Homecoming Kings: Take That To Play 7 Nights At Manchester’s Co-op Live


By Eamonn Forde

It is difficult for most Americans to understand just how enormous Take That are; but, for generations who came of age in the ’90s, aughts and teens, especially in the UK, but also throughout Europe, Australia, Asia and beyond, they are superstars of the highest order — the sun, the moon, the guiding light above, more beloved than any other act ever.

Formed in Manchester in 1990 as a pin-up-worthy five-piece, Take That (earlier incarnations were named The Cutest Rush and Kick It), included current members Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen, along with former members Jason Orange and Robbie Williams. They would go on to transcend any and all boy band boxes with a jaw-dropping career that in their homeland included selling more albums than any group since The Beatles. They had nine No. 1 albums and a stunning 12 No. 1s on the UK Singles Chart; they’ve won eight Brit Awards, six Ivor Novellos, collaborated with Barry Gibb, Boyz II Men and Lulu; and last May performed at Windsor Castle for King Charles III’s coronation. As impressive as all that certainly is, their stratospheric live career may be most impressive and continues to build upon their storied legacy.

Dating back to 2006, Take That have sold 4.3 million tickets across 209 shows with an astronomical $426,345,814 gross, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. Their incredible and record-setting eight shows at London’s Wembley Stadium between June 30 and July 9, 2011, during their reunified “Progress Live Tour,” which featured the group’s original lineup, was seen by 623,737 and grossed a whopping $62,823,259 — marking the largest single gross ever reported, per Pollstar’s 2022 All-Time Boxoffice chart. Their eight shows at Etihad Stadium in Manchester on the same tour, with ticket sales of 443,223, ranked No. 5 on that same chart.

“I cannot see anyone selling to their level of total tickets,” said Simon Moran, MD of SJM Concerts and Take That’s promoter since the band’s 2006 reformation.  “They have cumulatively been the most successful live act in the UK  — 100%  — and have had so many tours that have all done really well.”

The National Lottery's Big Bash
IL DIVOS: Take That’s Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen, whose new “This Life Tour,” kicks off April 13, will play a record-setting seven nights at Manchester’s new Co-Op Live in May and June. They are pictured performing Dec. 6, 2023, at the finale of The National Lottery’s Big Bash at OVO Arena Wembley in London. (Photo by Phillips / Getty Images / The National Lottery)

Take That kick off their “This Life Tour” April 13, which runs through Nov. 14 and sees the group expand into brand new markets and return to territories they’ve not played in since the 1990s (notably Australia). Key among the 75 announced global shows are seven dates at the new Co-op Live in Manchester, (see page 20) starting May 7,  marking the group’s triumphant homecoming at the UK’s (and Europe’s) newest and biggest indoor arena.

For the band, and especially Donald and Owen from Droylsden and Oldham, respectively, which are both just outside of Manchester, these seven shows at this market-changing venue will have very special meaning. “We’re absolutely thrilled to be part of the opening of this amazing venue,” says Take That’s Barlow. “Coming to Manchester is always a treat; it’s a homecoming for us, but this will be the icing on a very fabulous cake.”

“Manchester is our hometown and the audiences are always spectacular,” adds Owen, “so it’s always special when we return. Every venue you play carries its own atmosphere and brings something special. It is obviously very exciting to play somewhere for the first time and geographically find your way around and meet the people who work there and help keep it running.”

That kind of down-to-earth ethos is key to the group’s continued success and why their new album This Life (EMI) was such a massive success upon its November release.

Six years in the making, and their sixth studio album since regrouping in 2006, the album had the UK’s biggest debut week of the year.

“It all comes from the band,” says Chris Dempsey, MD of YMU Music and Take That’s manager. “They have an unbelievable drive, ambition and work ethic, matched obviously by incredible talent.”

Dempsey says planning for the “This Life Tour” started in early 2023 and the band made it clear they wanted to not just build on existing strong markets like the UK and Germany, but to go into new territories for the first time such as Portugal and Hungary.

