With hordes of devoted screaming fans and the kudos of being Smash Hits centrefolds, being part of the country’s most popular boy bands in the 1990’s must leave you wanting more.
Maybe that’s why 5ive, A1, Damage and 911 are enjoying the limelight for The Boys Are Back!, which stops off at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on February 25. Many will remember seeing the bands in TV show The Big Reunion, which gave them all a platform to perform from 2013, but the surge in “nostalgia gigs” has given a second shot for these one-time teenage heartthrobs.
Scott Robinson from 5ive and Andrez Harriott from R’n’B band Damage took time out to talk to me about life after being in a boy band and the difference between now and then – other than the fans being slightly older.
5ive Now Three
While 5ive are back together, five has become three with Scott performing alongside Ritchie Neville and Sean Conlon as Abz Love and Jason “J” Brown opted not to return.
“I’ve never stopped gigging and for a while I was a one-man 5ive,” explains Scott in his chirpy London voice, that can’t help but sound enthusiastic.
“Even before The Big Reunion, I said to the boys, there’s still a lot of love out there for us and we should think of doing something. It was me that said that.” Scott had a good instinct as along with the latest tour, 5ive are constantly busy performing at festivals and around Europe and even Australia throughout the year. The love for songs like Keep On Movin’, If Ya Getting’ Down and Invincible obviously hasn’t dwindled.
Scott, who has his own radio show on Sundays called Top of the ‘90s airing across several networks, has stuck within the confines of music since the break-up of the band in September 2001, after four years of selling 20 million records worldwide.
His only diversion was a stint on BBC Three show Celebrity Scissorhands in 2008 when he learned how to cut hair from hairdresser Lee Stafford, whom he is still friends with. “I can actually cut hair now because of that show,” Scott tells me. “I cut all my friends’ hair.”
“I’m 40-years-old now and could have hung my microphone up a long time ago, but don’t want to,” he chuckles.
“I’m enjoying this journey much more because Sean, Ritchie and I get on so well. We are doing it because we want to. We’ve all got wives and kids, and it’s all on our own terms so it’s a really nice band to be in.
“We have got used to Abz and J not being there. They aren’t interested so you have to respect their wishes. If their heart’s not in it, it wouldn’t be right for them to do it.”
For now, Scott’s revelling in the camaraderie between acts on The Boys Are Back! tour, which he feels has the right mix of songs and people. “There’s no arrogance there and no one puffing their chest up and down,” adds Scott, perhaps thinking back to the many bust-ups 5ive had while filming The Big Reunion.
“Luckily, we’re blessed with a strong back catalogue and we’ll keep on singing the songs while people still want to hear them.”
Life Beyond a Boy Band for Damage
Singer Andrez Harriott, in comparison, went down a much different path after Damage split in 2001.
Andrez retrained to become a qualified criminologist and sociologist, founding The Liminality Group through which he dedicates his life to helping young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, or those at risk of offending, to turn their lives around.
Tackling issues from knife crime to gangs and bullying, it’s especially important with stabbings an issue in London. In fact, I speak to him just after he’s left a young offender institution for one of the many programmes he delivers across communities and schools. He’ll be doing a workshop in Birmingham with young people too when the music tour reaches the city.
Andrez wasn’t the only one in the band finding a new way of life. Lead singer Jade Jones, the long-term partner of Spice Girl Emma Bunton, went on to become a chef in London. So, finding time to also tour as Damage – away from the day job – is an entertaining side-line.
“I DJ too and have been performing for the past 10 years as it’s nice to have a creative outlet,” says Andrez.
“The Big Reunion was a stick in the sand. We all came back from that as men. “The reaction to Damage now is more mature. The audience reacts to songs from when they were pre-mortgage, pre-children and pre-responsibilities, so it’s great to see people lose their mind. They want that nostalgic experience to forget about everything.”
Damage became a household name with 11 hits from anthem Ghetto Romance to Wonderful Tonight and Love Guaranteed after emerging in 1995 and going on to sell 2.5 million records worldwide.
At Symphony Hall, Andrez and Jade will be back with Rahsaan J Bromfield and Noel Simpson, but without Coreé Richards who’s no longer in the band. That life as a teenage pop star seems a long time ago now for Andrez following his success with The Liminality Group. It has a strong record – 95% of children at risk of exclusion stayed in education following its schools programme while its work with young offenders saw a 60% reduction in those engaging in criminality.
Violence has affected many people Andrez knows, including Damage lead singer Jade, who was just 17 when his 31-year-old brother John Kennedy was stabbed at an East London pub and later died. Andrez recalls: “I came back from touring with Damage and saw how some friends had done really well, but others had got involved in criminality and some sadly were no longer alive – and I wanted to dedicate time to understand the cause of that.
“I found there was a lot of focus on the behaviour of a child rather than looking at societal issues, parents, what’s happening at home or school. I’ve noticed a catalogue of events over the past 30 years since the early 1990’s with young gangs coming up, then high-profile murders of Jamie Bulger and Stephen Lawrence, and it communicated to that generation that violence and murder wasn’t a big thing anymore.
“Then there is social media, the content of films and video games… The stabbings now aren’t just about poverty, it’s been growing for decades.”
So, it’s very much light relief for Andrez to enjoy reconnecting with old friends in Damage and other boy bands from the 1990’s with this latest tour – along with the fans. Plus he gets to relive the R’n’B hits, including his favourite I’ll Be Loving You Forever.
“You’ve got to follow your heart,” adds Andrez. “Wherever your heart leads you, that’s where you should be.”
A Night of Nostalgia
The Boys Are Back! tour also includes songs from Brit Award-winning A1 as Ben Adams, Paul Marazzi, Mark Read and Christian Ingebrigtsen perform. Their hits include Same Old Brand New You, Like A Rose and Ready Or Not.
While Lee Brennan, Jimmy Constable and Simon “Spike” Dawbarn of 911 will be entertaining with their back catalogue from Bodyshakin to A Little Bit More and More Than a Woman.
The Boys Are Back! is at Symphony Hall in Birmingham on February 25 and you can get your tickets and more information here.