MUSIC / With a love like That . . .: How they weep, how they wail. Sheer happiness has never looked so miserable. Simon Garfield joins the devoted and the desperate fans of Take That

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The Independent Culture
I GAVE Take That an evening, and they gave me tinnitus. Fair swap, I suppose, although I could have done without being hit by a blue teddy thrown by a frenzied girl behind me. I looked around for the culprit, and there it was, a sort of rapture, 5,000 gawpy girls, many with their brothers and mothers, some waifs, some plump, all weeping.

That's the one thing you can't understand about teeny trauma: all these kids, all so unhappy. They've saved up for this (or their handlers have), they've dreamt about this for weeks, and then it gets to the big evening, and their idols take the stage, and are they smiling? No, they're crying. They're bawling. They've never been so distraught. Rivers run down puffy cheeks and they're pinching themselves as if to ask, 'Can I really be here? Am I really this unhappy? Wow] Wowwow]'

I guess they're unhappy because Take That, five coarse boys from Droylsden, Oldham and Newcastle, are only theirs for one night, for 80 minutes, and for the rest of the time it's bedroom desolation with Capital jocks. Some of these lonely hours have been spent with crayon and card, making placards. On Monday at Wembley Arena, the last night of an hysterical tour, these say things like 'Northern Girls Do It Better' and 'Mark, I heart-shape U'. One girl, maybe 15, holds a small sign above her frizzed hair: 'Fuck Me Mark'. Then she flips it over, and it says: 'Fuck Me Robbie'. Just as well they ditched their original member, Blind.

Take That have grown accustomed to this kind of mobbing. Currently the country's number one cause of bedwetting, they inspire devotion from those still warm from the delivery room. The group has been chased through record stores, through train stations, through television stations, and occasionally they must dress as policemen to avoid the scramble. It's that cracking pop dilemma: you dream of having fans like these, but then you get them and you can't leave your room.

Here, on stage under the big strobe, band and fans can do their worst and everyone wins, even the casualties, the fans who faint, shrivelled pink with dehydration and delight.

So what do we have here? Why does this new nubility find Take That the hottest thing since the last hottest thing went luke-warm? There are five of them, all with slightly different things to offer. There's Gary Barlow, blond crew-cut, heavy-set, writer of most of their material; his first kiss was with Melanie Garnett when he was eight. There's Mark Owen, the cute small one, brown centre-parting; the first girl he fancied was his baby-sitter Jackie. There's Robbie Williams, the closest Port Vale will ever get to Wembley, and owner of kookiest smile; first kiss was in a boiler closet when he was six. There's Jason Orange, fresh from his role in Reservoir Dogs, menacing in a goatee; Karen aged 12. And there's Howard Donald; a peck not a snog at 11.

They've been in various singing and dancing groups before, and released their first single two years ago. They don't rate the idea of playing their own instruments, so they line up Temps-style to harmonise and joust. And they do it well, like beautiful monkeys in linen, lots of arm and leg action, S-level synchronisation.

The music - pop and Tamla, punchy and heartfelt - owes something to Seventies disco; their number one single 'Pray', is the self-penned equal of their covers of the Tavares and Manilow hits 'It Only Takes a Minute' and 'Could It Be Magic'. They can do most dance things nicely, though their working of James Brown's 'I Feel Good', perhaps pace The Commitments, is pushing it a bit (say it loud: I'm white and I'm proud and I'm from Droylsden).

They all have earpieces and boxes strapped to their waste. Some will tell you this has something to do with achieving the perfect sound mix, but in fact it's a marketing tool: some Mr Evil stalks the merchandising stalls around the arena and, having checked what's not selling, relays an earpiece message to the boys on stage: 'Hold your caps, we've got vanloads]' If none of the software is selling at all, the message is clear: 'Hug Crotch]'

On Monday the merchandising clearly wasn't moving too well. If I had been a mum accompanying a 10-year-old daughter to the show, I would have been alarmed at the sexual prowess on stage (Pledge-buffed chests, lots of floor humping), but not nearly as alarmed as I would have been at the instant sexual response from the audience. One of the band, Robbie I think, did a nice line in fellatio tongue, sub-Prince. And every time he did it, directed at a particular pocket of the audience, that pocket felt its knees weaken and a vibe of bliss gather them off on a soft cloud of pop joy. You could wipe the hormones off the floor and sell them to the gene-sexers.

The lust is the thing. The band love the adoration so much that they change costumes on stage behind translucent screens. Cocky and preening, they fluff up the crowd like eggs.

'Is London in the HOUSE???' Crowd answer: 'Yes, screech screech, London is in the house.'

'Are you going to have a good time?' Crowd answer: 'I think it may be conceivable.'

'Is London ready to move?'

Yes, London is ready to move, especially that part of London that lives within a mile of Wembley Arena.

The band is not stupid, because they clearly work hard at the routines and the singing, but they can't be that clever either because two of them aren't sure about their birthdays. You read an instant book by Rick Sky, the pop man at the Mirror, which says Mark Owen was born on 27 January 1974, and Howard Donald on 27 April 1970, and then you get the one by Piers Morgan, the man at the Sun, and it says Mark Owen was born on 27 January 1972, and Howard Donald on 28 April 1968. The years you can understand; years can be manipulated for the image. But get the day wrong?

These anomalies were spotted by my nanny Nicky, 19, who is also at Monday's show. She has come with a friend of hers, another nanny. They do a nanny bop, a kind of cradling of the arms, wagging of the finger, jogging to their uppermost room thing. They look like kids ogling their first chews and cherry lips.

Nicky used to nanny for Tony Hadley, one-time singer with Spandau Ballet. Did she, I wondered, weep and shriek and blow whistles every time Tony came home from a tough night in the studio?

'Hello Nicky, how are the kids?'

'Aaaaaaiiiiiii] SCREEEEEE]]]'

'That well, huh?'


Inevitably the oldsters reach a point in the show when they ask: did I use to be like this? No, no. Like many boys in my boys-only class I once had a passing crush on Little Jimmy Osmond, and then a longer one for Big Kim Wilde and a one-hit wonder one for that German woman who whipped up the Eurocharts with her Luft Balloons, but all these were pure thoughts compared to the vulgar depravity on show tonight.

In the past, the girls I knew liked the normal yuck, the David Cassidy, Donny, Les McKeown and Woody scene. I told them that they were too young, and I called it puppy love, but they said I didn't understand and would never find happiness. Then there was Wham] and Bros and New Kids and even Menudo, members of which were systematically expunged as they reached crawling age. This week Luke Goss, formerly the Bros drummer, announced he was making a debut solo tour. He has 'deliberately chosen to play smaller, more intimate venues than in the heady days of Bros fame'. Cool phrasing, Luke.

The Take That show ends on a sophisticated high. The band drop their trousers to reveal flesh-coloured pants and a different letter on each cheek: if they stand in the right order their bums spell out the name of their band; if not, you leave the show having seen the Danish goths Thaattek.

I gave my nanny a lift home, and she said the following as she snapped the Elgar from the Blaupunkt: 'They were the best. Howard smiled at me.'

Yeah, sure, 12,000 people and he smiled at you?

'Smiled directly at me.'

'And Mark, what was so special about Mark?'

Mark was the hunkster, the spunkster . . . bippety bo, bippety- boo, all the way up the A406.

The next morning I woke up with fire alarms in my ears. My nanny was downstairs eating Robbieflakes. My five-year-old was watching holiday cartoons. He said his favourite band is Madness.

I felt a little pride.

Take That play a benefit for Childline at Wembley Arena on 14 August

(Photographs omitted)