In the Spring of 1990, Manchester was a city in the grip of a pop-cultural revolution that was attracting the attention of the world's media. The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays were in their pomp; the Hacienda had become the most talked-about nightclub on the planet; different music and fashion and clubbing sects were converging to create a plethora of new, baggy sounds and styles.

At the same time, in a small office on a small Mancunian street called Chapel Walks, an entirely different musical enterprise was being planned. A manager called Nigel Martin-Smith had noticed that, Madchester notwithstanding, the British pop charts looked flat. There hadn't been a decent home-grown teen sensation since Bros went weird, and - yes, it was this bad - the only act in that field generating any excitement were New Kids on the Block. NKOTB were getting a bit surly and difficult as well. So what if you took a group of amenable British boys next door, and got them to sing some proper pop, and set out to offer proper entertainment with their live gigs? The best ideas are always the simple ones.

In 1990, Martin-Smith assembled a group of five working class lads from the North West: Gary Barlow, a 19 year-old from Cheshire who had been singing and playing the organ on the northern club circuit for five years; Howard Donald, 21, a vehicle painter who also dj'd, danced and modelled; Jason Orange, 19, a painter and decorator who had danced on a TV programme called The Hitman and Her; Mark Owen, 16, a former child model and Manchester United trialist, and Rob Williams, a 16-year old body popper from Stoke on Trent.

You will notice than none of them were stage school trained; Gary had learned to work a crowd in the pubs, the other four by competing in break dancing and body popping competitions around Manchester. There were no bland stage-school kids here, and their performing background was, says Gary Barlow now, important. "I think it made a massive difference to us. At 17 I'd been performing in clubs where I'd have to read the crowd straight away, quickly pick a set list, and within 40-45 minutes have everyone on their feet clapping, like in Phoenix Nights. it teaches you to work a room. If you look at our shows, they are so theatrical, it's almost in cabaret in a way. That all stems from those days."

They called themselves Take That ("the best of a bad bunch of ideas" says Gary, but it could have been worse - the first idea was "Kick It") and spent two years gigging with a song and dance act featuring dancey covers, Gary's own compositions, and some dubious black bondage outfits. "We learned our trade over a couple of years that way," continues Gary. "Nowadays, you'd sit down with a manager with a list of audiences you needed to hit, and you'd tick them off one by one. But at that point with us it was just guesswork."

Old-fashioned guesswork proved ultimately as effective as modern business plans but Take That didn't have it easy; the teen pop press were initially ambivalent towards them, and after signing to a major label in 1992, the band had three flop singles before their cover of Tavares' 1975 pop-disco hit It Only Takes A Minute hit number seven. This was followed by A Million Love Songs, I Found Heaven and Could It Be Magic, a Barry Manilow cover that the Chemical Brothers used to drop in their sets at Heavenly's semi-legendary and terribly trendy mid-90s shindig the Sunday Social. Somehow, as Jo Whylie says, Take That "were always the boyband it was ok to like".

By the end of 1992, Take That were generating hysteria in towns and cities across Britain, and beginning a four-year reign as the nation's pop-kings that, by the time they split in 1996, would see them become the biggest-selling UK act since the Beatles, selling over 25million records. Their 1993 album Everything Changes begat four UK number ones - Pray, Relight My Fire, Babe and Everything Changes, and spread their appeal to Europe. 1995's "Nobody Else" LP would launch their biggest hit, the wonderful "Back For Good" which has become a modern standard around the world, with 89 covers in almost every extant musical style.

These were glorious times, when even members of the snooty musical cognoscenti tended to appreciate TT's perfect pop. Life began to go by in a blur for the boys, but Mark Owen picks out one encapsulating moment: "We were heading towards a hotel in Italy. It was off the beaten track, but the road at either side was packed with people all chasing the bus. There was at mayhem going on, people were just running down the streets and screaming and shouting as we arrived at this hotel with the police escorts. That, for me, summed up what it was like being in that band, with all the travelling round the world, and the craziness." He adds that there were also surreal moments, the best of which were having tea with Lady Diana at Kensington Palace, and sitting on Elton John's sofa shouting out requests for him to play on the piano.

