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This Life on Tour: On the road with Take That

After selling out venues for more than 30 years, the band's current outing is only enhancing their status. IQ reports

By Gordon Masson on 03 Jul 2024


image © RHM Productions

As one of the biggest boy bands of the 90s, Take That have been selling out venues for more than 30 years, while racking up millions of record sales, numerous awards, and a reputation for putting on spectacular concerts. Current outing, This Life on Tour, is only enhancing the band’s status, while taking the group into new markets internationally. IQ reports.

As one of the UK’s most-loved acts, Take That have sold more than 14m albums in their home nation alone, consistently setting the bar high with live performances that thrill arena and stadium crowds alike. But unlike many of their peers, the trio of Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, and Mark Owen are determined to further build their fanbase, with the current tour taking them to new territories, as well as markets they haven’t visited in decades.

Last year, Take That switched allegiances by entrusting James Wright and Oliver Ward at United Talent Agency to handle their representation globally.

In their native UK, however, the band has a longstanding arrangement with SJM founder Simon Moran, who is often credited with persuading them to end their nine-year hiatus to reform. That decision saw SJM enjoying phenomenal success on The Ultimate Tour in 2006, in addition to the six tours prior to the current outing.

Nonetheless, Moran admits to being once again surprised by the volume of ticket sales. “We never take anything for granted,” Moran tells IQ, in the knowledge that 700,000 ticket sales makes them the biggest-selling UK tour by a UK act this year. “The high level of the tours previously and the production values thus far have delivered tremendous results, but it’s nice to see thew sales come through to this level.”

This Life marks Take That’s 12th tour, but ever ambitious, the band are taking their production to a number of new markets. “We want to go to places they’ve not been to,” says Moran. “We haven’t played in Leeds before, so to sell-out four shows and 40,000 tickets is a great result.”

“We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value”

And the SJM founder observes that the band’s popularity seems to still be expanding. Detailing the demographics of the ticket holders, he comments, “We still see the original fans from the 90s and then there’s a whole new fanbase that came on board with the Beautiful World [2007], Circus [2009], and Progress [2011] tours, but we also see the sons and daughters of the original fans and maybe even of the ones from [the noughties] as well.”

The fact that the tours attract so many young fans also plays a part in ticket prices, according to Moran. “We’re very careful on pricing to [ensure we] have a wide range. There were probably 15-20% of the tickets priced at £60, which is great value. At the other end, we have some VIP tickets, but we want to keep prices affordable for the vast majority of people.”

New relationships
While Moran promotes the UK tour leg – along with DF Concerts in Scotland and fellow Manchester-based operation Kennedy Street Presents – globally, Take That are now represented by UTA’s Ward and Wright who went back to basics for the set-up of This Life on Tour.

“We took the decision, collectively with management, to speak to every promoter in every market, including historical promoters,” says Ward. “Essentially, it was an open door, with us being the new agents, to have fresh conversations with everyone to find the right partners for the band in every territory. The enthusiasm amongst the promoters to bring the band to these markets, where they hadn’t been for ages or [had] never been, was massive.”

Disclosing some of the research undertaken in pulling together their proposal for Take That, Ward explains, “Our IQ Department here at UTA is an amazing resource and using their analysis we could see there were some really prominent markets, at least in terms of digital audience, where the band either had never been or hadn’t been for years. We took that information in good faith to [band manager] Chris Dempsey, and he then took it to the boys to show them there might be some untapped markets that should be considered.”

“The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time”

Wright says, “The boys themselves were very keen on this campaign to do more in these markets and meet these fans for the first time or for the first time in a long time. So it just became a big part of our conversation in the lead up to us working with them.

“We were also able to present an understanding of where fans were looking at things like Take That’s Wikipedia pages, so we really had a deep understanding of exactly where their fanbase was.”

That data has helped Take That plan a routing across 51 cities in 21 countries, as the band plays 79 dates before the end of the year, plus their own bespoke festival in Malta.

Burning ambition
Underlining the scope of the new markets that UTA’s research identified, the tour will see Take That play their first-ever shows in Portugal, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia. Additionally, Ward and Wright have agreed deals that will see the band performing in Asia for the first time since the 90s and their return to Spain after a 17-year absence.

