STEPS Let’s get this party started (again)
They’re heading to The O2 bringing some cheer to a world that needs pop Joe Nerssessian
Steps are playing a game. Lisa Scott-Lee and Claire Richards are trying to work out who the Chancellor of the Exchequer was when they formed, almost 20 years ago, in May 1997.
As they confer, Ian “H” Watkins slyly tickles their backs. Swatting him away, Richards correctly answers “Gordon Brown” to the delight of her bandmates, who fall about laughing.
It’s just one sign of the affinity and energy retained by the group, who split acrimoniously at the turn of the millennium, when Claire and H decided they wanted to form a duo.
Since then, of course, things have been patched up, and the band reformed in 2011 for a Sky Living series and a string of concerts. Now, more than five years on, with the exception of 39-year-old Richards, they have all celebrated their 40th birthdays, but that does little to deter their energy and positive affront.
Hauling suitcases and carrying Pret takeaway bags, they bundle into the studio where they’re set to have a photo shoot. The five, completed by Lee Latchford-Evans and Faye Tozer, start swapping make-up and hairbrushes and finding plug sockets to charge their phones, giggling and breaking into song before finally taking their seats.
I catch up with them 24 hours later, after the release of Scared Of
The Dark, the lead track from their first album proper in 17 years – they released a Christmas record of largely covers in 2012 – and the fivesome have somehow grown even more excitable.
Taking over the corner of a restaurant in a London hotel, their manager, Adam, looks up from his laptop and says: “We’re on Vice.”
The comment is greeted with startled yelps – along with a query: “Is that good?!” The Vice article declares Scared
Of The Dark a “bombastic, Abbareferencing pop beast that will most certainly soundtrack someone’s post-divorce drinking this year”. It is declared “banger of the month”.
This reaction has come as a surprise, says Lee, flanked by mum-of-two Claire, who arrives a little later after completing the school run.
“We didn’t know how people were going to take it,” he adds. “We know fans love the old stuff, it’s been proven. But the new material, we thought: ‘Oh God, we’re from 20 years ago, the charts have changed, how they buy it has changed’.”
But all that doesn’t seem to have mattered. The group recall leaving the BBC in Salford after an interview a day or two before, when staff members lined the glass corridors to catch a glimpse.
Claire recalls: “There were loads of people asking for photos and autographs, and security told us they had never seen anything like it. They’ve had Bradley Cooper, Will.i.am and all these really amazing famous people in there, and they said this never happens.”
They listened to the song’s first play on the radio in the car together – almost 20 years to the day after they gathered to hear their debut release, 5,6, 7, 8. “It felt like we had started all over again,” says H. “There were tears, and
Clockwise from left, Lee Latchford-Evans, Claire Richards, Ian Watkins, Lisa Scott-Lee and Faye Tozer