Captain Barlow flying solo again ; His first foray as a solo artist fizzled out but Take That star and X Factor judge Gary Barlow is heading out on his own again. He talks to
IT'S ONE of the oldest problems in music - how do you remain creative enough to keep pumping out the hits? Our collective rush to lampoon novelty records, to celebrate one-hit wonders or to keep turning out to see legends like Bruce Springsteen is to ignore the collective in the middle to lower banding.
People who had a talent but couldn't sustain it. It once looked as if even Gary Barlow would be down and out after his first stab at a post-Take That solo career fizzled out at the turn of the century.
But, having taken himself off on song-writing missions to cities like Nashville, resurrecting the band with extrovert Robbie Williams, generally cementing his National Treasure status by supporting events like the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and Children in Need - landing an OBE in the process - and his three-year stint as a judge on The X Factor has reinvented the Barlow wheel.
Even so, he couldn't resist inviting the stillgigging Elton John to join him on his new album, Since I Saw You Last.
The Crocodile Rock star sings vocals on Face To Face and Gary used Twitter to release a picture of himself sitting next to the maestro at the piano.
"I don't know what Elton can learn from me," says Gary. "But I know I can still learn a lot from him."
And will Elton be returning the favour - writing a song for him to sing? "That's a really good idea!" he says. "Elton is my hero - the reason I first sat at a piano.
"I was definitely learning, always, from being with him and owe so much to him.
"He has also been a great friend, in a non-celebrity way, for 20 years.
"Doing the duet with him was one of the best days of my working life.
"We did it in the old fashioned way, in the same room, sharing ideas, and I'm so glad that he's a part of this record."
Gary has fully immersed himself in helping young talent as a judge on The X Factor but announced last month he was leaving the show.
"I always backed The X Factor even when I wasn't on it," he explains.
"It's a great way of labels earning money so that they can put money into new acts which need investment in them.
"That's the business model and The X Factor is important for our industry.
"I understand it as a business as well as a creative world.
"If I can be part of one person's journey to success then it will be worth it for me."
Gary notes how the music industry has dramatically changed since the flamboyant Elton first entered the charts.
"I don't think artists can take risks like they used to," he explains.
"They might have done an album in a different style, more 'left wing'We're hoping record new Take That album the New Year and have it by this time year GARY and then come back. But now that sales are diminishing year after year I don't think people can afford to do that any more.
"Acts have to be on the money now, otherwise people are on to the next one.
"Nobody is replacing our heritage artists.
"There isn't a new Elton John or Paul McCartney and that worries me.
"Elton John's core songbook covers a 12-year period and you wonder where that type of work is going to come from again."
Gary's own journey to fame and fortune began in 1986 when the then 15-year-old entered a Pebble Mill At One Christmas song competition with his own composition, Let's Pray For Christmas.
Reaching the last four encouraged him to perform his own songs on the northern club circuit.
Given that it's the 40th anniversary of the release of Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody and Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday this December, I wonder which is his favourite. And which is, technically speaking, the best of the two classic songs from the heart of the Midlands.
'to a in out next BARLOW Without hesitation, he votes for Slade on both counts (without using as an excuse to plug the fact that, like his own new album, it was a Polydor release).
"Merry Xmas Everybody is a brilliant tune and such a happy song," he enthuses.
In complete contrast then, to the lyrics of his own new single, Let Me Go, which begins: 'A room full of sadness / a broken heart / and only me to blame / for every single part.'.'Gary laughs: "The music to that song is really happy, so I thought I would twist the knife in with the lyrics!
"I often find that opposites attract and I just thought 'I'm not going to write happy lyrics to this song'.
"Sometimes I put happy lyrics with sad music."
Meanwhile, Take That are not finished yet says Gary, who is referred to as The Captain.
"We're hoping to record our new album in the new year and have it out by this time next year," says Gary.
"Whether we are a five or a four depends on whether Rob's (Robbie Williams) with us or not and there might be a tour at Easter (2015)."
Since few artists have managed to produce the volume and quality of work that Gary has for two decades - hence his six Ivor Novello awards for songwriting - where do his own songs come from? After all, his 13 No 1 hits (11 self-written) are more than Slade and Elton John put together.
"For me it's always about having a lot of stuff going on and I really like making a new album as a challenge," he says.
"I can't believe it's been so many years since the last one, so it's a whole new challenge again. To be creative with new projects that make you smile and get you out of bed is always good.
"Inspiration comes from all over to me. "A melody can appear just when I'm driving along. But I also go to different areas.
"I might spend a week in New York, or go to a hotel in Bournemouth and just spend a week looking at the views, not the same old piano.
"That clears your mind." Hmmm. There's a good idea... writing songs in traffic jams.
Why can't he solve a national problem by writing a protest song along the lines of "Nobody working in 15 miles of cones"? Knowing that his London home is a fair way from his Cheshire roots in Frodsham, Gary laughs.
"I'll have to try that one," he says. "The trouble with Birmingham is that you're next to the M6. And that's a car park."
Gary Barlow plays the LG Arena on April 8 19 next year. Visit www.theticketfactory.com or 0844 338 8000. His album is reviewed on page 6.
"We're hoping to record a new Take That album in the New Year and have it out by this time next year GARY BARLOW
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