Wright comments, “There’s a fundamental fear when a band or an artist has been going for that length of time, they want to sort of sit back. But Take That’s energy is quite remarkable – it’s very infectious to be around. And it just drives us to step up and deliver for them.”

And flagging up the professionalism of the artists, Ward says, “We’ve got a band who’ve been willing to do the promo and to go to these markets to excite the fanbase. The best example is Australia, where this will be only the band’s second visit since the 90s. Working with the promoter, Gary [Barlow] went to Australia to launch the tour with four days of packed promo. Credit to Gary, that has helped us have the best sales the band have ever seen in Australia.”

“We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generation”

Susan Heymann, chief operating officer at Frontier Touring, which is promoting the band’s six-date tour, is delighted with the band’s return down under. “Gary was adored everywhere he went on his Australian promo trip,” she says. “The band and their team are some of the nicest people we’ve worked with and incredibly hardworking.”

As one of the new promoters on the tour, Heymann tells IQ, “We had a great response to the announcement of their November tour and with the addition of their old friend, Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the bill, announced right around the time when her hit Murder On The Dance Floor had re-entered the global charts, this Take That tour is reaching a broader audience than ever before.”

Back in Europe, Carsten Svoldgaard at CSB Island Entertainment is looking forward to welcoming the band back to Denmark, having hosted their only non-UK date in 2023.

“They played Hindsgavl Castle here last year and sold out 10,000 tickets, so we were very keen to be involved in this year’s tour as well,” says Svoldgaard. “We did not know how popular they would be for the Hindsgavl show because we had not worked with them before and it had been a long time since they had performed in Denmark, but it worked really well.”

Having sold out all 5,500 tickets for the 27 June gig at the Skovdalen amphitheatre in Aalborg, Svoldgaard reports that the fans span the generations. “We have many original fans, but we also have lots of teenagers coming to the show – it’s about a 50/50 split between the generations.”

“That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are”

Further south, Will Anderson at Madrid-based Mercury Wheels is promoting six of Take That’s seven shows in Spain, including dates in Marbella, Seville, Murcia, and Jerez, as well as the capital city. “We have these outdoor concert series in Spain that are quite popular, so they’re sort of a festival vibe, but they’re all outdoor headline shows, essentially,” says Anderson of the gigs.

“Take That haven’t been to Spain for 17 years, so that was part of the conversation when Olly and James at UTA got in touch, as there’s a lot of pent-up demand from Spaniards to see them. But naturally, there will also be a lot of British expats that live here, as well as people flying in for the shows – the audiences should be a real mixture.”

While this will mark the first time that Anderson himself has worked with the band, he is relishing the experience. “Expectations are pretty high,” he tells IQ. “Just speaking with the agents at UTA, you get a sense of the ambition coming from the band themselves. That’s what I find so inspiring – here they are all these years later, still going really strong and still massively ambitious in a way that not all artists are. They could very easily sit on their laurels and not do very much if they wanted to. But they want to get out and see their fans in all parts of the world.”

In terms of ticket sales, Anderson reports, “In Madrid, the show sold out in a day, while Marbella was one of the fastest-selling shows they’ve ever had in the history of the concert series, so they ended up adding a second date. But right across the board, it’s going great guns, so we’re really happy with how it’s coming together.”

The agents are similarly enthused. “Spain’s been a big one,” confirms Wright. “We’re just delighted that having not been there since 2007, we’re now doing seven concerts. The show in Madrid sold out in 24 hours, which was one of the fastest sellouts ever by an international artist at that concert series.”

“The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following”

Also on the tour routing is a 25 October date in the United Arab Emirates where MAC Global previously promoted the band’s 2017 Wonderland Live outing.

“We fully expect people to travel from Dubai and other Emirates in the UAE: we are seeing the ticket-buyers more willing to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi for shows and vice versa,” comments MAC Global co-founder and chief creative officer, Daniel Goldberg. “Take That have a huge global following, and we fully expect to see fans travel from the UK to attend the show and build in a short winter break around it.”

With the band’s agents looking to potentially add dates to the Middle East leg, Goldberg notes, “We’re hoping Take That will do two or three regional plays. We are based in Dubai, but our remit, being part of the Sony Masterworks network, is very much regional routing. Even dating back to 2015, we successfully routed Ed Sheeran to Dubai, Oman, Qatar, and India in one regional run, and we always try and route artists to more than one market here.”

