Gary Barlow rallies the fans at hit-strewn Plymouth concert
Review by Lee Trewhela
THERE was a moment during the final Never Forget when a sea of women of a certain age, arms aloft, resembled a Nuremberg rally with added HRT.
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We're in difficult times, Gary Barlow is a national treasure and a whole swathe of the population adore him. The man who wrote Everything Changes as Britain's first dictator? Stranger things have happened .....
I'll be honest, to nick a lyric from another Mancunian singer, Gary "says nothing to me about my life".
When Take That emerged I was moshing at the altar of Kurt Cobain plus I wasn't a girl or gay, so they were that vaguely laughable boy band.
But over the years I've softened as Gary's songwriting skills have hardened.
The first sign was Back For Good – undoubtedly one of the best songs of the past 20 years – it shone like a pure beacon during the dirty Britpop wars.
And since Take That's reunion in 2005, he's proved himself a master of the unifying pop anthem. Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write ... I bought a Take That album. Yes, that's right, paid for an album with Howard Donald on it. But Progress is a masterclass in sophisticated and, at times, edgy pop.
So, despite this being a treat for a friend who, in her head, is married to Gary, I wasn't averse to seeing how a man who resembles a civil servant, albeit a handsome minted one, could entertain thousands in the cavernous Pavilions
Gary called us "janners" as he launched into Greatest Day and it was good. However, he followed it with something middle of the road, which was always my fear. And, oh God, we're only three songs in and he's unfurled a solo hit from the difficult cream cake years. But Open Road has actually weathered well in an Elton John way
Shouting out to the Take That massive – now middle aged ladies – he gave them snippets of Take That And Party and asked how many rang the helpline when the band split. "And when did you get a life?" he replied to the roars in that contagious dry-witted way of his.
Gary delighted the pheromone-seeping sell-out audience with the original dance moves during Pray. "I've still got it." Yes, Gary, you have.
His version of Forever Autumn from the reboot of War Of The Worlds was given an airing and very nice it was too as was A Million Love Songs. Slightly too light entertainment for me at this stage.
However, a piano medley of Take That ballads (The Circus and Love Ain't Here Anymore among them) revealed that underneath the recorded bluster of many of these songs, there lies a professor of his art.
Proving a point slightly, Gary outdid Robbie Williams (who earlier earned a torrent of boos when his name was mentioned) on a section of big band numbers – from his new album Swing When You're Thinning. There's Gary, the stand-up, again.
The likes of Fly Me To The Moon demonstrated that he actually possesses a damn fine voice and usurped Robbie's showboating swing period.
The musicians – all members of Take That's touring band – complete with a brass section were excellent throughout; their backing vocals ensuring Howard, Jason and Mark were but a dim and distant memory.
The first set ended with the jubilee song Sing – all rousing and, well, jubilant.
The real treasure came in the second half though where he unfurled the big boys. That is after opening with solo hits Sunday to Saturday and Wasting My Time. Me neither ....
Back For Good, The Flood, Rule The World – any cynicism was blown away by stunning versions of that triumvirate. Throw in Shine, Patience and even a version of the current No 1 co-write for Robbie, Candy, and you couldn't knock him.
As he walked through the arena, singing Everything Changes and kissing ladies who self-combusted in his wake, I thought I'm with you Herr Gary, I will throw away my impure indie records and follow wherever you tread. As long as it's not to the X Factor.