‘So I can’t go to the Steps concert next week, do you want my ticket?’
‘I’ll give you a knockdown price for it.’
SOLD! To the cheapskate from Limerick.
I was going to the 3Arena in Dublin, to see 1990s sensations Steps! (proudly supported by classical violin quartet The Vengaboys).
My expectations were non-existent. I wasn’t expecting a bad concert of course – Steps always had a reputation, during their four year reign at the top of the hit parade, for putting on a great live show. I was just that my attendance was so last minute, I did not have adequate time to prepare myself for this showbiz extravaganza – either mentally or physically.
I was meeting some people prior to the show, and together we would raise our heels for some late-1990s cheese.
The 3Arena had been transformed into an all-seated space(as opposed to a standing room only show, for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in September). It looked majestic.
I was somewhat taken aback. Were Steps that big? How was it conceivable that they could sell out this massive venue?
They had been famous for four years between 1997 and 2001, before bitterly imploding in a swamp of vengeance, fury and recrimination.
Having begun as a novelty act, singing the line-dancing number ‘5,6,7,8’ they were signed by Kylie’s svengali – Pete Waterman, who transformed them into a party group, consisting of five vocalists – Claire, Fay, Lisa, Lee and ‘H’. Their gimmick was that they danced an easy routine in every video. Their fans would learn these moves and the cult of Steps was born.
For that four year period they were massive – selling millions of albums and doing huge arena tours.
Trouble was brewing. Claire was the most talented vocalist, but was feeling insecure about her weight and image. Ian ‘H’ Watkins – not to the be confused with the weirdo from Lost Prophets – was in a relationship with the band’s manager Tim Byrne, and plotting his solo career. On December 22nd 2001, in Manchester, one hour before the final show in their tour, H and Claire handed the other three members of the band their letters of resignation.
They went on to form a duo – imaginatively called ‘H and Claire’ – and released a couple of underwhelming Steps-alike songs.
The other three members were understandably angry and hurt by this betrayal, by people who they thought were friends.
Lisa Scott Lee famously had a reality TV show on MTV, where she vowed that if her comeback solo single failed to reach the Top 10, then she would retire from the music business.
It reached number 14 in the chart. She released a follow up single.
In 2004 as her desperate attempts to succeed as a solo star were fading to dust, she was a performer at Amsterdam Gay Pride. After performing her set, she announced that she would be signing autographs backstage. As I was walking past, I saw her being mobbed by literally twos of fans. I approached and asked her to sign my programme. She asked me my name, and when I told her she squealed ‘At least I can spell that’. I have loved her ever since.
Eleven years after the bitter breakup, they realised that their pension funds were looking unhealthy. So, via the medium of reality television, they reformed the group for a tour and album. It was a smash.
It made sense. Unlike many bands who outstay their welcome, Steps’ career had been short but stellar. They bowed out at the height of their success. And it’s better to burn out than fade away. When they reunited, there was a lot of goodwill towards them. And a sense of unfinished business.
Last night’s gig was incredible. The support act for the support act, was an English singer called Max Restaino. He put his heart and soul into the show but – Dolly love him – it must have been hard. Support acts are the unsung heroes of the concert circuit – performing before the biggest audiences of their careers – none of which have paid to see them.
The Vengaboys followed – they were as cheesy and ridiculous as you’d expect. They got the room pumping though, with their hilariously naff songs – ‘We’re going to Ibiza’; ‘We like to party (the Vengabus)’; ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom’; ‘Up and down’ etc.
When the lights dimmed for the main event, the air of anticipation was palpable. It exploded when the opening bars of their 2017 song ‘Scared of the dark’ played, and all five members were revealed to the shrieking audience.
The middle aged woman beside me looked like she was convulsing. Her arms were flailing about hysterically. When she accidentally punched my head, I moved away.
The band looked like the hatchet had been well and truly buried. They looked like they were having a blast.
Costume changes galore, an elaborate stage, spectacular lighting and set, ten hot dancers, and a more democratic split of the vocal duties. Clearly since the dastardly betrayal by H and Claire, the other three members are no longer willing to be pushed around, and have insisted upon more responsibility. Even Lee – who during their heyday never sang a lyric, had vocals to perform – and quite the pleasant singing voice he has too. Which only deepened my feelings for him.
And the hits. They have had so many – ‘One for sorrow’; ‘Better best forgotten’; ‘Stomp’; ‘Last thing on my mind’; ‘Chain reaction’; ‘Summer of love’ and the cover version of ‘Better the devil you know’ by Kylie Minogue. That was quite possibly the gayest thing I have ever seen in the history of gayness. The only ropy moment was their cover of ‘Story of a heart’ by Benni and Bjorn from ABBA. This was written as an ABBA song in the 1980s but never released as a single. Decent as her voice is, and despite being a lovely song, I couldn’t hear Claire singing it.
I could only hear Agnetha and Frida. And perfection ought not to be challenged.
The finale of course was ‘Tragedy’ – an absolute meringue of unbridled campness, with the five singers emerging on stage in wedding splendour on top of a giant wedding cake.
It was a wonderful show. They were as utterly uncool as they have always been – at one point I spotted a guitar on stage and inwardly hissed at its presence. That has always been their strength though– they know that they are a pop band and they do it so well.
It was magical.
In fact I might even be so bold as to suggest that it was one of the most electrifying nights in the history of show-business.
Until the next one…