I was a bit too old to get into Take That in a screaming kind of way when they were first big, but I did like them. I bought a couple of their albums and a video. One of my favourites of their songs was Babe, where Mark Owen took the lead vocals for once.
He was such a little cutie with his angelic features and huge grin. When Take That split up, everyone seemed sure he would stay in the public eye, but it wasn't to be so. While Robbie's career flew skywards, the other four Take Thatters seemed to disappear somewhat.
In 1996, Mark Owen's first solo album was released. He had a couple of singles that did well in the charts, but fans seemed confused. The young teenyboppers were unsure of the new hippie Mark with longer scruffy hair and a music style more rooted in indie than pop.
On the other hand, which indie music fans would want to own an album by the cute little one from Take That? Not surprisingly then, his daring change of style didn't seem to gain him enough sales to sustain his career and ickle Marky disappeared.
Six years later came Celebrity Big Brother. One of the six celebs entering the house - all in the name of 'char-i-dee' - was none other than Mark Owen. Now thirty, but still with long scruffy hair and that trademark leg-melting grin, he was ready to show the nation what he was really about.
Ten days of the Big Brother experience showed us Mark was a sensitive soul, quiet and sometimes withdrawn. As the celebs were evicted one by one, he blossomed in a smaller group, demonstrating his quick wit, endearing charm and proving he had none of the negative sides associated with being very famous, very young.
He won Celebrity Big Brother and as second placed Les Dennis left the house, the nation watched as Mark Owen wept. A few minutes later as he was welcomed by Davina McCall, he said he had wanted Les to win. A million hearts melted all over again.
So it was that a few years ago, I dug out my old copy of Mark's debut solo album - Green Man - and once again filled my room with these beautiful songs. He wrote all of the twelve tracks and some of them are extremely impressive.
The album begins with the title track and this is definitely a hippie one, with rumbling chants and instrumental plunges. It sounds a bit cliched lyrically at times and the image of the sweet boyish one from Take That singing 'Peace, man' is rather comical. It works though. It's worth a listen, but I wouldn't say it was a favourite of mine. Other tracks on here are of a much higher standard, so if this one isn't to your liking, fast forward to the next one.
Clementine was one of the singles and is a highlight of the album. It is beautiful, but also quite fast and rocky, the pace disguising the fast that the lyrics are actually rather sad. Owen's songs are very well written, often quite poetic and well worth a listen.
Track three is Child, which has a wonderful video to go with it. (Mark getting wet, phwawwww!) This is again a very sad song with a hauntingly beautiful melody and a memorable chorus. This was another successful single and deservedly so. It still holds up now as a fantastic song and the repetition creates an almost hypnotic effect. Shut your eyes and lose yourself in this one.
The next song Are You With Me pales in comparison, but is a pleasant enough track. It is again quite a hippie sounding one, with plenty of references to 'smoking a smoke' and a very relaxed, mellow style.
Track five is Naturally, which is a rather catchy bop-along sound, but still fitting into the indie/rock genre. It is again of a high standard and enjoyable to listen to, but I always feel I want it to end quite quickly, because the following track is one of my all-time favourites.
Ask Him To is full of memories. At the time, I had a gay male friend who was being mistreated by his partner and this song seemed painfully relevant to his situation. It has beautiful lyrics, which I always sing along to and a melody that you will rummage round your head for days. It is also a beautifully constructed song, almost like a book with its separate paragraphs and its final page.
After that brilliance, again the next song suffers by not being up to that high standard, but Back Pocket and Me is by no means a bad song. It's a much faster pace after the slow and gentle one before. It has quite a strong backing beat, which gives it an almost African feel to it. It has a prominent drumming sound and almost a gospel choir effect at times.
Track eight is Move On, which again has a strong beat, this time it seems to be mainly guitars. Another rocky sounding song with a gentler quality to the verses, the lyrics are quite simple but it is catchy and toe-tapping and another consistently good track.
Secondhand Wonderland is slower, with an ethnic feel to it and unusual instrumental accompaniment. This is another hippie track, which I find a little too dreamy and prefer his songs with a bit more kick in them, whereas this one drags a bit. I think this is my least favourite on the album, but again, it's not especially bad, there are just much better.
My Love is another of my favourite songs of all time. When I first started going out with my now husband, we lived 180 miles apart and this song seemed so appropriate that I once sang it to him over the 'phone. It is a gorgeous gentle lilting track with beautiful lyrics. I still often cry when I listen to this, especially the bit "what you need, is someone who without you can't breathe" which is one of my favourite lines of a song. It's just an amazing song.
After that, the last two tracks are something of an anti-climax. I Am What I Am is not a cover of that great song performed so memorably by the great Shirley Bassey (Shame!), but is a very distinctive Mark Owen track, quite typical of the album as a whole. His voice is unique and he can switch from 'sweet choirboy vocals' to heavy rock in the same song, as illustrated so well with this one. Great lyrics here too.
The album concludes with Is That What It's All About. This is quite a gentle track, but another catchy one that will tinkle about in your head for a while, invading your thoughts with a few memorable segments when you least expect it. A good way to round off a wonderful album, which really needs to be on continual repeat.
Overall, there are four tracks on this album that are worth the money alone. They are among the most beautiful songs ever written in my opinion and powerful enough to make me cry. The rest of the album is very good too and definitely worth a listen.
Since the release of this album, of course, Take That have reformed and Mark Owen is back in the public eye doing what he loves best. My favourite Take That track of recent years is Shine, in which Mark takes lead vocals and although poppier than anything on Green Man, it is a great song and does remind me of some of the tracks on this album.
If you like Mark or Take That, buy this album. Amazon UK are selling it for only £3.23 or £2.79 to download. Bargain!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Green Man
4 Are You With Me
6 Ask Him To
7 Back Pocket And Me
8 Move On
9 Secondhand Wonderland
10 My Love
11 I Am What I Am
12 Is That What It?s All About
13 Confused (Bonus Track)
14 Home (Bonus Track)
15 Child (acoustic version) (Bonus Track)
16 Johnny (Bonus Track)
17 Mr You (Bonus Track)