A1 star Mark Read wrote his latest solo single, Stop the Show, as a metaphor for life in a pandemic. “No matter what’s going on in life, you can’t stop the show,” he insists.
Covid certainly tried its best to stop the ‘boy band, who shot to fame in the 1990s. A1’s first UK headline tour for two decades as a reunited quartet was twice postponed due to lockdown. But now they’re back to perform live next year on The A Game tour including Birmingham Town Hall, a B:Music venue in September 2022.
Recently Mark popped in to test the B:Music hall’s “amazing” acoustics as he’s just down the road in Redditch, playing the title role in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Palace Theatre. He also surprised two local fans, mother and daughter Sharon and Michelle Morris.
Reminiscing about Birmingham’s important place in A1’s history, Mark confessed: “We actually started here, way back in 1997, the year before we officially launched. CBBC’s Big Bash at the NEC was A1’s debut, our first public performance before we’d even released a record. Nobody knew who we were but we made our first fans. It’s amazing how loyal they’ve been to this day.”
Michelle Morris, 35, first fell in love with A1 when she was 14. She’s looking forward to seeing them again with mum Sharon at Birmingham Town Hall on September 19 2022, nearly three years after originally buying the tickets.
“Their songs are so catchy, you have to get up and dance,” said Michelle, who lives near Atherstone in Warwickshire. “I used to have so many posters of them that you couldn’t see the wallpaper. I still know all the words and all the dance routines. I can’t fit into the T-shirts, though!
“I once entered a karaoke competition in Coventry because the prize was meeting A1, but I didn’t win. I remember seeing them first at the NEC at being thrilled to be in the same room as them.”
And on meeting Mark, she said: “It’s amazing! I can’t put it into words.”
A1 were put together by the same management as Steps and have sold more than 10 million records. They had eight UK top 10 hits, including two number ones, with songs like Take on Me, Like a Rose and Same Old Brand New You.
The band comprises Mark, Ben Adams, Paul Marazzi and Christian Ingebrigtsen from Norway. They had a hiatus in 2002 when Paul left and Mark focused on writing songs for other artists including Boyzone, Michael Bolton and Robin Gibb. The trio reformed in 2009 and have played together since, with Paul rejoining in 2018.
“Paul had his personal reasons for leaving but it was so nice when we got back together,” says Mark. “I think the fans really missed him, as he brought a lot of laughs to the band. He’s so much fun.”
The quartet gigged together again around South East Asia and was part of the Boys Are Back! UK tour with Five, 911 and Damage. It started in February 2020 and they played Symphony Hall in Birmingham but couldn’t finish all the dates because of Covid.
Lockdown then scuppered A1’s headlining A Game tour, due to begin later in 2020.
Mark explains: “We postponed from 2020, then again from October 2021. The whole point of the tour is to showcase our new album, but because of lockdown we haven’t been able to get together to finish it. We want to give ourselves time to do it properly. So now the album will be released just before the September tour. We want the show to be new and something really special.
“Venues now have a huge backlog of bands who want to play their postponed gigs and the earliest we could get in was September. But it will be worth the wait! We really appreciate people buying tickets and being patient. We were heartbroken that we had to reschedule but everyone’s safety comes first.”
During lockdown, Mark recorded three new solo songs in his home studio about the pandemic –Where Were You (When the World Stopped), Smile Again about being positive, and Stop the Show.
“Perhaps you can stop the show,” he smiles ruefully. “But not forever, because we’re back! I sing it in panto and it’s so great to see a full house of people, even wearing masks. We can find a way, the curtain’s not coming down.”
So what’s the biggest difference between performing now and 20 years ago?
“The volume of the screams!” laughs Mark, now 43. “I think we broke records for how loud our audiences were, but they’re a bit more reserved now because everyone is a little older.
“We thought we’d hung up our dancing shoes but we still do the routines, as that’s what the fans want to see.
“Our shows will take people back to their youth. I know every generation has their golden age, but our era was a really great time for pop with bands like Steps, S Club 7, Five, Bewitched and Blue. Now most acts come from reality TV shows and TikTok but there aren’t really any boy bands in the UK any more.
“I much prefer touring now because we have so much more control over what we’re doing. We are the band now, rather than touring with other musicians. We’ve always played instruments but we have more involvement now.
“Our hairstyles and fashion choices are better. Ben was Mr Curtains and used half a can of hairspray every time we went out. Everything we wore in the ‘90s was pretty questionable. I remember when our management wanted us to pick a colour each. We all wore white trousers with a different coloured top – mine was red. We looked like the Teletubbies!”
Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Palace Theatre, Redditch until January 2. A1 play Birmingham Town Hall on September 19 2022.