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How Take That's Gary Barlow dominated the music industry

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Never forget where you’ve come here from! Gary Barlow certainly hasn’t, as he recounts his extraordinary life and career in his one-man show A Different Stage.

From humble origins to global success with boyband Take That, through to his solo career, judging on The X Factor, and musical theatre hits with shows like Finding Neverland, The Girls and The Band, Barlow has had an incredible run in the industry – although, as he shares in this intimate production, there were plenty of roadblocks along the way.

After premiering at The Brindley in Runcorn, Cheshire, near Barlow’s hometown Frodsham, in February 2022, A Different Stage has been touring the UK. This autumn, it comes to the Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s West End, where Barlow will share his story and treat audiences to a few tunes. So, get ready for a million love songs, the flood of memories and have a little patience until Barlow is back for good!

To get you in the mood for A Different Stage, here’s our shining guide to Gary Barlow and Take That.

Gary Barlow’s beginnings

Barlow was born in Frodsham in 1971, and showed musical promise from an early age. He got his first keyboard aged 10, emulating his heroes like Depeche Mode and Elton John. When he was 15, he entered a BBC Christmas song competition and reached the semi-finals, which spurred him on to perform both covers and his own work on the northern club circuit.

Gary Barlow Take That - 750 - LT

Gary Barlow and Take That

But it was with a band, rather than solo, that Barlow became a household name. Manchester-based Nigel Martin-Smith wanted to put together a British version of New Kids on the Block and was impressed by Barlow’s songwriting. In 1989 he teamed Barlow up with Mark Owen, Robbie Williams, Howard Donald and Jason Orange, originally calling the group Kick It.

Take That weren’t immediately successful, but had a breakthrough with their cover of “It Only Takes a Minute” in 1992, peaking at number seven on the UK Singles Chart. Barlow’s ballad “A Million Love Songs” also hit number seven, and a cover of Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic” did even better, reaching number three.

Their 1993 album Everything Changes cemented Take That’s success. Six singles off the album became hits, including their first number “Pray,” as well as “Relight My Fire,” “Babe,” “Why Can’t I Wake Up with You,” “Love Ain’t Here Anymore,” and the title track. The band developed a keen fanbase in the UK, Europe and Asia, regularly performing on shows like the BRIT Awards and Top of the Pops, known for their energetic breakdance moves as well as their singing. Those were all showcased in their spectacular 1995 world tour.

Take That’s third album, Nobody Else, reached number one in 1995, and Barlow’s ballads became megahits – particularly “Back for Good,” which charted at number one in numerous countries. However at the peak of their fame, the group ruptured: Robbie Williams decided to leave. Barlow and the remaining three members initially continued without him, scoring another big hit with “Never Forget,” but disbanded in 1996.

Happily for Take That fans, the foursome reunited in 2005 and began a new era, with tours and the album Beautiful World – which spawned hits like “Patience,” “Shine,” and “Rule the World”. Follow-up album The Circus was also a massive hit.

Then came the jaw-dropping return of Robbie Williams. In 2010, he collaborated with Barlow on the single “Shame” and then formally returned to Take That for album number one album Progress. Lead single “The Flood” was another chart success, and the Progress tour broke records when it sold more than 1.1 million tickets in a single day.

The band’s line-up subsequently fluctuated again, becoming a three-piece – Barlow, Donald and Owen – in 2014. Further albums and tours followed, plus ITV special An Evening with Take That. A 2019 tour celebrated the band’s 30th anniversary. At time of writing, Take That are still very much a force in the music industry, and Barlow has confirmed that they are working on a new album.

Gary Barlow’s solo career

Barlow always had ambitions as a solo artist too. In 1996 he released his first two solo singles from his album Open Road, “Forever Love” and “Love Won’t Wait”. Both reached number one, as did the album. He struggled with his second album, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, but returned in style to duet with ABBA’s Agnetha Faltskog on her 2013 album A.

Barlow then took on the daunting task of writing a single for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, collaborating with none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Sing” subsequently became one of the highest-selling singles of 2012, and was triumphantly performed at the Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace. Barlow then embarked on the first of several incredibly successful solo tours and albums, most recently a Christmas album in 2021.

Gary Barlow on The X Factor

In 2011, Gary Barlow was announced as a judge on talent show The X Factor as a replacement for the departing Simon Cowell. He joined Louis Walsh, Tulisa and Kelly Rowland on the panel. In his first stint, Barlow mentored the “Boys” category and helped Marcus Collins reach the final, where he finished as runner-up.

Barlow returned for a second season in 2012, when Nicole Scherzinger succeeded Rowland on the panel. This time Barlow handled the “Over 28s” category. Four of his acts reached the finals, and Christopher Maloney lasted all the way to the grand final. In 2013, Barlow was back for a third year, when Sharon Osbourne stepped in for Tulisa. Barlow looked after the “Groups” category, and Rough Copy made it to the semi-final.

The Band - 750 - LT

Gary Barlow and musical theatre

Barlow’s first foray into musical theatre was the Peter Pan musical Finding Neverland – based on the 2004 film starring Johnny Depp as JM Barrie. Barlow wrote the songs with Eliot Kennedy, and James Graham was brought in to supply a new book.

That version of the show opened at the American Repertory Theater in 2014, directed by Diane Paulus and starring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Michelle Kelly. Matthew Morrison then succeeded Jordan and Kelsey Grammer joined the company for the 2015 Broadway production. The musical toured the US in 2015, and a UK transfer has long been rumoured. Read a Finding Neverland review on New York Theatre Guide.

Next, Barlow collaborated with his hometown friend Tim Firth on a musical named The Girls – later changed to Calendar Girls. Based on the real-life story of intrepid WI members who took their kit off for a charity calendar, immortalised in the 2003 film, the musical premiered at the Grand Theatre in Leeds in 2015. Read a Calendar Girls review on London Theatre.

Take That also inspired the 2017 jukebox musical The Band, about a group of women who were all huge fans of Take That as teenagers and who reunite 25 years later to make their dream of seeing them perform come true. The Band premiered at Manchester Opera House and went on to tour, before hitting the West End in 2018, where it ran at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Read a The Band review on London Theatre.

Gary Barlow and A Different Stage

Expect all of that and more from Barlow’s one-man show A Different Stage, which recaps his eventful professional life and digs into his personal life too – including tragedies like the terrible loss of his daughter Poppy.

Plus Barlow takes to the piano to perform some of those incredible hits, and also the songs that most inspired him as an artist. It’s a revealing account from one of the greatest ever British songwriters, who went on to rule the world without ever losing his endearing humility and down-to-earth humour. Pray – or plan – for your trip now!

Photo credit: Gary Barlow (Top Photo by Tomo Brejc, second photo courtesy of vagueonthehow on Flickr, The Band photo courtesy of production)

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