The mid to late nineties into the early noughties were a vintage time for British pure pop acts with the likes of S Club 7, Spice Girls and Billie dominating the UK singles chart and radio waves. The sound was distinct, carefree unabashed fun, it was distinctly British and unlike the Max Martin sounds offered by the Americans during this particularly iconic period in British pop.
It was a time when the likes of All Saints, Mis-Teeq, Cleopatra, A1, Westlife, and Blue appeared on shows such as Top Of The Pops, Popworld and CD:UK to promote their music, the shows were the perfect platform to reach huge audiences, which in turn drove singles sales. Magazines such as Smash Hits, TOTP Magazine, Big and TV Hits sprawled the latest stars across their pages. The music industry thrived and it was a time when the two part CD single reigned!
Good times indeed, and or many, like us, this pop era defined our teenage years, lifting the light on those long school days and continued to do so throughout the college and university years too. There is such strong emotion and vividness attached to this time and that is due to the music and the popstars we loved and adored at the time.
With the emergence of music reality TV shows such as Popstars, Pop Idol and Fame Academy – it changed the pop landscape and together with the arrival of American R&B and hip-hop from the likes of Beyoncé, 50 Cent and Nelly and with indie guitar bands such as Arctic Monkeys in vogue – there was suddenly no space for unadulterated, polished pop fun, meaning many of the pop bands called it a day.
In recent years, a raft of bands such as Take That, Boyzone, Spice Girls and Steps have successfully reformed for at least a greatest hits tour, there is clearly a market and demand for these acts to perform together again for die-hard fans and for those who just want to dance and relive their youth with glorious abandon.
Nostalgia can be big business, but for every successful reunion, the likes of A1, East 17 and S Club 3 and All Saints suffered in trying recapture their former glories and experienced varying degrees of limited success as a result. So, to reform can be tricky, unfortunately the British public are cynical and not altogether embracing of former popstars trying again, plus the music industry has changed coupled with the way in which people consume music has made gigantic leaps forward in past ten years.
All is not doom and gloom though as ITV2 have comissioned an eight part show which reunites six of the most successful bands of that glorious era in British pop music (HURRRAH) in order to share and relive the pinacle of their careers, the glories, awards and adulation they experienced and to uncover the harsh realities, issues and difficulties that went with being a popstar at the time from pregnancies, member crises onto what happened once the records stopped selling in significant numbers as they did once before. The show will also capture the reunion of the individuals, the human side of how they react to working together again, resolving differences, forgetting the past and moving on – expect tears aplenty!
The groups taking part are Honeyz, B*Witched, Atomic Kitten, Liberty X, 5ive and 911! Voiced by the one and only Andi Peters, The Big Reunion begins on Thursday 31st January at 9pm on ITV2. Parts of the series have already been filmed – each episode will focus on two bands and explore their highs and lows. Episode one focuses on 5ive and Liberty X (spoilers here), episode two explores the reunion of Atomic Kitten and 911 (spoilers here), and episode three centres aound Honeyz and B*Witched (spoilers here). As well as this, each band is given two weeks intense rehearsals in order to prepare for a one-off live show which comes at the end of the series. Ticket details being announced on the Big Reunion Twitter page here.
So, let’s have a look at the bands taking part to remind ourselves why we all loved them in the first place…
Honeyz – HEAVENLI, Celena, Mariama
We LOVE and adore all things girl groups here at Pop Cart – the way in which girls can deliver, convey emotion and meaning within a song is unparalleled and Honeyz were the perfect fit. Emerging in 1998 with ‘Finally Found’, the trio quickly became radio favourites with their unique brand of sassy attitude, smooth ballads and no nonsense uptempo beats. Their music was given cool re-workings from the likes of Rude Boy and the Ignorants and the band scored five consecutive top ten hits on the UK singles chart. Their album ‘Wonder No. 8’ sold well, and was certified silver status, spending an impressive 22 weeks on the countdown – they also were nominated for a BRIT Award and a MOBO before giving a memorable performance of ‘Won’t Take It Lying Down’ with Kele Le Roc at the 1999 ceremony. Two consecutive Party In The Park appearances cemented their status as an extremely fine and well liked girl group.
