Ahead of his Dubai gig, British singer Gary Barlow talks Take That and touring solo. Interview by Chanelle Tourish.
Gary Barlow needs little introduction. As the frontman of British pop group Take That, former X Factor UK head judge, Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and award-winning singer-songwriter, he’s a man of many talents. He’s even had a go at acting, appearing in British period drama Heartbeat in 2000.
From the outset, the Cheshire native seems to have it all – a successful career, a loving family, handsome good looks and a string of celebrity pals including Sir Elton John. Rewind ten years and Gary Barlow was a man scorned – after achieving worldwide success with Take That from 1989 to 1996, the band broke up when fellow member Robbie Williams decided to pursue a solo career.
Hot on his heels, Barlow released his debut solo album Open Road, which went straight to number one in the UK in 1997. Spurred on by his success, Barlow went on to release his second album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, in 1999. But the fame and public support wasn’t to last. Ex-bandmate Robbie Williams was on top and dominating the charts, while Barlow was dropped from his record label, BMG. He would soon become the butt of the media’s jokes (often fuelled by Williams) and subjected to years of cruel jibes at the hands of the press and Williams’ fans.
Stepping out of the limelight, Barlow put on weight so that he would become unrecognisable and avoided public outings.
But the six-time Ivor Novello Award winner was about to get his second chance at fame when Take That reformed in 2006.
‘It was a very odd time because the four of us (Mark, Howard and Jason) had been out of the limelight for about seven years. We had our lives turned upside down, from becoming famous all over the world, to then having four years of a very strange solo career, where it was happening one minute and the next it wasn’t.
‘So when the band reunited, we were trying to catch up with wheels that were turning quickly. I don’t think any of us were really prepared for it. It was a really strange time, but of course a gorgeous time. We came back together after all those years, realising that people wanted it and that there was an appetite for it. We had this amazing sort of wave of public support to get us back on the stage,’ Barlow recalls.
The next few years saw Take That go from strength to strength, topping the charts across Europe with hits such as ‘Patience’, ‘Rule the World’ and ‘Greatest Day’.
‘The first time we went back on stage in 2007 will always be in my memory because it was such a beautiful moment. We were getting a second chance in our career and we couldn’t believe it was happening.
I think when we all first stood on that stage in Newcastle, it was just the most unbelievable feeling. To be part of something so successful once is a great thing, but for it to all happen again we just felt like the luckiest people in the world.’
The band have released three albums since they reunited, with Robbie Williams re-joining the mix in 2010 for the group’s sixth studio album, Progress. Following on from the success of touring with Take That, the 43-year-old > decided to go solo for the second time in fourteen years and released his latest album, Since I Saw You Last, in November 2013.
‘When things like that happen [getting dropped by his music label in 2000] it stays with you for a long time. But once the album started to come together, I got to this place where I didn’t really care about what people thought. I just thought this is the right music for me and I’m going to put it out there and if people like it or not, it doesn’t really matter because it’s true to me and where I’ve been the last few years,’ Barlow explains.
The album debuted at number two on the UK Charts and went platinum less than a month after its release. The singer’s second single from the album, ‘Face to Face’, features Sir Elton John, a long-time friend of Barlow’s.
‘Elton was the real reason I first sat on a piano stool at nine years old. His music was all round our house when I was growing up. When I sit and write songs now, I know I have been so influenced by his music. So when I eventually got the chance to sit at a piano with him, it was just like a lifetime of waiting for it to happen really. It’s funny as well, because I’ve known him for about 20 years but we’ve just never found the opportunity to sing a 50/50 duet.’
With an OBE to his name for his services to music and charity, as well as 13 number one singles and twenty three top ten hits, Barlow laughs when he admits the crowning glory of awards has to be gaining the prestigious Gold Badge for outstanding achievements from UK kids’ TV show Blue Peter.
‘I must say, we have done well in our career with awards – we’ve won quite a lot, but a Blue Peter badge, that’s it really, isn’t it?
When you saw people winning those badges, it was like, unbelievable, so to be the holder of one is brilliant,’ he adds.
Among his many tours and albums, the singer has always found the time to dedicate himself to various charities and fundraisers.
‘It’s very easy for me to say, “Hey, next week, I’ll come and play at the end of your dinner” and all of a sudden they get another thousand pounds for a table. I think that when you are in a position where you can make money for charity, then you should do,’ he enthuses.
After three seasons as head judge on the UK’s X Factor, is Barlow peeved that Simon Cowell blamed him for poor ratings?
‘It will be completely daft this year, you watch [laughs]. It’s good to have Simon back, he’s the boss and he is the reason the show is on there,’ Barlow says. The acts sign to him at the end of it, and I was happy to fill in but it’s great to see him back on TV.’
With the recent announcement of Jason Orange’s departure from Take That, Barlow admits that it will be a great loss for the group professionally and personally. However, the band’s new album is still set for release for November 2014.
‘It’s something we’ve been working on for a year. It’s been four years since the last Take That album, so we feel like it’s time. I feel like our audience is ready for a record right now.
I imagine we’ll be touring next year with the new album and I’m lucky enough to have a musical opening up on March in Broadway.
So I think it’s going to be a pretty active year.
‘I’m lucky to be in this place and this job I’ve got. Year on year, things just get better and better, but my biggest plan next year is to bring Take That back to Dubai, so look out,’ Barlow reveals.
Taking to the stage at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, on Friday October 17, the talented singer will perform a range of his hits, from Take That tunes to his solo material.
‘I do miss the support of being on stage with other people when I tour solo. There’s a strength when you go on stage with your friends. We [Take That] have this sort of invisible piece of wire that sort of glues us all together. So when we step in front of an audience, it’s a fairly strong look and a strong feeling.
‘When you are out there as a solo artist, it’s kind of like going back to when I was 17 and I was playing at clubs by myself. But with it comes a huge amount of freedom, really – you are the one telling the story. It’s harder work for sure, but it’s really rewarding and I get a chance to play 23 years of music that I’ve made and I think it touches everyone at some point in the evening,’ Barlow explains.
Having holidayed in Dubai before, he admits he usually spends his days at Wild Wadi Waterpark with his wife and kids and is looking forward to celebrating the last night of his tour in the emirate.
‘At this point in my life, doing things for the first time is a real treat. So when someone asks me to play Dubai, I didn’t even have to think about it, it was a definite yes. I think we’re all sad that it is the end of the tour after two years but it’s going to be a chance for us to have a drink and a celebration afterwards,’ he adds.
So after 23 years in the business, does he ever get tired of life in the spotlight?
‘We’ve had fans do everything over the years. It was definitely crazier in the ’90s because they were younger then,’ he laughs. They didn’t care about breaking the law – we used to get them dressing up in maids’ uniforms bringing room service to our rooms. You’d find them climbing across balconies, 20 floors up in our hotel. But we loved every minute of it – it was pandemonium and chaos and it was great fun.’
With a legion of loyal fans both young and old, and a sell-out tour behind him, being Gary Barlow seems pretty brilliant right now.
Gary Barlow Live. From Dhs295 to Dhs1,000. Friday October 17, 6pm-midnight. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai Media City.