Indeed, he reports that demand for the October show is encouraging. “The sales are tracking very well against our other recent arena shows, and the band have both a strong ex-pat and international following. Robbie Williams recently sold close to 14,000 tickets in Abu Dhabi, so we’re hoping to hit a similar number.

“Their UK sales speak for themselves and there’s a huge amount of excitement for them coming to Abu Dhabi. The band and entire team are a delight to work with, and this will surely be one of the event calendar highlights for the UAE this year.”

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment”

Large-scale production
Having formed in 1990, Take That have worked with many professionals in the industry over the decades, but one member of their team who dates back beyond their first tour is creative director Kim Gavin.

“Weirdly, the band contacted me as soon as they had a hit, back in 1992, so I’ve now been 32 years with them,” Gavin informs IQ.

Recalling his first encounter with the band – which was then a quintet – he explains, “I was working for the BBC, doing the Children’s Royal Variety Show, and the director wanted a pop act at the beginning of the show. We saw four different acts, and when the director asked who out of the four I would put on stage, I said, ‘Without doubt, Take That.’ I remember having to splice in cheers and screams when they entered the stage in the edit, because nobody knew who they were.

“When their third single, It Only Takes a Minute, went to number seven in the charts, they decided they wanted to go on the road, so I did that first tour with them. I choreographed all the songs on the album and staged their tour, and that’s been my position with them right through till this moment.”

Renowned for their state-of-the-art sets, Gavin has been at the forefront of Take That’s spectacular shows since day one but reveals that this tour is putting more emphasis on the repertoire than aesthetics.

“Generally, when it comes to the live show, it’s about communication of what it looks like, what it feels like, and how it works with new gags or new equipment. On this tour, what Take That want to try and get across is more the singing and what the songs are, inherently. So, they’ve stepped back from the spectacular, even though they still do pyro and all sorts of special effects. But it’s the first production since 1995 where they haven’t had dancers, for instance.”

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals”

Gavin says planning for the current production started last autumn. “We’ve gone with a very big stage on this because it’s got these two swivelling staircases, and it needs to be that big in order to do everything we want it to do. But the stairs portray the ups and downs of This Life, so they are integral to the show.”

Providing some insight into the creative process, Gavin says, “Even back in ‘92, Mark [Owen] would be concerned about what they were wearing, and he’d involve himself in the clothes. He still does that now, but now he also likes to be involved in the concept for the tour and what the album evokes. So, in the early stages of planning, Mark and I discuss what we could do, and that evolves until we bring the other two – Gary and Howard – in, when we’ve got something to talk about.”

When it comes to the video elements of Take That’s live performances, Luke Halls Studio has been working on the creative side since the 2007 Beautiful World Tour.

“It’s usually a collaboration between the guys, Kim Gavin, and myself,” says company principal Luke Halls. “Usually, the band will have an idea – Mark being the more visually led member of the band – then I will get a sort of amalgamation of their hopes for the show, which I can respond to with some ideas or concepts, and we take it from there.”

Using animation that can be quickly tweaked during rehearsals, Halls reports that This Life on Tour saw about 15 members of his team working on the video content.

“We make sure that things are fairly elastic, so that we can respond once we get into rehearsals. Thankfully, there’s a level of trust that’s been built over the years, so we’re left very much to generate the visual elements.”

“As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved”

Detailing some of the differences between the indoor and outdoor shows, Halls says, “We have to make sure that those images are bigger and clearer for the outdoor show just so that everyone gets the experience that they’ve paid for.”

He adds, “We call ourselves sculptural film-makers. Everything that we do has a sculptural outworking, so we don’t just generate for rectangular screens: we make sure everything is very bespoke to the stage and the shape and everything that we’re playing with. That’s really our skill.”

Backed for good
With production manager Chris Vaughan pulling the strings, many of the professionals working on This Life on Tour have been involved in Take That’s world for a number of years.

Audio expert Liam Tucker, of Skan PA, has been working in a senior role since 2015, although his relationship with production manager Vaughan dates back further on tours for the likes of A-Ha and Muse, while he also worked in a junior position on Take That’s 2009 Circus tour and 2011’s Progress shows. “I was the extra delay guy when they had extra speakers and things like that,” he recalls.