What happened next has become one of the more notorious episodes in pop history. In the summer of 1995 Robbie, who had been growing frustrated with his life in Take That, infamously went partying with Oasis at Glastonbury and then left the band. Gary, Mark, Howard and Jason continued as a four piece (having another hit with "Never Forget") before splitting in February 1996. The announcement had such an impact that it made headlines on the national news, and prompted the Samaritans to set up a dedicated helpline. The aftermath was traumatic for the band members, too. Jason went travelling, but Howard, Robbie, Mark and Gary found themselves pitched against each other as they began solo careers, with the relationship between Gary and Robbie being particularly fraught.

Although they remained in touch with each other, the four lads went their own separate ways and had their own separate ups and downs, until 2004, when the second half of the story begins. There had been talk of a greatest hits package and documentary, and by 2005 a greatest hits album was agreed upun. Then, anxious to avoid one of those cheap Noughties talking heads type "documentaries" about Take That in which cultural commentators talk nonsense, the band decided to do their own. Mark Owen asked Robbie if he'd be interested and, to their amazement, he agreed to star, though not with the band.

By the autumn they were filming, and then came the suggestion from a promoter that they reunite for a tour. They found themselves feeling rather keen on the idea, and when, on 16 November 2005, the Rose D'Or-nominated documentary pulled in a national audience of seven million, the potential was clear. The tickets for the gigs went on sale on December 2, and all 19 dates sold out within an hour and ten minutes; they had to add five stadium dates to meet the remaining demand.

No one was more surprised by all this than the band members themselves. "I thought most people had moved on with their lives," says Howard Donald. "I knew there was interest because we finished on top, and you still heard the records on the radio, and people sometimes went on about what a good group we were and what a great live act. But I didn't think people would be interested in rushing out and buy these tickets for a live show. We didn't have that confidence to say let's stick in all 20 dates at once. We just released a few dates to start with, but they just sold like hot cakes and we had to released the others straight away. We were overwhelmed by it all."

The tour began in April last year. On the first night in Newcastle, Mark Owen looked out from backstage well before the concert was due to start, and couldn't believe how many people were already there; someone, he recalls, had made a banner with the words "We never forgot" and was holding it up even though there was no one on stage. And at that moment, says Mark, they knew what they wanted to do: "give people two hours of enjoyment in which they could just forget about their lives". Perfect pop.

Generously funded, less frenetic in the dancing and generally older and wiser, the concerts featured a walk through the audience, and a routine about the ten commandments of being in a boy band - plus a hologram of Robbie Williams, which appeared in Could It Be Magic. Critics and public alike loved the shows, and so a new album was never going to be far behind. This time, though, with all four individuals having matured musically and personally, the writing was not handled by Gary alone but shared between him, Jason, Mark, Howard and some outside collaborators.

"We bounce things off each other, melody-wise and then lyrically," explains Jason. "We had a laptop that we just passed around, whenever one of us felt inspired to tap in a couple of lyrics, we would. So for example, there was a time where they were singing something and I was writing all these words and I was just tapping, tapping, tapping away, loads of words, a stream of consciousness. Then I passed it to one of them, and they just started laughing and passed it to the next guy so one person thought that's way off, that's ridiculous, the next person said actually, there's a couple of lines in there that we could use."

All of the band, Jason continues, were aware that the album had to be strong, and stand on its own merits rather than Take That's reputation.
"You can sell a tour on nostalgia, and we did," he admits. "But you can't sell new material based on nostalgia - it's got to be quality."

We have watched Take That grow up in public; something about their frankness has always seemed to invite us into their world; and of course we have ourselves grown up to their music. There can be very few of us who have not at at least one point in our lives twirled drunkenly around a dancefloor to one of their more jiggy tracks, and now there is a delicious chance to relive it all.

With the release of their new album at the end of 2006 Take That have gone on to smash all expectations. 'Beautiful World' not only sold over 1.3 million copies by the end of last year but has now become the biggest selling Take That album in the UK to date. The album finished up as the #2 best selling album of 2006 after just five weeks sales. It sold 437,000 albums during Christmas week which is the biggest Christmas week album sales in the UK in the last ten years! They held the number one album spot for 6 weeks in a row, a feat last achieved by The Verve in 1997 and at one point were at the top of all five official charts - #1 download single, #1 download album, #1 combined single, #1 combined album, and #1 DVD for The Ultimate Tour.

No one can knock the fact that the band have returned in truly spectacular fashion and the best thing is?it's all just the beginning.

--take that tv