“We’ve exceeded the sales of the ‘Greatest Hits Live Tour’ in 2019,” confirms Dempsey. “It’s about firsts. The band are really keen to do new things and are excited by new challenges and new markets. We absolutely want to match that and deliver that for them.”

Take That Perform At Wembley Stadium In 2011
WEMBLEY ASSEMBLIES: Take That’s eight shows in 2011 at London’s Wembley Stadium, as part of the group’s reunited “Progress Live Tour,” grossed a record-setting $62.8 million. (Photo by Getty Images)

Take That are playing 19 different cities on the UK and Ireland leg of the tour. The aforementioned seven dates at Co-op Live in Manchester are the most shows for any single city, ahead of the O2 Arena in London and the Utilita Arena in Birmingham (six each).

Which brings us back to Manchester. Take That’s Donald strongly suggests there is something “musically magical” about Manchester and its long and deep history in producing influential and hugely successful acts over the decades. “It’s hard to put your finger on one thing,” he says of Manchester’s rich music legacy (see page 6), “but it’s definitely music central. Artists who have broken through from Manchester are so talented and have achieved such great success.”

Manchester, says Dempsey, is one of the most important stops on the tour, a situation that is boosted further with the band’s first shows at Co-op Live. “It’s a brand new arena in the band’s hometown,” the manager says. “It felt exciting and a great opportunity to be one of the first artists to play in that arena.”

He cannot reveal too much about the show but does say, “It will be a mix of old and new [songs], no question. But there will be surprises in there.”

The UK, their home market, has always been strong for Take That, but this tour had broader international ambitions from the off.

“The band were very clear, as were management, that this was absolutely a global strategy from the get-go,” says James Wright, their agent at United Talent Agency. “It was always looking outward. This was always about the band feeling excited and ambitious to visit the fans in not just their core UK market but also overseas.”

The UTA IQ division of the company dissected all the audience data around the act and used that to help plot the tour. “We’ve really leaned into that and it has paid dividends in that respect because we’re selling a lot of tickets now in markets the band haven’t been to before or haven’t been to for a long time,” says Wright.

Olly Ward, also an agent at UTA, adds, “We felt confident that the band, based on the stats that we were looking at, would be able to deliver some great results internationally. It’s been very, very strong. The band and everyone involved is delighted with the results.”

The band, who are headlining a mix of stadiums and arenas, with Olly Murs opening some dates, are also playing several European festivals peppered through the tour. Mostly, though, the tour is about their own headline shows and the certainty their name alone is a powerful draw.

“Generally speaking, the band likes to present their own show to the fans,” says Ward. “They can sell the tickets in these outdoor spaces without having to be part of a festival lineup. It’s an issue to do with their confidence and their ability to draw a crowd.”

Moran attributes part of the enduring appeal of Take That live to the fact that the shows are spectacular. “They put so much effort into the creativity of the shows and they don’t shirk on spending where they need to.” He also says touring strategically is a major part of this. “They’ve been very careful,” he explains. “People tour too often. If you do it all the time, it’s not special.”

Take That
BOYISH GOOD LOOKS: Take That’s Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams in London circa 1991. (Photo by Michael Putland / Getty Images)

Dempsey says for Take That it is about continually pushing the envelope and stretching themselves with each new project. “We never rest on our laurels,” he says. “The fanbase of this band are incredibly loyal and they absolutely give you a platform to build upon.”

Moran believes Co-op Live will draw even more world-class acts to Manchester and the scale of investment in building the arena and redeveloping the area around it will have significant knock-on effects for both the city and the northwest of England. “There are lots of jobs being created,” he says. “The follow-through effect will hopefully be very positive.”

Owen, who is also key in designing the visual look of Take That’s tours, says he is excited about the design of the bowl in Co-op Live, which creates a more intimate experience, even in a large arena. “If it is designed to bring the audience and musicians closer, then that’s a big thumbs up from us.”

He adds that the Co-op Live shows will stand as an important and symbolic marker for how far the band have come since their formation in 1990. “Our first-ever show was a couple of miles from the new venue,” he notes. “That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?”