Highlighting one of the main challenges of outdoor shows in the UK, Tucker comments, “As soon as you go outdoors in the UK, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen – as Middlesbrough proved.”

Recalling the deluge the crew experienced at the city’s Riverside Stadium ahead of the 24 May concert, Tucker says, “Load-in was just rain all day, from every single angle – it was coming in sideways, it was bouncing off the floor. Technology is as rated as it can be, but sometimes it doesn’t like the weather.

“From an audio point of view, the main issue was network, as some of the inclinometers decided they weren’t going to work, while the rain also refracted the lasers, so it was difficult to get a true reading. But those are hurdles rather than problems.”

“Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location”

While the audio team, including engineers, numbered seven on the arena shows, it gained two additional members for the stadium run. “They do the extra hangs, the delay masks, that sort of thing. And when we go into the European leg, we drop down to four audios, including the engineers.”

The difference between the indoor and outdoor shows also entails more equipment, although from an audio point of view, Tucker says, “The stage itself and the inputs stay the same, but outdoors it gets bigger and wider. It’s the way the show is put together that changes. So, rather than having one truck of speakers on arenas, we’re up to two trucks of speakers for stadiums. And when we go into festivals, we have no trucks of speakers because it’s all supplied by the festivals.”

However, it’s the festival run that Tucker is most looking forward to. “Festivals are always good fun because you’re walking into something different in every location – it’s not Groundhog Day. That’s why we get asked to come back. The challenges are what makes your day a bit different.”

Stewart Scott at Phoenix Bussing tells IQ the company had been working with Take That ever since Chris Vaughan became PM. “We supplied seven sleeper buses for the arena and stadium tour: two 14 berths, and five 16 berths, while for the European tour we go down to two buses,” says Scott.

“However, we need some double drivers for the European journeys because there are some long distances involved between some of the dates – in fact I’ll be going out myself to drive the Bologna to Barcelona route, which allows me to see the clients at the same time.”

He adds, “Chris Vaughan is one of our top clients and it’s always good to be involved on one of his projects because they are always superbly organised and run smoothly, with a lot of great people working on them.”

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen”

Having been involved with the band since 2017’s Wonderland Live tour, Belgium-based stage motion specialists WICREATIONS are used to delivering the complex scenic effects that wow audiences.

“Stufish did the set design, and they always come up with some clever things. It’s up to us to make it happen,” says key account manager Koen Peeters. “The main show elements are the two large tracking staircases, which are about 8 meters deep, 4 meters wide, and 3.5 meters high. They track over the stage at stage level, and can spin 360 degrees. But we’re talking about an object that weighs around six tons, each staircase, so we need to use an embedded and integrated tracking system that sits below stage level.”

Despite the complexity of those operations, the WICREATIONS crew numbers just six people on the road, managing and operating all the WIMOTION machinery. “There is a long term history between Chris Vaughan and myself,” says Peeters. “Before we did the Wonderland tour in 2017 with WICREATIONS, I worked at Stageco where I had done many projects with Chris since 2009.”

The performers’ entrance on stage hints at the production’s groundbreaking elements. Appearing from a hidden elevator behind a semi-transparent video screen, Barlow, Donald, and Owen effectively appear to walk out of that screen as the giant staircases slide apart, splitting the video wall in two.

“That performer lift is also used to evacuate the technicians who operate each of the staircases for that opening scene,” states Peeters.

A further telescopic lift is used to bring Take That from stage level to the top level of the staircases, again hidden from the audience. A third elevator is used multiple times during the show to bring different sorts of pianos up and down stage, while other tracking systems are embedded in the stage to track the band’s musicians by around ten meters up and downstage.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business”

Finally, WICREATIONS also supply a six-by- six-meter B-stage, featuring a rotating and elevating circular stage for the artists.

“Every act seems to look for things that have not been done before, and that makes it so interesting and challenging to be in this business,” adds Peeters, noting that those those heavy-duty WICREATIONS motion elements and the complete rolling stage fill ten trucks.

“We had 34 production universal trucks for the arena run and a couple extra for the stadium shows,” says Matt Jackson at Fly By Nite. “This is a pretty unique scenario where the band has gone from arenas straight into stadiums, but the logistics issues are more for the crew than us.

