The artist formerly known as the pretty one

Once just a gorgeous torso, now a hit songwriter. Ben Thompson meets Mark Owen

If A book had been started at the time of Take That's split as to which would be the first member of the group to release a solo album, Mark Owen would have been the glossy-maned long shot. Never mind that he was the subject of 60 per cent of the band's fan-mail, and won the coveted Smash Hits "Most Fanciable Male" award three years in a row, Owen's achievements as a songwriter - co-authorship of two Take That middle eights - did not bode well for a solo career.

But the Take That diaspora has gone against expectations over the past seven months or so. Gary Barlow's bid for instant George Michael-hood began with terrifying efficiency. Gary took a succession of grown-up music journalists for rides in his sports car and introduced them to his girlfriend, then had a No 1 single. But his album, set for release in October, was withdrawn from the schedules at the last minute on the grounds that it was not quite clinical enough for the American market.

The Robbie Williams approach seemed more fun. Robbie trumped Gary's earnest niche-marketing endeavour with a stroke of brazen genius by simply covering George Michael's "Freedom", then put the icing on the cake of the resultant No 1 single by being sighted at a Brian Eno book-launch. Unfortunately, he then ate the cake.

On top of all this came the sudden emergence of the Spice Girls. Their day-glo feistiness now threatens to eclipse insipid sub-Take That ensembles like Boyzone and Upside Down, just as the Chiffons and the Shirelles superceded Dion and the Belmonts four decades ago. Could girl power mean the end of the boy-band virus, let loose upon the earth when Take That manager Nigel Martin-Smith realised that what Britain really really wanted was a Mancunian New Kids on the Block?

There had been a strange prophesy to this effect in the video for Take That's last single, wherein the group was kidnapped by that post-Madonna Eighties icon (well, ex-star of yuppie VW advert), Paula Hamilton, then trussed up like chickens and subjected to sado-masochistic torture with a kitchen fork. At the end of this bizarre and hilarious promotional swansong, Take That were unceremoniously dumped into a reservoir.

It's appropriate then that the video for Owen's first solo single, "Child" - a sweetly affecting slice of late-Lennonish Buddhist cod-soul, which leapt into the charts at No 2 last Sunday - should find him emerging from the water like a sleek and cheeky porpoise. What no one could have predicted is that Owen's debut album, Green Man, would be a characterful and extremely likeable selection of his own songs, recasting him as a Smash Hits Syd Barrett.

Recorded at Abbey Road with the able assistance of Q-award-winning producer John Leckie (usually associated with heavyweight indie-rockers like The Fall and Radiohead) and erstwhile Blondie knob-twiddler Craig Leon, Green Man features a band that includes a former XTC guitarist and Blondie's Clem Burke. But perhaps the greatest of the album's achievements is in sidestepping the joylessness that normally results when teen idols go in search of credibility. Its 12 songs, selected from a battery of 31 Owen wrote in the early months of this year, maintain a commendably idiosyncratic equilibrium between sturdy guitar pop and heartfelt new-age whimsy.

"I'm still not sure if I've done the right thing," Owen admits, sipping peppermint tea on a London hotel couch, "but I know I did this record for my own enjoyment, so even if it only sells a handful of copies, at least I'll have done something I believe in." Happily settled in a ramshackle new home in the Lake District with his art-student girlfriend and a doberman, this man positively radiates inner peace.

Is it true that he was introduced to the joys of meditation by Lulu? Owen laughs. "There's a saying that meditation comes to all those who sit and wait, and I just happened to sit and wait with Lulu."

For all Robbie's bravado, it was always Mark who looked like he'd be the least bothered by the end of the Take That odyssey. "The idea of going back to being like everybody else never scared me at all," he confirms. "I always used to say I'd love to get up early and work on a market stall. I know this must sound really stupid, but I think I would probably have been just as happy doing that if Take That hadn't come along." A reflective pause. "Obviously it's easy for me to say that now I'm lucky enough to have the security being in Take That brought me - I suppose that makes me a bit of a hypocrite."

Was he upset by "Child" being held off its expected No 1 spot by the rough-and-tumble might of The Prodigy? "I thought it was good ... no, honestly. I wanted to get out of the old routine - Take That songs used to go straight in at No 1 all the time, and although that was a nice position to be in, if this had done the same thing, people would've wanted the next one to do it as well, and I don't want that pressure. The most important thing to me is that my songs stand on their own. Obviously I'm biased because I've written them, but I do honestly feel that they're good."

They are good too. On the B-side of "Child", there's a funny, honest song called "Confused", in which Mark Owen faces up to his future as a lamb in lone wolf's clothing. The lyrics are right up there with The Who's "Substitute" for implicit insight into the pop-music process. "Today I know where I'm going," Mark observes resignedly. "Tomorrow I'll be somewhere else." Does he ever see Boyzone on TV and feel guilty for inflicting them on us? A moment's silence ensues, then the air resounds with a diplomatic Mancunian guffaw.

n `Green Man' (RCA) is out on Monday. Mark Owen will tour in the New Year.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders