First things first: I am old enough to have liked Take That the first time round. Not that you would confess to such deeply unfashionable tastes, obviously - admitting to liking Fat Gary's Band during the heady days of 90s Brit Pop was akin to speaking up about a love of stamp-collecting and knee-length socks; a dark, secret love that should never, ever speak its name, particularly when older, cooler girls were around.
Well, what a difference twenty years make. It seems that just about every female in the Manchester area is seeing The That on one of their eight sell-out dates at the City of Manchester Stadium over the next week, and - even more remarkably - are not ashamed to admit it. Take That have grown from a group of frankly quite unattractive purveyors of cheesy pop into a sleek troop of proper, really-quite-buff men; indeed, it is virtually impossible to look upon Gary Barlow these days and not think "well, look at that - whoever would have thought it?"
Still, before I can get on to the actual concert itself, a word about the Manchester weather. We spent much of yesterday sitting in a friend's garden having a barbecue, where it was SO HOT that one by one, we each had to move our chairs into the shade until we were all practically in the hedge. Many of yesterday's concert-goers had apparently spent the day in similar pursuits; there were a number of nasty sunburn cases on view, and the general approach to dressing for the concert seemed to have been to wear as little as physically possible without being arrested. By the time Take That were on, the dark clouds had gathered, the temperature had plummeted, and the rain was falling; indeed, it was so cold and miserable that one of our party (NOT me) was driven by sheer desperation to purloin some (clean) binbags from behind a burger van and artfully fashion them into attractive waterproofs.
However, although it might be a cliche, the rain really didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm. True, the magnificently generous gesture of having 80s pop kings The Pet Shop Boys as support act was rather wasted on some of the younger members of the crowd, who looked on disinterestedly as the old folk merrily sang along. Chris Lowe had his own tent, and was wearing a mirrored hoodie; the backing singers had enormous foam blocks on their heads and knees. Sometimes it's good to be reminded that the splendidly eccentric PSB were doing Lady GaGa long before she was.
And then, the main event. The concert was divided into three sections - Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason doing songs from their first two comeback albums, then a Robbie Williams solo section, then all five of the "boys" together for the remainder. As usual, there is most to say about Robbie Williams, who abseiled down from behind an enormous screen showing pictures of himself (naturally), and then shouted his way through Let Me Entertain You - the best thing I can say is that I went to the toilet during this part of the show and there was no queue. The crowd seemed pretty much equally divided between those who wish to marry Robbie and have his babies, and those who think TT were better off without him; I'm in the latter camp, and can honestly say that his voice isn't what it once was (although luckily his ego seems largely intact.)
There was something even scarier than R. Williams on show, however: Om the giant robot. We had already noticed his even larger golden brother presiding over the stage; Om himself appeared about half-way through, a 60 foot silver fella who moved menacingly towards us (after our jug of Pimm's, no doubt) before realising there were about 20,000 people between him and us and giving up. Om clearly hadn't read quite to the end of the script, and the rousing final version of Never Forget was rendered unintentionally hilarious by the fact that Gary, Jason and Robbie were forced to perform as a threesome whilst Mark and Howard remained trapped on top of a temporarily misfiring robot (to give them credit though, they never stopped singing or dancing, game professionals that they are.) Don't worry; they are both safely down now.
Other novelties included dancing chess pieces, gorgeous ballerinas, giant pink caterpillars and a substantial amount of fire; surprisingly, though, for such an openly manufactured band, none of this distracted from the main point of it all - the singing. Even the dancing is still pretty good for a group of men in their late thirties and early forties, with highlights including an all-action version of Pray and an energetic Relight My Fire, although sadly I was not invited up to sing the Lulu part, despite having rehearsed for it my entire life.
In other words, the whole night was amazing, apart from the Lulu slight. If you're going to any of the dates, you're in for a treat, and it would take a far harder heart than mine not to be moved by the joy that each appears to take in being back together as a successful group. Bravo, TT, although if you're back in another twenty years I really would lay off the break-dancing.
Full set list:
Rule The World
Hold Up A Light
Let Me Entertain You (aka toilet-break time)
Million Love Songs/Babe/Everything Changes/Back For Good (a bit of a tease this one - only Back for Good is sung in full, leaving the complex narrative of Babe cruelly unfinished)
Relight My Fire