Wednesday, 23 January 2013


I love a good comeback.  As in a person bouncing back from something to the spotlight, not that spirit of the stairs stuff.  I love it when someone is riddled with problems, or becomes a laughing stock, or has a terrible stylist, and you write them off, but then BAM here they are five years later and suddenly they seem really down to earth and appealing.

But my absolute favourite comeback has to be that of Gary Barlow.

There was a documentary about Take That in 2005 called 'Take That: For The Record', which was shown on TV ten years after they broke up.  It seems completely insane to me that in 2005 they'd been apart for a decade.  Barlow was only 34 in 2005?!  But 1995's emergency helplines set up for teenage girls, suicidal over the loss of Mark Owen et al, seem like a hundred years ago.  The documentary is on YouTube in eleven parts.  I strongly recommend all the people of all the world watch it.

It starts off with VH1 style "memories" of "the boys" before they were "famous".  We're obsessed with seeing people before they're famous.  Then it cuts to them high kicking in what appears to be a string vest and stockings in a huge arena.  Mark Owen pushing through a crowd of crazed females, his silky curtains flapping around his face.  Howard, during his eyebrow ring and dreadlocks phase wearing a women's bra, and Howard again.  His talking head sat almost directly in front of a painting of his head.

It continues.  Jason's chiseled jaw discussing the heady days of his close friendship with Lulu and the wanking competitions they had in the tour bus (the band had wanking competitions, he and Lulu probably didn't).  And then there's Gary. Gary's sweet face warbling at a model.  Gary with bleached blonde hair and a torso covered in whipped cream and jelly.  Poor old Gary*.

I didn't like Take That.  They seemed really wet and boring to me.  But a couple of years ago my friend was working with Gary and he started to sound like a pretty brilliant guy.  He was writing his own songs from a young age, touring the working mens clubs when he was 16, partially paid in pork scratchings.  He almost won a 'Pebble Mill' Christmas song competition.

I think 'Pebble Mill' was a TV show, but it sounds like where the rats live in Sylvanian Families. 

When Take That started in 1990, 19 year old Barlow was appointed the lead singer.  He must have been giddy with joy, but instead of being recognised as a strong songwriter, he was called a chubby (he's since described being overweight as "horrible").  Can you imagine his despair?

Look at him in 2005.   Full of despair in his palatial mansion.

But apparently me not liking Take That did little to affect their success.  They were huge.  They were inescapable.  They were so annoying. They were crapping out number one singles and albums steadily during the first half of the 90's.  Despite the fact their stylist clearly wanted to humiliate them.

I actually kind of like the middle look now.

(If you want to read about what it was like for Gary to be famous, I recommend this article).

Girls went absolutely push-the-pram-over nuts for them.

This woman used to point to the TV when they were on and say to her three year old, "That's daddy".

And of course it was always Gary who won the Ivor Novellos.  The BRIT awards.  The GQ awards!  But still.  Respect from the public always seemed out of his grasp.  And, really, what's money and industry recognition if CPI from Shangai still says, "He's nobody!  We are not interested about him".

That's got to hurt.

Look at him here in 2005, feeling hurt as he sings at his grand piano.  His beautiful children cuddling him.

After Take That, Gary carried on writing and recording.  He boarded that lonely ship "solo career" and weathered its ever-changing seas for two albums.  All respect to him, recording vocals on a boat would be really hard.  His first album, 'Open Road' (should have gone with a driving metaphor) did very well, selling 2 million copies worldwide.  Alright Gary!

But his second album?  I can only describe it patronisingly as "not bad".  It trundled its way up the charts, collapsing well outside the top ten, and led to the end of his contract with BMG.  He only sold 5 million records as a solo artist.  How incredibly embarrassing.

Gary tumbled into a disappointing life of writing for little-known Welsh artists like Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church, and high profile charity work.  It was a sad and desperate time, which greatly mirrored the tragic demise of other excellent poets like Wilde and the guy from Babylon Zoo.

However, in 2006, a year after the documentary was broadcast, Take That announced they would be returning to the business as an ensemble.  They released a new album 'Beautiful World' and literally, everyone, like, freaked out.  Gary was thin!  He had stubble!  He let other people sing his songs!  The cover was sepia!  It was an obvious and undeniable hit.  No longer would Gary be at the mercy of songstresses from the Mumbles.  He finally had the recognition he deserved, and I think this was mainly down to his pairing of blue-toned-suits with deep-v-neck-T-shirts.

So the next time you're feeling down about where your life is headed, remember Barlow.  The man who had it all, then sunk to awful chubby lows, then ended up with an OBE and a job on X Factor.

Everything changes.  Including you.

*Some tool called Robbie is also present in the documentary.

DISCLAIMER:  I genuinely love Barlow and think he's incredibly talented.  Feel like I need to make that clear to stop people who did things like this outside Mark Owen's house:

from sending me hate mail.

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