Difficulties arose for the band when Heavenli departed, she was replaced by Mariama (formerly of Solid HarmoniE), who remained a member for two singles before Heavenli rejoined the band. The band re-emerged in 2001, with the single ‘I Don’t Know’, which would be their last as Mercury cancelled the release of further singles (the superb ‘Talk To The Hand’) and their second studio album ‘Harmony’ (which the label also did with albums from Dina Carroll, Kelle Bryan and others that year), which is a great shame as the album is really very excellent – it showed growth and a more mature sound (we managed to find the full album promo in a charity shop along with the unreleased Dina Carroll album – that day was more exciting than Christmas)!!!
The band continued, in many guises (even recruiting Celena’s sister) off and on until 2009. The Big Reunion joins Mariama and Heavenli within the band for the first time.
Stats and trivia
Biggest Hit: ‘Finally Found’ which reached number 4 on the UK Singles Chart in September 1998 and was certified silver.
Singles Data: 7 singles with 57 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Album Data: 1 album with 22 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
B*Witched – Edele, Keavy, Sinead, Lyndsey
B*Witched emerged in 1998 and quickly established themselves with a unique brand of infectious bubblegum pop. The tomboy-ish girls wearing gimmicky double denim customised outfit had widespread appeal with pre-teen audiences. Their debut single ‘C’est La Vie’ was a global hit, reaching number 1 in the UK, spent six weeks at number 1 in Ireland and charted at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. With the release of the fourth single (their finest and most brilliant track) ‘Blame It On The Weatherman’ in March 1999 the band’s first four singles had all debuted at number one, which is still a record unmatched by any girl group in UK chart history. During this time, their self-titled debut album went double platinum and they embarked on a sold-out UK tour. They also appeared as part of the Thank ABBA For The Music tribute performed at the 1999 BRIT Award Ceremony alongside Billie, Cleopatra, Tina Cousins and Steps. In the US, the band supported N*Sync along with Britney Spears during the summer of 1999.
In the autumn of 1999, the band unveiled their second and final studio album ‘Awake And Breathe’, it featured three further singles, all of which failed to match the impressive chart positions of their previous work. In 2000, the band toured America and they released an EP exclusive to the US market. A third album was planned but failed to materialise after the band were dropped and a new deal with Telstar Records fell through following its collapse. B*Witched then disbanded in 2002.
Stats and trivia
Biggest Hit: ‘C’est La Vie’ which reached number one on the UK singles chart in May 1998, spending two weeks at the top and becoming the fifth best selling single of that year.
Singles Data: 7 Singles with 85 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Number 1 Singles: 4 – ‘C’est La Vie’, ‘Rollercoaster’, ‘To You I Belong’, ‘Blame It On The Weatherman’
Album Data: 2 albums with 48 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
911 – Jimmy, Lee, Spike
911 emerged on the pop scene in May 1996 as bright, cheeky, clean cut lads when their debut single, a cover of Shalamar’s ‘A Night To Remember’ charted at number 36. Spike, Lee and Jimmy were guaranteed Saturday morning kids TV gold – their antics together with their music made them popular with audiences, the quickly became our favourite boyband of the time – they offered something different to the balladering of Boyzone and the like. Each of their subsequent releases charted higher than it’s predecessor with their third single ‘The Day We Find Love’ being the first to break into the Top 10. A further three singles reached the Top 10 including their most memorable hit ‘Bodyshakin”, which to this day sounds AMAZING! All six singles were featured on their debut album ‘The Journey’, which went on to spend 17 weeks on the chart. A sold-out UK tour and a runner up spot to Best British Group at the 1997 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party capped off a triumphant couple of years.
