Take That's Mark Owen goes solo at The Big Feastival this weekend
It has been two years since Take That finished their dazzling, record-breaking Progress tour – the first with Robbie Williams for 15 years – and after a gruelling schedule of shows, the guys all agreed to take some well-earned time off.
Mark Owen loves to be at home in south London with his family and spend time at their holiday home at the Lakes by yoo, at Cotswold Water Park, but admits he finds it hard not working towards something, he likes a plan.
Since the tour ended, he has been spending quite a bit of time at the bottom of his garden, tinkering with a few ideas.
He did some sketches for an animation, a spot of painting, messed around with some tunes and thought about what it was like to hit your forties.
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“I was sitting at that bench for a bit on my own,” he laughs. “It was a party for one. And then people started turning up.”
The first to arrive were his long-time song-writing collaborators, Ben Mark and Jamie Norton and gradually, their chats developed into a concept – The Art of Doing Nothing – which is the title of Mark’s latest solo album.
Other people soon started arriving, including singer, Ren Harvieu, who had been spotted on Later . . with Jools Holland.
Then came unsigned rapper Jake Emlyn. On tour, Robbie had shown Mark a couple of YouTube clips and he was intrigued.
Illustrator Katie Halil, an old friend, also added her touching, witty illustration into the mix.
“For a while it wasn’t going to be songs, but animation,” Mark explains.
“Then I wasn’t even going to sing on the record. But I’ve been making songs for 20 years now and I don’t really know what else to do. It’s my hobby and my day job all in one.
“Still, it feels better somewhere in my psyche to call it a project rather than a solo album, because so many people have contributed.”
The result, The Art of Doing Nothing, which is Mark’s fourth solo outing, is an album full of surprises, optimism and wisdom.
He has certainly been involved in the music industry long enough to have a few tales.
Take That formed in 1990 and have had seven number one albums. Robbie left the band in 1995 and the rest went their separate ways in 1996 before making a huge comeback.
“The last record I did with Take That – Progress with Stuart Price, was a distinct sound and I was really proud of it,” Mark says. “But I had to almost go back in some ways to 2005 and kind of have a little look at where I’d left with How The Mighty Fall, and the sound that was there, and what I was doing back then.”
It has been a tumultuous few years – Mark has admitted to a string of affairs before he married wife Emma. The couple have three children and the youngest, Fox, was born last year.
The singer also went to rehab for alcohol addiction just before the Progress tour with Take That.
“It’s about taking into account where I am in my life now,” Mark says. “To get the right balance took a little time. It was a bit of a journey but I’m really pleased with where we’ve ended up.”
Mark will be bringing songs from his new album to The Big Feastival on Sunday, held at Alex James’ farm in Kingham, where he will be performing alongside the likes of The Feeling and KT Tunstall.
The Blur bassist’s family festival in the Cotswolds, complete with hay bales and picnic blankets, is a slightly smaller stage to the international arenas Mark is used to with Take That.
“Obviously when you do the Take That shows, there’s 60ft robotic men, and things like that with you, which I can’t fit into a lot of the venues I’m playing,” he laughs. “The word that they normally use is an “intimate” vibe. But hopefully we can get a great atmosphere and the songs sound great, and they can get into the mood of the show and enjoy it.
“I don’t think about this show any differently than I think about a Take That show.
“Song wise I’m playing stuff off the new record, some of the old stuff as well and some Take That songs in there.”
At the moment, he says it’s like his bandmates are just on holiday. Gary Barlow is a judge on The X Factor, Howard Donald is going to judge Got to Dance in Germany and Robbie Williams’ solo Take the Crown, was released at the end of last year.
“I’ve known them for 20 years plus,” Mark says. “They’re a part of what I do anyway.”