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

The Wharf - - Front Page -

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, 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

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