By 1998, the trio released their second album ‘Moving On’, which became their first Top 10 album but only produced three top ten singles. Aware and unhappy with the performance, they trio switched management, and went on to release their third album, some seven months later in the form of ‘There It Is’ which was a collection of cover versions – it became their highest charting record (number 8) and featured their only number 1 single to date, a cover of the Dr. Hook’s classic ‘A Little Bit More’. In November of 1999, they issued their greatest hits and announced they were to separate live on air with Chris Moyles in February 2000.
In 2005, Spike, Lee and Jimmy reunited for TV show, ‘Baby One More Time’, which involved performers competing for the public vote by singing their biggest hit and a modern cover. 911 won their heat and made it to the final where Shakin Stevens was crowned the winner. The trio have since made various public appearances and played live on a handful of occasions.
STATS AND TRIVIA
Biggest Hit: ‘A Little Bit More’, a cover of Dr. Hook’s hit which reached number 1 in 1998.
Singles Data: 13 Singles with 94 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Number 1 Singles: 1 – ‘A Little Bit More’
Album Data: 4 Albums with 26 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
Liberty X – Tony, Jessica, Kevin, Michelle, Kelli
Liberty X were formed after competing on reality TV show Popstars, which aimed to put together a new band. The eventual winners Hear’Say were catapulted to instant fame and chart success before quickly petering out after less than eighteen months. The five that didn’t make the cut got together to form Liberty and were signed to V2 (a subsidiary of Virgin Records). Everyone loves an underdog and despite being labelled Flopstars by the media, the band quickly proved critics wrong with their debut single ‘Thinking It Over’, which was produced by the very cool production team of the Artful Dodger. It was released in 2001 and peaked at number 5 in the UK singles chart and from that moment Liberty X became our favourite boy/girl band because they offered something different to the squeaky clean stylings of SClub7 and Steps. A five month legal battle ensued as a band also recording as Liberty took them to court. They re-emerged as Liberty X in 2002 with their biggest hit to date, the slinky and sultry monster pop hit ‘Just A Little‘. Their debut album ‘Thinking It Over’ featured tracks co-written by the band and was produced by the cream of British R&B in the shape of K-Gee and Mushtaq. Two further top ten singles and a sold-out UK tour helped to boost their popularity and success.
In 2003, Liberty X successfully collaborated with Richard X on a reworking of ‘Ain’t Nobody’ by Rufus & Chaka Khan – by now, the band were seen as cool and were celebrated, they even triumphed by winning a BRIT Award for Best Single in the process. By November 2003, their second album ‘Being Nobody’ featured further hit singles successes but the album itself failed to match their initial success and sales dwindled. Following their departure from V2 Records, and time apart to pursue solo ventures, it would be two years before the band released another album, this time on a smaller independent label. The lead single ‘Song 4 Lovers’ featured Rev Run of Run DMC and propelled the band back into the Top 5, once more, their third album ‘X’ failed to match the singles success, charting at number 27. The band recorded a cover of Shalamar’s ‘A Night To Remember’ for BBC’s 2006 Children In Need campaign, it reached number 6 and would be the last time that the band reached the Top 10. The band continued playing gigs together before calling it a day in 2007.
STATS AND TRIVIA
Biggest Hit: ‘Just A Little’ reached number 1 in May 2002 and would go on to win the BRIT Award for Best British Single in 2003
Singles Data: 11 singles with 92 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Number 1 Singles: 1 – ‘Just A Little’
Album Data: 3 albums with 64 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
Atomic Kitten – Liz, Natasha, Kerry
Atomic Kitten emerged as shiny, bright new girlband in 1999 with the catchy, upbeat and infectious ‘Right Now’. The single reached number 10 and spent a respectable nine weeks on the chart. We LOVED them from the start, they were exciting, fun and caused havoc wherever they went, plus their heady euphoric brand of pop was refreshing. The bands next two singles would also reach the Top 10 in the UK, and the trio won praise from Spice Girl extraordinarie Melanie C who acknowledged their likeness to the Spice Girls in their early days. However, it was with the release of their fourth single ahead of the debut album when things faltered – their album reached number 39 and spent just two weeks on the countdown.
