Can bands survive when their members decide to leave?

If the Sugababes could keep going without any of their original members, Gary Barlow & Co should be OK

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

On Monday, Take That will unveil their latest album as a threesome, following the departure of Jason Orange in September.

There were “no fallings out”, Orange just didn’t want to “commit to recording and promoting a new album”. While to some more fervent Take That fans, the news of his sudden exit was a blow, others questioned whether his absence would be felt strongly. Of course, Take That are no strangers to the departures of band members, Robbie Williams was asked to leave the group in 1995 – not that anyone was particularly surprised; his predisposition for drinking and drugs was not a popular look for a boy band.

He briefly became friends with the Gallagher brothers in an optimistic attempt to shed his shady boy-band past and later, in the manner of an angry ex-girlfriend, laid into Gary Barlow when his own solo career soared above that of his  former friend.

Far from the playful, then charismatic presence of Robbie Williams, Orange – one of the less high-profile members of Take That – was best known for his breakdancing skills, occasionally performed in long white robes – a pursuit which Gary Barlow, for all his many accomplishments, never quite managed as artfully.

Howard Donald (L) and Mark Owen of the British band 'Take That' perform at the Ariston Theatre during the 61st Italian Music Festival in Sanremo on February 18, 2011. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

Orange’s vocal “prowess” can be heard on his only solo number, “Wooden Boat”, the final track on the band’s 2006 Beautiful World album. His other claim to fame was being romantically linked to Lulu, who performed with the band on “Relight My Fire”, although the Sixties singer has always denied speculation about their alleged “special relationship”.

But there was a reason that the infamous Take That helpline, first instigated after the band split up in 1996, to help deal with grieving fans, was not reopened after Orange’s exit. Even for the most loyal fans, it was sad, yes, but Howard Donald would just have to pick up more of the dancing. As it did when Robbie Williams left in 1995, the show must go on. Take That’s capability to produce a feel-good pop song and a ballad as comforting as a sugary cup of tea and a Jaffa Cake would not be compromised. There would be no looting or rioting following Orange’s departure, because, although the posters won’t be as aesthetically pleasing, the hope is that the music will sound exactly the same.

In pop at least, this seems to be key – fans will follow as long as the music doesn’t change or the disbanding member isn’t integral (sorry Jason) to the image. Take the Spice Girls. In 1998, Geri Halliwell caused teenage girls to sulk in their bedrooms and doubt their faith in girl power (maybe that was just me), by leaving the fivesome. Before that point the Spice Girls were irrepressible; five, raucous, very different young women conquering the pop world, united by their alleged friendship that couldn‘t be destroyed by boys or rows. But apparently it could. Halliwell cited depression and differences within the group as the reason for her departure. The group continued and released a tribute song, “Goodbye”, which made the 1998 Christmas No 1, but their image as girls who unconditionally stood by each other was shattered, their identity left shaken. In 2000, the band split.

(L-R) Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Jason Orange, Mark Owen and Robbie Williams of the band 'Take That' perform on the stage of the Ariston Theatre in San Remo during the 61st Italian Music Festival on February 18, 2011. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)

No band seems to see as many interchangeable members as the revolving doors of the Sugababes, who only split last year despite numerous line-up amendments. When the trio of Keisha Buchanan, Mutya Buena and Siobhan Donaghy made their debut in 2000, they were a welcome addition to the smiley, squeaky-clean offerings on show, scowling their way through the minimal, catchy “Overload”. But one by one they each left the group, and were replaced by a completely new set – Heidi Range (previously of Atomic Kitten), Amelle Berrabah and Jade Ewen. The sound was superfluous pop, and they split last year, having not released an album since 2010 – which peaked at No 14 in the UK charts and was panned by the music press for being “depressingly safe”. The band’s original members have now reunited under the name MKS.

Genesis prove that the loss of a frontman needn’t mean the end for a band, however integral that frontman seemed before the split. Peter Gabriel’s voice, outlandish costumes, and creative vision had come to define the prog-rockers by the time he quit in 1975. Undeterred, the rest of the band – who had felt increasingly sidelined by Gabriel’s control – turned to their drummer, Phil Collins, for vocals, and not only made what many believe to be their best album, but went on to become singles and album megastars in the Eighties, selling to date more than 130 million records worldwide.

The Who and The Rolling Stones also managed to stand the tests of time and the deaths of band members Keith Moon, John Entwistle and Brian Jones, whose deaths were all drugs-related. Jones was estranged from the band before his death in 1969, despite having formed the group, but the style of music had changed and Jones’s behaviour was allegedly increasingly unworkable. Two days after Jones was found drowned in a swimming pool, the Stones held a free concert in Hyde Park, which they dedicated to the late musician. Hundreds of butterflies were freed into the sky in tribute. He had been replaced by guitarist Mick Taylor and the Stones’ success continued.

No band seems to see as many interchangeable members as the revolving doors of the Sugababes, who only split last year despite numerous line-up amendments. (David Venni)

You’d have thought that no longer having Bob Dylan to back might mean the end, but not so for The Band – who, although first known as side-men to the enigmatic singer, went on to create some of the Sixties’ most famous tracks in their own right. In fact, because they were always known as “the band”, they decided the moniker was appropriate for when they went it alone.

Why split up when you can capitalise on a career as both a solo artist and a double act? Simon and Garfunkel’s relationship has been tempestuous to say the least. They parted after the release of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, but have reunited frequently since. Paul Simon’s solo album Graceland is still one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time, but Art Garfunkel is still hankering for a reunion tour.

For some, (albeit a few), changing band members is all part of a group’s identity and mythology – although Mark E Smith of The Fall is known for kicking out redundant members.

No doubt Take That fans will still buy the band’s forthcoming album. Jason Orange is not the pop equivalent of Bez from the Happy Mondays, a man who did little but still managed to shape the identity of the band. The Take That circus has weathered worse storms.

Take That’s ‘III’ is out on Monday