We’re making progress

(left to right) Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow of Take That on stage during the 2011 National Movie Awards at Wembley Arena, London
(left to right) Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow of Take That on stage during the 2011 National Movie Awards at Wembley Arena, London
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Take That are about to play to almost 1.5million people, and that’s in the UK alone. On the eve of their demanding new tour, The Guide finds out how the group are planning to give their fans a night to remember.

TAKE That’s forthcoming tour is something of a big deal. Actually, that doesn’t quite do justice to Progress Live.

The quintet’s 27-show trip around the UK is a phenomenally-enormous deal.

Their schedule includes eight nights at the City Of Manchester Stadium, and there is no other band in the country, if not the world, that could fill a 60,000-capacity venue for more than a week as part of a tour.

Then take into account that all 1.34 million tickets for the tour sold out within a day – the boys had to add 11 shows as soon as phone lines opened to keep up with demand – and the achievement seems even more impressive.

Gary, Mark, Howard, Jason and Robbie could probably have added 11 more nights and still not satisfied all the people who want to see them perform this summer.

The sheer scale of what’s ahead of the Fab Five in the next few weeks isn’t lost on the band.

Today, they’re taking a break from rehearsals and tour preparations for a few interviews, but even between their appointments there are items to approve, posters to sign and other assorted tour-related duties to carry out.

Gary Barlow and Mark Owen have been nominated as the main talkers, with Howard, Jason and Robbie busying themselves with other tasks in the background.

“It’s all coming together now,” says Owen, looking very much like a man who’s glad to be grabbing a quick cup of tea and a sit down.

“If you’d have asked three weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been so sure, but it’s really coming together now. I feel like we’re in a really good place.”

Barlow adds: “The idea of actually going on tour is really exciting. But there’s always so much to do, so there is a worry. I’m not really excited until we’re done and ready. I might not get that feeling until the first or second night, as late as that.”

One of the reasons for their slight apprehension stems from the success of their last tour, not to mention its unprecedented scale.

The concerts accompanying Circus saw the band, then a four-piece, of course, performing with scores of dancers and acrobats, as well as engaging in the carnival atmosphere themselves by putting on clown make-up and riding unicycles, all while singing some of the best-known songs of the past 20 years.

“That’s just it,” says Owen. “How are we going to top the last one? That was the first question we had to ask when planning the Progress tour.

“The first and most important thing we did was to get the songs sorted and build the show around that. When you look at the songs we’re going to play, even if we go up there and do nothing but stand and sing, there are some great songs.

“We have a lot of confidence in the set list we’ve built over 20 years. But us being us, we can’t just go up and do that, we have to think, ‘We could sing the song, but we could also do it while flying out of a plane. Come on!’

“There are certain members of the band who push the theatrics a little more than others,” he continues, a mischievous expression suggesting he’s one of those keen to make things as spectacular as possible.

“After we’ve decided on a set list, we have to find a happy medium with the production side so everyone is comfortable, and then, once we’ve run through it a few times, we can have fun with it.”

As we all know, Robbie Williams rejoined the band ahead of writing and recording Progress, which has now sold more than two million copies in the UK since its release last November.

The Take That of 2011 is a very different band to the one he left in 1995, and his absence from their 2005 reunion and subsequent two albums, Beautiful World and Circus, was almost as big a story as the reunion itself.

Now he’s back in the band, how did he feel about what they’d become, and what the tour – details of which both Barlow and Owen are tight-lipped about for fear of ruining fans’ surprise – would entail?

“Rob’s had to come in and do things he hasn’t done for 10 years or so, and be part of a group,” says Owen. “It’s a whole new thing for him, but seeing how well he’s adjusted to it is great.

“There was a feeling like, ‘What if he doesn’t want to put clown make-up on while he’s singing’ or ‘How’s it going to work with all of us?’ but he’s definitely part of the band in the truest sense.

“In fact, we have to hold him back now – he wants to put make-up on during every song!”

If you watched fly-on-the-wall documentary Look Back Don’t Stare last year, you’ll have seen how the reunion came about and recording sessions for Progress took shape.

What you won’t have seen, however, is a band rehearsing their classics of the Nineties.

Again, the duo aren’t giving much away today, but Owen will admit to a lot of reminiscing.

“Now and again I’d catch myself looking over my shoulder thinking, ‘Oh, we’re back, all of us’ and I’d laugh inside. I can’t believe it. I keep getting this warm feeling.”

Indeed, the mood at Take That HQ is positive and upbeat. Everyone looks gym-toned, primed and ready.

Both Owen and Barlow talk about how happy they are that Williams has returned to the fold, saying it was the intention all along.

“Rob’s return has been so well accepted by the fans,” says Barlow. “Even when we came back in 2005, the goal was to get us all back together eventually, but the fact that’s actually worked out that way is incredible.

“I think it’s lovely because it gives everyone a platform now to do whatever they want. I think for us, as well, it’s about getting people used to the fact that this band will always change. The band might be one of those things we can all do and toy with and come back to whenever we want. We want to keep things interesting. Too many bands go stale and people leave because of that.

“I want to make sure this is an environment where people can come and go as they want. When anyone feels like they want to create something good, we can all get in a room and do it.”