This is a career magazine, not an entertainment blog, but there is a specific career-related reason I’m writing a theatre review today, and a little bit of context won’t hurt. A couple of years ago, I told you What running after Take That taught me about job search, but I had neglected to report another side of the story, which is the moment when following Take That – or any other band or rock star – becomes a full-time job.
I’ve always been a groupie at heart, ready to do anything and everything to meet and possibly interview the celebrities I love. In the late 90s – my early teens – in Rome, I shared a huge love for Take That with a schoolfriend called Valentina S., but we were massively frustrated by the state of things, in particular the state of English.
I remember I was in Year 6, aged 11, when I submitted the lyrics of Babe to my then English teacher. I was trying to translate the song from English into Italian, but was stuck at Babe, where have you been? We had only studied the past tense so far and I’d never met this form of present perfect tense before, but I wanted to translate the lyrics anyway. The teacher stared at the CD cover with empty eyes for a while, just before handing the CD back to me and telling me that this “stuff” was not included in our course syllabus. When I think about that, when I think that we were being assigned (poor) grades in English by an incompetent idiot who couldn’t bloody understand where have you been, this still pisses me off hugely.
There was no Internet and especially no Google Translator at the time, and Valentina S. and I had to wait for our teen magazines to hopefully come up with translated lyrics. But still, we knew every single Take That song by heart, and believe me man, you really need to be insane to learn by heart stuff you don’t have a clue about. But music is a kind of a universal language, and the total inadequacy of our state school system didn’t prevent us to follow and love Take That.
As they released the videoclip of Never Forget in 1995 that shows all sorts of insane things Italian girls did for the band at the time, we heard the guys confirming that we were the craziest and loveliest fans out there together with Japanese girls. I have no idea about the Japanese, but if I stop and think about what all of us have done for Take That, I tell myself that this must be true.
Valentina S. spent dozens of hours queuing at the phone just to try and speak with Gary Barlow at an Italian radio show for maybe 20 seconds; she and I sent out a million love letters to Mark Owen to his old home in Lake District as the address was hacked; Caterina, another Take That enthusiast I recently met, threw a bag full of gifts and chocolate right at Mark from outside a gate in Milan, back in 2015 – just days after having thrown her bra on him during a live show (this girl is fantastic at throwing items). There are no rules, no personal space, no good manners, there isn’t anything that could stop an hysterical Italian fan in love with a boy band.
Not even the police.
(They actually pretend they’re stopping you but in they let you do what you’re doing in the end as they know their daughters behave the same way).
When following a boyband becomes a sort of full-time job for you but you’re not getting paid any money for it, the thing is, this is an amazing didactic activity for your upbringing. When you are ready to face security and gorillas just to throw a teddy bear at your personal Gary Barlow, it means you are prepared to take risks to achieve whatever you want in life, and that you will pursue your dreams – including your dream job – like no others.
Everything I’ve written above, I thought it was just my perception of the whole boyband thing, until, last week, I attended The Band at the New Wimbledon Theatre in London. This musical is written by award-winning writer Tim Firth produced by the current Take That trio plus Robbie Williams, David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, and features the music of Take That and a brilliant cast.
The show tells the story of a group of women who were best friends as teenagers, in 1992. They all were all big fan of an unnamed “band”, but then, as they grow up, they lost contact. Twenty-five years, aged 40-and-something, they all reunite to fulfill their dream of seeing their heroes perform; meanwhile, Take That’s songs had become the soundtrack of their lives.
The Band stars the winners of BBC’s Let it Shine Five to Five, a group of incredibly talented singers and performers made up of AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg (who is currently injuried and is being replaced by Harry Fabulous Brown), Sario Solomon and Yazdan Qafouri.
Brilliant actresses Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna star as the four “grown-up girls” and make you feel in a sort of greatest Northern English version of Sex and the City, with music replacing sex and Manchester replacing New York. As the women reunite to follow the band once again, their husbands, children and friends make fun of them, tell them to grow up and so on.
You know what, in addition to the great music – for God’s sake, do these boys sound just like Take That – The Band really “gets” the point of girls like us, like me, like Valentina, like Caterina and like the millions that went crazy for a boyband at least once in life.
By telling a story like that in a nationwide touring musical like this, you touch the heart of people, you make them realise they can still have a burning passion for something, at any age. Liking something is not like loving something. We may have liked a lot of different singers and bands in life, but those that remain with you, those that remain in you, are very few. The ones that become the soundtrack of your life are very, very few, but real artists are timeless. You can listen to The Beatles, Queen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2, Rem and David Bowie forever, but they’ll never “expire”.
Music gives back a lot to us, and I think The Band is here to make people realise how much excitement and energy we’ve all still got, and that going mad for a passion is not something young and naïve. On the contrary, this is a natural part of the people that excel at what they do because they truly love something.
“What would you do for love?” – should become a compulsory question at any job interview in my opninon, because true, strong passions can tell you much more about someone than mere hobbies.
When you find sounds and vibes – or a book, or a movie or a piece of art – that talks directly to your heart, you should really keep this as an invaluable gift, because it is a gift, because someone you never met has made such a difference in your whole life: they gave you something precious, and you must use it for whatever it is important to you, being it your career, family, friends, or just to love yourself a bit more.
If you know what I’m talking about, go and watch this brilliant musical.
And we can rule the world.