For most of us, Gary Barlow has been a household name for as long as we can remember. Known to millions as a member of pop game-changers Take That, a solo artist in his own right and a judge on X-Factor, the Mancunian has been a hugely influential part of British entertainment for over three decades. Now, under the title “A Different Stage”, these very sold-out shows gave Gary an opportunity to visit some of the UK’s more intimate theatres and, in the company of just a few hundred lucky fans each night, tell his life story.
Not content to take the easy option, this show sees Gary taking fans back to where it all started right through to how he became one of the biggest names in modern British pop music. What a journey it has been as well. Looking back at his early years, his first loves and discovering Top Of The Pops, it’s obvious to see how family life has kept him grounded throughout. Hearing how he started out in his bedroom with a cassette recorder and a Yamaha organ, it’s hard to picture the humble beginnings of the pop superstar slogging away in empty working men’s clubs but it’s the chapter of his story which ends with him meeting four other wannabee pop stars and, well, the rest is history really.
The next part of the story, and a major chapter in 90s British pop music, played out in front of millions of fans as five unknown lads from Manchester and Stoke went from performing their first gig at an empty club in Huddersfield and being the first band to tour the UK playing school assemblies to touring the world. Despite the sell-out tours and hit albums, Gary recalls how the bubble burst and the Take That dream ended leading the Mancunian into one of the darker times in his life and a battle with bulimia.
Recalling his disastrous attempt to crack America as a solo artist coupled with the meteoric rise of his former bandmate Robbie Williams, Barlow soon withdrew from public life entirely. Thankfully, years later a chance phone call and a Take That Documentary brought the remaining four members back together in a London pub and the pop icons returned.
A story of as many ups as it has downs, it’s very easy for fans to forget the normal life away from the glitz and glamour associated with artists like Barlow. “A Different Stage” sees Barlow take fans into that side of his life recalling not only the happy times but also darker times such as the heartbreaking loss of both his father then his daughter Poppy. Throughout though, it is all delivered with a twist of Barlow’s own humour as he reveals how his father was buried along with his Take That AAA pass.
Of course, the two hours couldn’t have passed without a musical treat or two from Barlow to accompany the story and he didn’t let these hardcore fans down. Taking to a piano to perform some of his biggest hits along with some of the songs that shaped his formative years, the end of the night saw the crowd on their feet as Barlow signed off with arguably one of the biggest songs in British pop music.
Now, many artists who take their life story out on tour simply spend two hours recalling stories to a host and the audience but “A Different Stage” was more than that. This one-man show played out like a dramatised theatre show, taking you on a wonderful emotional rollercoaster journey through the life of a British entertainment icon. Wonderfully narrated by Barlow, whether you are a hardcore fan or, in his words, a reluctant attendee, “A Different Stage” is a story that won’t disappoint you.
Gary Barlow 2022 UK tour dates:
Tuesday 15 March – Saturday 19 March – Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool
Tuesday 22 March – Sunday 27 March – Lyceum, Edinburgh
Limited tickets can be found here
Review by Graham Finney