“We’ve mainly been able to operate with single drivers in the UK because we’re getting into each new city in plenty of time. The most complex move was from Dublin into London, where we had to rely on a sympathetic ferry operator who delayed the crossing so that we would make it in time to The O2 Arena. We needed double drivers to facilitate that, but otherwise, Chris Vaughan plans brilliantly well, so it’s been a very smooth project,” adds Jackson.

Another regular supplier is special effects wizards ER Productions, which have been working with Take That since the company’s launch in 2007. “In a nutshell, we’re doing all the water effects, we’ve got a load of flames on the show, confetti, and a lot of pyrotechnics for the outdoor shows,” says ER director Dan Mott, who has been part of the company since it merged with his operation, Pyrojunkies, two years ago.

“We’ve fabricated some of the equipment specifically for the tour, such as a snowstorm, where we’ve created a custom dolly that mulches 60 kilos of confetti with high-powered fans and CO2 blowers that carry a whirlwind of confetti through the guys standing on stage straight into the audience as the show opens.”

“It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually”

ER also supplied eight low-smoke machines for use during ballads, while the band are also the first beneficiaries of the company’s bespoke Flamber equipment used during Relight My Fire. “It allows us to set fire to the two automated staircases,” says Mott. “It involves 72 custom flame units, allowing us to chase flames and pulse the flames to the beat of the music.”

Elsewhere, ER has brought in multiple flame blazers, while a water feature activated for the song Back For Good that makes it rain onstage indoors, is replaced outdoors by over a ton of pyro.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff, but there’s a lot from every department,” observes Mott. “I think the crew is 150 people, who from the minute they wake up are busy. Everyone’s putting so much equipment in on the show, so we’ve all got to interact and work closely with each other, but Chris Vaughan runs a tight ship, and everyone’s really nice to work with.”

Indeed, Mott tips his hat to Vaughan’s approach to the tour, which engaged suppliers from the planning stages. “Myself and Marc Webber from ER went down to Chris’s house back in December, to sit down with Stufish and all the other departments to talk through the show from start to the finish. It was really refreshing to be involved in that early design stage and have input, to be honest, because we work in a last-minute industry, usually.”

But the results speak for themselves. “Ultimately, it’s a really good show; the whole concept is fantastic, and everybody puts the effort in, so we’re really proud to be working on it,” says Mott.

The greatest weekend
With a reputation as one of the hardest-working bands on the circuit, it comes as no surprise that Take That are once again setting new records as part of the current tour – including an astonishing 50th hometown show in Manchester’s AO Arena.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover”

“We’re delighted that we’ve been able to celebrate Take That’s 50th show at the AO Arena, right here in the heart of the action,” states venue general manager, Jen Mitchell. “Not only do we enjoy having the band here, we love hosting their fans and making every moment memorable.”

Always looking forward, the band’s tour itinerary also includes their first-ever curated festival – The Greatest Weekend – which will see the trio visiting Malta for the first time, where Festival Republic is organising the event.

“Amidst all their ambition to go to all these other countries, there was also an idea early on of the band having essentially their own festival takeover, which is what the Malta event is,” notes UTA’s Olly Ward. “It’s exciting. Four days in Malta with two Take That sets, one a never-before-seen front-to-back of the album, Everything Changes, and the other a greatest hits set.”

The event’s undercard of talent will include Sugababes, Ella Henderson, Daniel Bedingfield, Heather Small, and Sam Ryder, amongst others, while Howard Donald will host a DJ takeover at Café Del Mar, among a host of other bespoke experiences.

“For fans used to seeing the band in stadiums or arenas around the world, this is a chance to have a four-day Take That extravaganza in a much more intimate environment,” says Ward. “And it’s again credit to the band’s ambition that they wanted to do it this year, when they’re doing so much already.”

Delighted by their first experience of working with Take That, Wright concludes, “This is a band that had a huge amount of success pre-social media, meaning that not all the fans will be connected to the band via social media. Sean Hill who is head of music marketing at UTA, here, and Emily Rhodes from his team where a huge part of looking into this for us.

Consequently, there was a need to reverse engineer this a little bit with promoters to make sure they understood the value of traditional media and marketing alongside digital marketing, but that worked and that’s why these shows – and this tour – are a success.”

 


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