways,’ says Owen. ‘I moved to the Lakes because I thought people wouldn’t want to drive two more hours past Manchester to track me down. And then you don’t speak to each other because it’s such a weird time. You have to learn very simple everyday things – how to make toast, how to deal without a car waiting outside your gate, how to actually be around people for days on end.

    ‘I had no idea Gary had been struggling,’ says Owen. ‘I saw him at his wedding [to former Take That dancer Dawn in 2000] and we talked but I had no clue what he had been going through. He never said anything to me.’

    Barlow nods. ‘And I would never have said anything back then. I would have said: “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” I couldn’t tell the truth about myself. None of us could. We all pretended everything was OK.’

    The reality was that Barlow, shunned by the industry that had once feted him, ballooned to 17st, feeding his depression with overeating and marijuana (in his autobiography he admitted to smoking up to 15 spliffs a day). He would lie on his white baby grand piano – a gift from his record company in the early days of Take That – and rub his face into its polished wood, trying to get his inspiration back after his solo deal was dropped. Unlike Orange, Barlow could not simply walk away from music, and a decade after they split he realised the only way to relight his pop fire was to get the band back together.

    Owen, who also signed a solo deal, admits he didn’t want the success to end either. ‘I still wanted to perform. But I was bloody petrified,’ he says. ‘I remember my first solo showcase at Abbey Road studios. I sat under the stage and drank a bottle of whisky. I couldn’t go on stage without drinking.

    ‘And then a few years later I played to a crowd of 50 people in Aberdeen. It wasn’t Take That but I actually loved it. It was more real, more grown up. You need those knocks to make you a proper person. If it’s all just screaming fans and everyone loves you nothing ever feels real.’

    Donald agrees. ‘We all needed that time to grow up, work out who we were. I did make a record but it was just my ego. I scrapped it a few days before it was due to be released, which was probably the best decision I made.’

    I remember a decade ago asking Barlow why he didn’t just sit and count all the millions he’d made from Take That, put his feet up and enjoy family life? ‘I’m a musician,’ he says, simply. ‘I want to make music and I need to make music. ’

    Does he look at The Rolling Stones, still rocking into their 70s, and see the future? ‘Definitely. I think they are bloody amazing and I’d like to see us still performing at that age. I’d do it with pride.’

    It is clear these three men are naturally at ease together. No one is given centre stage. They all veer between deep emotional confessionals and northern banter. There are jokes about Barlow’s hair (he prompted a social media storm by revealing he had recently washed it for the first time in 14 years). ‘It’s the real reason I did my back in,’ he says. ‘Leaning over the bath to wash my hair. I should have left it another 14 years.’

    Now that they are in their mid-40s, you wonder how different it is performing as a band. Owen laughs: ‘When we were kids you could go out and party, you could drink and nothing would touch the sides. Now we’re very sensible. It’s tea and water and home to the wives and kids [all three are married with children].’

    Both Owen and Donald look pretty much the same as ever. Any lines or extra weight caused by age is offset by a subtle carriage of wealth – well-cut jackets, slightly battered but expensive shirts, good shoes. It is Barlow who has changed the most. Donald eyes his once chubby bandmate. ‘He does look good these days but, to be honest, he did used to eat absolute rubbish. He’d be at the chocolate, Chinese takeaways, service-station food, he was always eating something.

    ‘Jay was always the healthy one, into his seeds and his nuts, and Gary would say: “You need to get some Golden Grahams down you.” Now he’s the one on the seeds and nuts.’


    Barlow – who these days sticks to a super-healthy regime involving regular exercise, vegetable shakes and limited portions of food – does, however, let himself go on ‘treat nights’ after some shows.

    ‘On a good night we’ll have a bit of cheese and crackers,’ he says. ‘Nothing fancy – we don’t do French cheeses. We’ll do good cheddars or a bit of local cheese from where we are, something very British and preferably northern.’

    The new album is a triumphant, confident return to the iconic Take That sound, complete with blasting anthems such as new single Giants.

    The album’s strength, it turns out, is partly due to Robbie Williams. Despite leaving the band once again three years ago, he was a major part of the album’s progress – albeit in an unconventional manner.

    ‘We speak all the time,’ says Barlow. ‘And when we started working on Wonderland, Robbie was working on his album. We’d meet up every now and again and have a face-off.

    ‘We’d play him a track from our album and he’d play us a track from his, and we’d try to one-up each other. We’re very competitive. He wants to be the best, we want to be the best. But it’s good. It gives you an edge. We have a laugh at the same time but it’s serious. There’s always going to be competition there.’

    As ever, the album has a theme – the journey of life and what you learn along the way. It begs the question, what do they think of the world they are living in today, how do they feel about a post-Brexit generation and Donald Trump?

    From the carpet, Barlow lets out a groan. ‘We’re musicians,’ he says. ‘Nobody cares what we think. The only thing we’ve ever wanted is to entertain you.’ 

    New single ‘Giants’ is out on February 17. The new album ‘Wonderland’ will be out soon

    Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

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