Friday, August 2, 2013

LICHFIELD INTERROGATES: Matt Hall of Take That tribute act Rule The World

Hard to believe I know, but I managed to get to the age of 30 without ever seeing what I would consider to be a genuine tribute act, but this all changed a few weeks ago when I encountered the monumentally accurate force that is Rule The World - a surely unsurpassable touring Take That tribute performing just a couple of miles down the road in Piercebridge. Despite my modest expectations, I'm not exaggerating when I say they blew the roof off the place (metaphor). As a fervent admirer of the real Take That and a repeated viewer of their frankly stunning performance on the 'Progress Live' DVD, they certainly had a lot to live up to, and as the electrifying set progressed (pun), more and more queries began to form in my mind, as I frantically tried to think of a way of remembering them. Luckily I got hold of them through a social networking site to ask for an interview and they agreed. In my drunken stupor I had convinced myself this was a brilliant idea, and it turns out I was right. 

I caught up with Matt Hall - Mark Owen in the show - to ask him about life in a frankly fantastic, eerily convincing tribute act.

First things first, how was the act put together? How long have you been on the circuit?

We all auditioned to be in the band. I think that’s the key to the success of our tribute band – we weren’t all mates beforehand who could sing and decided to be a tribute because we could earn money. We were picked. We had to prove that we would be good enough for this job. We had to prove we were better than the competition! The band started in 2007 but the only original member is Dan Maines (Gary Barlow). I joined in 2009 and Joe (Jason Orange) joined soon after. Dom is our newest member and he joined the band only last year – September 2012.

There must be a great deal of theatrical skill involved, are you all from an acting background?

Yes I guess there is. I’ve been performing since I was 8 years old! Growing up I was in many theatre productions and at 15 was lucky enough to start getting jobs professionally as an actor. I’ve appeared in leading roles in ‘Heartbeat’, ‘The Royal’ and ‘Unforgiven’. 

Dan is a musician through and through. Before becoming Gary Barlow he was working as a professional singer. He can play piano, drums and guitar to name just a few instruments. Joe is an amazing dancer and had years of training in dance as well as taking lessons in singing and acting too. Dom is also an amazing performer with years of experience. He’s appeared in countless musical theatre productions and has trained at various schools etc. So yes, we all have a strong background in performing. We’re all professionals and it’s an approach we all adopt when being in this band. 

Many people mistake our job as just being singers who can move a bit. But it’s so much more than that! You have to be able to command a stage and work the crowd but you also have to do it in a way your “character” would. When you dance you must interpret the moves in a similar way to your character, when you sing you must sound like them and even when you’re just standing or talking it must be in the way they would. It’s very much a case of playing a role. There’s a great deal of acting.

Are there any special techniques involved in sounding so much like the singers that you perform as – both in terms of singing and speaking?

I’m not sure! Being able to listen? Listen a little more carefully perhaps than others would to help pick out the minor details in a person’s voice, and then being able to mimic sounds and tones. It’s not easy for a lot of people I suppose. Some people can naturally do this much more. I spent months and months listening to the Take That DVDs, CDs and interviews over and over. Each phrase, each word, each sound. It was a big job. I guess I almost obsessed about it. I felt a duty to be as close to Mark Owen as I could. Now I get people talking to me after the show saying I’m still talking like him off stage! So I guess it comes naturally now and sometime it’s hard to snap out of!

Are you actually from the Manchester area yourselves - or are the accents part of the performance?

Dan is from Stockport so although he adapts his voice to the style of Gary, his natural accent is similar. The rest of us aren’t from Manchester so the accents are put on for performance.

How did you learn the mannerisms of the band members?

I took a very “actors” type approach to it. I very much saw Mark as a part to play. I thought about his age, his personality and what makes him likeable. Why do his fans love him? I studied his stance and his movements for long periods of time. I’d watch it, then try it out, then watch it again and see if it was right.
Are you big Take That fans yourselves? Did you listen to them growing up? Have you seen them live?

No. I knew of them and I’d heard their songs. But that was it. It’s safe to say on behalf of all four of us that none of us were fans beforehand. But we sure are now. After spending so many hours studying them it’s hard not to become a fan of their infectious feelgood hits.

Have any of you met the band members?

No! Unfortunately not! We would love to. Gary Barlow sent us a tweet on Twitter about the band. That’s as close as we got. Also, Jason’s mum came to see our show at Manchester Palace Theatre and she came to speak to us at the end. She told us she thoroughly enjoyed it and gave us all individual feedback. I remember she said to me if Mark is ever ill she’ll tell the boys to get me on stage because I was so like him. Wouldn’t that be nice! She told us she was going to ring Jason and tell him how amazing we all were!

Have any members of TT seen your show? Did you receive any feedback?

Gary Barlow saw a video of us on YouTube. We then tweeted him asking if he thought we were any good and he simply replied with one word - “Brilliant”. That was all he needed to say – recognition from the big man himself that we’re doing ok. I guess it’s just nice to know that he doesn’t think we’re rubbish or even worse that he’s not offended by us. Just the word “Brilliant” was enough to know that he approves of what we do and that he thinks it’s good.

What did you think about Robbie re-joining? Did you have to adapt your act?

I loved the idea. I knew it’d shake things up for us as a band regarding how the show would need to adapt to acknowledge his return. It was a brilliant end to their 20-year history to see them back on stage touring together again.

Are you planning on continuing as a four-piece or will you be incorporating Robbie?

We really don’t know. When Rob first re-joined the band our first approach was to find the very best Robbie solo tribute act that is already working out and do a few one off shows with him. We thought that if it works then we would maybe incorporate them into our show full time. However, due to them being so busy with solo bookings it wasn’t possible for them to join us full time and we would never want a mediocre Robbie in our band. He has a big job to do! At the moment it works where we’re a 4-piece band with the option of working with a top “Robbie” tribute on a few special gigs. It works really well this way. As for the future though I don’t know if this is how we’ll continue. If Take That releases their next album as a 5 piece again that changes things somewhat. We might be looking for a full time Robbie! We’ll have to wait and see what happens!

