Take That back for good

Take That are back at the top of the charts a decade on from when they split. KEIRON PIM takes a look at how the original British boyband got back together and won a new generation of admirers.

When Take That announced they were splitting up in 1996, telephone helplines were set up to help their legions of distraught fans.

It might not have been much consolation to anyone who was upset at the time if you'd told them that their heroes would be back a decade later as popular as ever - but it would have been true.

The band is at number one both in the singles chart with Patience and the album chart with Beautiful World. It's a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the four-piece, for while Robbie Williams went on to global stardom and became bigger than he ever was as part of Take That, the rest of the band seemed to lose their way.

Gary Barlow was always seen as "the talented one", tipped for a successful career purveying middle of the road ballads - but it never really happened. Jason Orange tried his hand at acting and then went to college to study sociology and psychology. Howard Donald recorded a single that was never released and became a DJ performing here and in Germany. Mark Owen has probably had the most success, releasing three solo albums and winning Celebrity Big Brother in 2002.

And then last November they announced that they would do what their fans always secretly hoped they would - they reformed, in some style. Tickets for a string of stadium concerts during the summer sold out rapidly.

More dates were added and were immediately snapped up. The gigs attracted the fans who had grown up with Take That in the 1990s and a whole new generation too - so it was little surprise when their support pushed the new single and album to the top of the charts.

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As our photograph shows, they have a slightly more rugged look today than they did when they were fresh-faced twentysomethings, but their fans have grown up with them too and still love them.

"I think they have aged as well as any of us over the last 10 years," said Louise Wilson, from Hingham, near Watton, who saw Take That at Earls Court shortly before they split and travelled up to Sheffield this summer to watch them again.

"There was a slight cringe-factor seeing all these middle-aged women screaming at them, but they would have been the same people who used to scream at them, only 10 years older.

"But they really do put on a good show - although it was apparent that it was Gary Barlow that does about 90pc of the singing."

When the band formed in Manchester in 1990, they were initially targeted at the gay market, and their early gigs were chiefly at gay clubs. Their first video, for the song Do What U Like, saw them dancing around in skimpy

leather outfits and smearing themselves with jelly.

By the time the earlier of the two photos here was taken, their image had been reworked to pitch the band squarely at teenage girls, as a British answer to American boyband New Kids on the Block, and it was a strategy that paid off spectacularly. Their first big hit was It Only Takes a Minute, which reached number seven, and they followed this up with the Gary Barlow ballad A Million Love Songs and then I Found Heaven. Both reached the top 20.

Their cover of the disco hit Could It Be Magic crept up to number three, giving them their biggest hit to date, and when their first album, Take That and Party, came out in 1992 their place at the forefront of British pop music was secure.

The release the following year of the album Everything Changes just consolidated this, producing four UK number one singles: Pray (their first ever chart-topper), then Relight My Fire, Babe and the title track. The album also brought international success.

Take That maintained their popularity for the next two years but when Robbie Williams left in July 1995 to pursue his solo career the writing was on the wall.

They tried to carry on as a four-piece but no one was surprised when, in February 1996, Gary Barlow announced at a press conference: "Unfortunately the rumours are true, and How Deep Is Your Love is going to be our last single together and the Greatest Hits is going to be the last album."

But he was wrong, as he acknowledged in November last year, when he said: "Thank you very much for giving us the last 10 years off, but unfortunately the rumours are true… Take That are going back on tour."

So it was that the summer saw the original British boyband - perhaps that should be "man-band" nowadays - dusting off their dance moves and rekindling teenage memories for a whole generation.

With their new single and album both sitting at number one - a success Owen compared at the weekend to "winning the Premiership and Champions League in the same year" - their many fans, both old and new, will be hoping they're truly back for good.