Older, wiser and even smoother, Eighties teen sensations New Edition are back together. But this isn't just a nostalgia trip
In 1983, a fresh-faced quintet of Boston teenagers known as New Edition had a number one hit with a song called "Candy Girl". It was influenced by the Jackson Five's "ABC" in the same way that Christian Slater's early film career was influenced by Jack Nicholson - ie it suggested the cultural tradition it came from had completed its evolution, and the only future that remained lay in periodic revisitation of key steps along the way.

Thirteen years later, such grim forebodings have (at least in New Edition's case - Christian Slater is another story) proved unfounded. New Edition have supplied a bridge over hip-hop and electro from America's ancient soul and funk heritage to the thriving TLC/R Kelly/Boyz II Men R'n'B vocal scene of today. They are also - albeit somewhat less obviously - the Godfathers of Britpop, because without New Edition there would have been no New Kids On The Block and without the New Kids there would have been no Take That and without Take That there would have been no teenagers interested enough in pop music to want to buy Blur and Oasis records.

Most surprising of all - given the usual sad fates of child stars, from Michael Jackson to Musical Youth - New Edition are in pretty good shape. Back together with a supremely slinky new top 10 single called "Hit Me Off", they go through their paces for a record company photo session. Under the watchful eye of a huge salmon, only the day before swimming happily in a highland stream and now lying on a plate with a small bite taken out of its shoulder, they strike a series of amusingly emphatic poses. These gestures, roughly translated as "Look at my lovely jacket" or "Hello, I'm surfing now", are backed up by imposing displays of vocal pyrotechnics, as New Edition enliven the posturing ritual by lustily and melodiously singing along with a tape of their forthcoming album, seemingly just for their own pleasure.

There are certain obvious logistical problems posed by a six-person interview. (When Bobby Brown left in 1987, in pursuit of solo enormity and - ultimately - Whitney Houston, his place was taken by Philadelphia soul singer Johnny Gill, who rather touchingly keeps his place in today's suave sextet.) Photos done, settled in a circle with matching Timberland boots on the table, New Edition thoughtfully seek to play down their overwhelming numerical advantage by introducing themselves into the tape recorder.

"Hi, my name is Johnny Gill, I'm the uberest guy in the group." "I'm Ron Devoe" - space-age sunglasses give him a slight air of Christopher Walken in Communion - "remember my voice." "This is Bobby Brown, [warmly] peace to all the players and the macks." A short pause, then the quiet one in the dazzling Moschino sweater: "Ralph Tresvant... What's up?" Opposite him, the man who is having an unspecified difficulty with his trouser- fly: "This is Rick Bell - [distractedly] Ricky Rick Ricky." And what would Michael Bivins (the business-like looking one with the glasses) say if he hadn't just gone to have a word with the video director? Bobby Brown - who has already shown his star quality in the photographer's studio by rolling up his left trouser leg to make himself look like a pirate - impersonates Bivins' guttural Butthead-type laugh to widespread amusement.

Nobly, and without explicit prompting, Ron Devoe takes on the mantle of group archivist. "It all started growing up in Boston, in the Orchard Park Projects. 1978, that was the first time Bobby, Ricky and Michael thought of getting together as a group." Brown picks up the thread: "We were friends in the neighbourhood, most of us had reputations." What kind of reputations? "Well, I had a bad-boy reputation." Even then? "I was only a kid, but I still had it. I was very hyper, very amped, I used to give a lot of parties - people knew me for that."

An embryonic New Edition came second at a Hollywood Talent Nite. The first prize was a record contract, but Maurice (rhymes with Charisse, not with Doris) Starr, the man running the contest, liked the runners up so much he put them in the studio anyway. History does not record what happened to the winners, but Ralph, Ricky, Ron, Bobby and Mike were on a one-way trip to teen sensation central. "In the beginning," Bobby admits "we had no real control over what we were doing, but at that time we just did it for fun - we just wanted, you know, a pizza here, a movie there."

Such innocence can have unfortunate consequences. Ron remembers "Being out on the road doing three or four shows a night and getting dropped off back in the projects with $10 after being on tour for a year". Bobby grimaces: "Having a contract with Streetwise Records where the only thing that they gave you for royalties was a VCR... in fact, it wasn't even a VCR" - he is triumphantly indignant now - "It was a Betamax." Michael (shaking his head in quiet disbelief): "It had one of those little remote control cords that connected to the machine."

Given that they all subsequently established successful independent identities for themselves (Ricky, Michael and Ron as the imaginatively named Bell Biv Devoe; Bobby, Ralph and Ricky all wentsolo) it seems strange to get back together. Bobby - "We all felt that our careers had reached a level of equalness as far as we were concerned, so we could come back to each other and respect each other's talents as individuals."

There seems to be a very jovial atmosphere - it's not like the Eagles or the Sex Pistols, where everyone hates each other. Ron: "We have our ups and downs, but we try not to expose our dirty laundry in public. We're maturer now. We know what it means to look past all the smaller things that people can bicker over in a group situation."

Can they remember what their dreams were before New Edition started? Ralph: "I wanted to get a house for my mother, and I wanted to live in a better neighbourhood than I grew up in, so that when I'd have kids someday, they could go to good schools - that's all I really wanted... and I have that now." Ron: "I still haven't accomplished everything I want to... I want to be a billionaire - I woke up in cold sweats when I was a kid just dreaming of those billions - [realising he has not quite struck the appropriate note] so I can not only take care of myself but my family and friends, and just do my part in the struggle of the world in general."

Bobby observes that his dreams "aren't even started" because "New Edition isn't international yet". As if to punish Mr Brown for his craven determination to say the right thing, Ralph tries to take a drag of his cigarette but is shrugged off - "This is my last one." Johnny is too tired to answer, but Rick takes the question a bit more seriously. "I just used to think 'What am I going to do?' I never really knew. I suppose I just expected to go to school and maybe to college and then join the marines like my other two brothers."

Michael is the most sombre - "To be honest, I didn't have any musical dreams when I was younger. I always wanted to play basketball in the NBA, and when I got into New Edition I just knew that I never wanted to go backwards: once I made the sacrifice of giving up ball and coming out of school to pursue this career, I never had any ambitions in terms of money or anything, I just never wanted to be a failure - I never wanted anyone to say to me 'you used to be'."

There is not much chance of that at the moment. Of the forthcoming New Edition album Home Again, Bobby observes: "We feel we created a masterpiece." And the collective joie de vivre expresses itself in a hilariously self- lacerating impromptu rendition of "Candy Girl", complete with shaky-voiced adolescent proto-raps: "Hey, check out Ricky and Ronnie!" "My girl's the best and that's no lie."

Do they have children of their own now? Bobby holds up an impressive four fingers. "Landon Beresford Brown, Robert Beresford Brown, Bobbi Christina Brown and Laprincia Phoenicia Brown." Ralph's six year old is already starring in school plays and Michael's offspring, still "in the oven" but due in December, is "basically going to be in charge". How would he respond if his unborn progeny's fancy should someday turn to showbusiness? "No one's taking over my kid: I'll be the manager, the stylist the producer - everything."

New Edition will play the London Towers Basketball Team in aid of victims of Sickle Cell Anaemia at the Brixton Recreation Centre, 3pm today. 'Hit Me Off' is out now. 'Home Again' (MCA) and a first UK tour follow in the autumn.

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