Do you still do any singing/acting outside of the act?

Yes I do! I’m still very busy taking acting lessons with an amazing tutor David Johnson. For now I’m very happy being a part of ‘Rule The World’, but there will come a time when it feels right to move onto other things – and that’s exciting. As an actor you want to challenge yourself with different roles and become different people who live different lives to you. That’s part of the fun of being an actor! But for now I’m very happy being Mark Owen.

Were the harmonies/dance routines difficult to work out?

Fortunately Dan has an amazing ear for harmonies and we had a brilliant choreographer Gary Lloyd (Thriller Live) who along with his amazing assistant Pilli Lopez did the rest.

Have the DVDs come in useful?

Yes hugely! We must have each watched every DVD over 1000 times!

How would you compare life in a tribute act compared to life in a conventional group?

If you’re in a tribute band you don’t have the worry of playing your own songs to an audience that don’t know any of them! Luckily for us, Take That have been so successful that their songs do a lot of our work. Everyone knows them and everyone loves them! You also get the accolade that the real band get. After many gigs we get people asking us for autographs and pictures and comments such as “you’re just like them” and “will you marry me?” etc. So I guess in some ways its very similar to being in the real band. On a slightly smaller scale maybe.

Are there many rival TT tribute acts on the circuit? How do they compare?

Yes! So many! Back in 2007 we were one of the very first to be doing it and there was about 2 or 3 other Take That tribute bands around. Now there must be hundreds of them. My opinion on how they compare? I guess I’m biased and I do think we’re certainly the best out there. I guess I wouldn’t be in this band if I didn’t! I believe in my boys 100%. I know as a group we have a similar look, a similar height and we also have the sounds and the mannerisms pretty damn close. I think our show is amazing. We work really hard on the shows to make sure they aren’t anything but amazing. So yes I do think we’re better than (one of our nearest rivals). However, I won’t name them but there’s about two or three other Take That tributes out there that I do think are amazing. They’re brilliant! They put the same effort into being like Take That as we do and I have a lot of respect for them and what they do. It also turns out the guys in those bands are really nice and down to earth when you speak to them and don’t appear to have any feelings of rivalry which is great and we feel the same! 

However, some Take That tribute bands are awful. Really really bad. And it appears to be those ones that usually try compete with us and try to put us down etc. They post comments on their official website and Facebook pages saying how bad we are! I don’t get involved with any of this. I don’t need to! I know how good we are – the dates in the diary and the response from the crowd is enough for me. The word “Brilliant” from Gary Barlow is enough for me! I don’t need to slag off other bands or shout from the rooftops how amazing we are in a bid to prove it to myself! Others do and I can only suggest it’s because deep down they know they’re not really that good.  

Can tribute gigs surpass concerts played by the original artists due to factors such as more intimate venues etc?

I think so, definitely! To see the real Take That is first of all far more expensive, you have to queue up all day to get near the front and if you don’t queue you’re almost certainly going to spend the concert watching a TV screen. At many of our gigs the venues are more intimate and the prices are somewhat cheaper.

There are many tribute acts that make no attempt to emulate the original act other than turning up and playing the songs. Do you think that this detracts from the experience?

I believe it’s totally the wrong approach. When I first joined the band I simply asked myself a very simple question. If I was going to see a tribute act of my all time favourite artist what would I want to see? My answer was equally simple: I’d want them to be as close to the real thing as possible! I’d want them to look like them, talk like them, move like them and communicate with the audience like them. That is what I always tried to do! At the time when I got the job I barely knew who Mark Owen was. But I made it my duty to find out exactly who he is and be as close to him as possible. I did this so the biggest fans of Mark can turn up to our gigs and feel satisfied we’re doing the real band justice, so they can experience the same thing they experience at a real Take That concert. I don’t want it to feel like a cheap imitation! I want it to be as good as Take That. Some people in other tribute acts think they’re too cool to pretend to be someone else.  I think they’re completely missing the point. People simply aren’t there to see you, they’re there to see who you’re a tribute to. It might be hard for some of their big egos to come to terms with, but unfortunately it’s true!

Do you think people underestimate the work that goes into tribute acts, especially when it comes to generating an electric atmosphere?

That’s the beauty of it! You see (mainly) men looking very miserable that have clearly been dragged along to our show by their other halves and are only there to get in the good books of their partners! However, by the end of the show you can see they’re up dancing, singing along and thoroughly having an amazing time! That is what makes the job so fulfilling. To know that we exceeded people’s expectations and that everyone who came along had a brilliant time and enjoyed themselves! That’s what it’s all about!

Are some audiences tougher to win over than others considering the boots that you have to fill?

Yes! Certainly! When we’re in the theatres it’s always amazing, we’ve never had a bad show. Everyone in the audience has paid to be there because they love Take That. But, if you’re at a wedding or birthday party where perhaps out of 400 people the only person in the room who is a Take That fan is the birthday girl it’s really tough. That’s when the job can be hard work to begin with! But it doesn’t matter – we still have everyone dancing and enjoying the show in the end regardless – it just takes some more work!

Take That are due to resurface next year – will you be revamping your show to bring it up to date?

We will do! We always keep up to date with the current look, costumes, set list etc. Watch this space!

Thanks, Matt Hall!

There's a list of forthcoming 'Rule The World' performances at the bottom of this page. If you can, GO AND SEE THEM. 

You'll find them on Facebook and Twitter too. Matt's on Twitter here

And if you like the sound of that, why not listen to this? 

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