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Gary Barlow: My solo material is a hobby – Take That is my job

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

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Watching Gary Barlow on X Factor, mentoring and dishing out advice to young hopefuls, it's hard to remember a time when he wasn't at the top of his game.

But as recently as 2005, the year the documentary Take That: For The Record aired, prompting the group's reunion almost a decade after they'd split, he was a faded force.

It seems ludicrous now, but when he, Howard Donald, Jason Orange and Mark Owen announced they were getting back together, there were sneers all round. The idea that the foursome could pick up where they left off, without Robbie Williams, who'd left the group prematurely to become one of the country's biggest-selling solo artists, seemed impossible.

One listen to Patience, their 2006 comeback single, and the sneers stopped.

But why the initial doubt? Songs Barlow had penned, after all, had been among the biggest hits of the Nineties, breaking chart records left, right and centre.

His solo efforts during the group's break, though, hadn't been so successful...

His debut Open Road capitalised on his reputation as the "real talent" in Take That, selling almost three million copies and spawning two No 1 singles. But with his follow-up, Twelve Months, Eleven Days, things spectacularly ground to a halt. It peaked at No 35 and fell out of the Top 100 a week later.

"I was in a rotten place back then," Barlow says now. "It was written by committee, that album, with [producer] Clive Davis in the US telling me who I should be and who I should work with, then the UK label telling me something different over here, and there's actually very little of me on there. I promised myself this time around that I wasn't going to listen to anyone else, or be swayed," he adds. "The first time the label heard the [new] album was when I'd finished it."

The new album is Since I Saw You Last, his first as a solo artist in 14 years. The title track, he says, is one of the most literal things he's ever written, summing up exactly where he, Williams, Orange, Howard and Owen were, all that time ago.

"It's about where we are today, too," he continues. "It's a celebration, saying that even though all that stuff happened, it led us back here, to this great place we're at now."

There's a duet too, with his old pal Elton John.

"I'm in contact with him a lot, we've known each other about 20 years," he says, in a way that hints he still can't believe he's friends with his idol.

They see each other about four times a year, and most of their communication involves exchanging music recommendations, but when Barlow had a song he thought they could sing together and sent it over, within ten minutes he'd had an answer.

"He was on the phone, said it was a smash and wanted to record it as soon as possible," says Barlow. "Three weeks later, we were in the studio playing the piano part together, recording the vocals in the same room. It's an old-fashioned duet in that sense, two people in the room together, and it was brilliant.

"He's my idol, Elton, he's the reason I sat at the piano in the first place, so to be in a studio with him as an equal is incredible."

So what's different now, compared to 14 years ago? Barlow puts it down to self-confidence and being happy.

He doesn't believe he's become a better songwriter since then and still, despite the 50 million sales, has sleepless nights worrying he'll never write another good track.

"I'm so lucky to find these melodies," he says. "I never feel like I was put on this earth to write songs. Never. I just work hard, but I always get this feeling that I've lost the ability and the luck has run out."

Acceptance seems to have played a part in Barlow's renaissance, too – he admitted in his autobiography, Gary Barlow: My Take, that he once saw the other members of Take That as his backing act, but now realises that he wouldn't be where he is without them, and cherishes it.

"I took Take That for granted, we all did, and now it's come back to us, we realise how precious it is," he says. "I include Rob in that, it's his band too. The band is for us all to take care of for the next 20 years, or whatever. We can leave it and do other things and come back to it, but it's my number one priority.

"I see the solo album as a lovely little hobby for a year, but the main job is always going to be Take That."

The group is set to reconvene in January to start work on their seventh album. Right now, it's unknown whether Robbie Williams will take part, although the invitation is there.

Gary Barlow is touring as a solo artist next year, playing Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on April 9

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