The singer-songwriter is back with his first solo album in seven years, titled Music Played By Humans.
“I hate to say these words, I think it’s an age thing,” muses Gary Barlow.
He’s talking about his latest musical offering, titled Music Played By Humans.
His first solo album in seven years, recorded with a full 80-piece orchestra, is described as an “ode to the sounds of his childhood, the orchestral and big band music which captured his imagination”.
Enthralling people with music isn’t something new to Barlow, 49, who first found fame as part of Take That alongside Robbie Williams, Mark Owen, Howard Donald and Jason Orange in 1990.
Following the boy band’s initial parting in the late 90s, Barlow made his mark as a solo artist.
“I think I’m at the age now where it wouldn’t be odd for my audience to hear me do a song with an orchestra, it just feels a little bit like, this is a bit of a grown-up record for me,” he explains over Zoom.
“And I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it, we have the best musicians in the world in London and it’s just always a thrill for me to be around talent.
“It’s just been brilliant, the whole experience, and the album is only ever half the picture. I do want to tour with an orchestra, I don’t know when that’s going to be but I would love to try and get as many people on that stage as possible.”
Luckily for Barlow, recording with the orchestra was done two weeks before the first coronavirus lockdown was instituted.
Wind the clock back a few months before that, and it was during Take That’s 30th anniversary tour last year that the title and ideas began percolating for the singer, composer and songwriter.
“We were in Europe and we were finishing the tour off and I promised myself all the way through the tour, ‘Don’t think about what’s next, don’t start’, because once I start… I get excited then and I get distracted.
“And I thought, ‘I want to be there every night on this tour, being in the moment, really enjoying, you know, every single performance’, and I did so well because I got through three months, but then the last week I got this title, Music Played By Humans…”
The idea for the orchestra blossomed, as did his compositions, and he headed straight into the studio, writing most of the record in the summer.
He explains: “And then it kind of took on another life then and I realised, actually, it’s not just an orchestral record, it’s a record celebrating musicians, that’s what it is.
“And their art, and the way they play together, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had the privilege of being stood near an orchestra, but to stand in the middle while they are playing my music, I mean it’s just thrilling on every level.”
It was also an opportunity for him to flex his composing skills and write something outside of pop.
“I always think when I’m writing pop music, the real key to pop music is simplicity,” he says.
“So quite often you’re shaping your ideas to try and make them almost less than how you’ve written them. This was the opposite – this to me was about, right, my piano has 88 notes, I can use as many chords as I want… I don’t have to play by that rule book on this record.
“It just felt like an opportunity to be extremely musical and almost, to be honest, kind of take me back to when I started when I was playing in the social clubs and I was playing all the old standards, you know, Neil Diamond, Elton John, Billy Joel, you know – that was where I wanted to get back to as a musician.
“Someone who was using all his skill set and it just felt like this was the time to do that.”
The singer, who kept fans entertained during the first lockdown with his daily Crooner Sessions broadcasts, has collaborated with some impressive names on the album.
There’s Elita featuring Michael Buble and Sebastian Yatra, Enough Is Enough with Beverley Knight, and a track called The Kind Of Friend I Need, featuring none other than James Corden.
The Corden song has a bit of a history.
“My dad used to love Morecambe and Wise and it was one of those TV shows we always used to sit down and watch as a family and all fall about laughing, even though sometimes I didn’t know what the jokes were about.
“But the one thing they used to have in that show is they used to have buddy songs – songs that men can sing to men, not man to woman duet love songs, like, the way I’m going to tell you I love you is by insulting you.
“And I thought… I’ve had this idea for years, I’d love to write a song like that. So when this whole record started I thought, This is it because you can do it with a bit of a wink and a nudge’.
“And once I’d finished the song there was only one person to call and that’s James, because not only is he funny, he’s actually a good singer as well – it was great, great fun.”
If this album brings cheer to those who hear it, then that’s a job done for the musician.
He says: “I always hope people like it… maybe (it) cheers them up, moves them, is the big thing. If you’re moved in any way, whether it’s to be happy, sad, indifferent, as long as you’re moved, I guess that’s the job of a songwriter really.
“I just want people to enjoy it.”
Gary Barlow’s Music Played By Humans is released on November 27.