Looking like likely candidates for the axe from their label, Atomic Kitten were thrown a lifeline with the opportunity to release ‘Whole Again’ as the fifth track from the album. At the time Kerry Katona became pregnant with partner Brian McFadden of Westlife and she quit the band with a matter of days until the release date. The band drafted in former member of Precious, Jenny Frost and upon release, the track saved their fortunes reaching number 1, spending four weeks at the top and went on to be the fourth biggest selling single by a UK girlband. Capitalising upon the success of ‘Whole Again’, their debut album was re-released with Jenny’s vocals and also reached number 1. The follow-up single a cover of ‘Eternal Flame’ by The Bangles also reached number 1. A sold-out UK theatre tour cemented their status as the UK’s premiere and most successful girlband of the next four year period.
Prior to the release of the band’s second album in 2002, Natasha announced her pregnancy and carried on promotional duties throughout the campaign for their cover of Blondie’s ‘Tide Is High’, which went on to become their third chart topper. Their second album ‘Feels So Good’ showcased a more mature and sophisticated sound, the title track was written by Kylie Minogue and it topped the album chart when released in August 2002. A book, DVD and even a clothing range with BHS were made available during this time.
The band returned with their third album ‘Ladies Night’ in 2003 – the success of the album lead to a UK arena tour which took place in 2004, during this time they announced plans to take an extended break, only to perform together at special occasions, a greatest hits album was released following the news. The girls enjoyed successful solo ventures and true to their word reformed for special projects such as charity singles such as ‘Cradle’ in aid of World Vision in 2005 and one-off performances most notably in 2008 at the Liverpool Echo Arena as part of the Number One’s Project, which celebrated the music of the city.
With Jenny being heavily pregnant during filming of their comeback, Kerry rejoins the band for the Big Reunion, and marks the first time she has performed with the girls for thirteen years.
STATS AND TRIVIA
Biggest Hit: ‘Whole Again’ which reached number 1 spending four weeks on top of the UK Singles Chart in February 2001
Singles Data: 14 singles with 152 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Number 1 Singles: 3 – ‘Whole Again’, ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘The Tide Is High (Get The Feeling)’
Album Data: 4 albums with 83 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
Number 1 albums: 2 – ‘Right Now’, ‘Feels So Good’
5ive – Scott, Sean, Richie & AbZ
Five were put together by Chris Herbet with his father Bob, who had originally formed the Spice Girls. Following a similar pattern, the members were chosen after auditioning upon seeing an advert in The Stage, they lived together and rehearsed daily before they were signed by Simon Cowell at BMG/RCA Records in 1997.
The band was edgier and less polished than others around at the time, which was reflected in the sound of their debut single ‘Slam Dunk Da Funk’ which reached number 10 in December 1997. With the release of their second single, ‘When The Lights Go Out’, Five enjoyed worldwide success and had a number 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 – a huge achievement at the time. From their, the success of the band grew especially in the UK, with each single selling more than it’s predecessor and as a result their debut album ‘5ive’ reached number 1.
In 1999, the band achieved their biggest hit with ‘Keep On Movin”, which spent a mighty 17 weeks on the chart. Their second album ‘Invincible’ became their biggest selling record, achieving double platinum status in the UK. At the 2000 BRIT Awards, in collaboration with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, Five opened the ceremony before winning the award for Best Pop Act. In July, they appeared at Party In The Park with Queen and went on yo topped the chart with a recording of ‘We Will Rock You’.
Following a sold-out arena tour, Five returned in August 2001 with ‘Let’s Dance’ which became their third chart topper and served as the lead single from their third studio album ‘Kingszie’. It was at this point when Five began to fall apart. Sean disappeared during promotional duties, which at the time was blamed on illness. Scott’s girlfriend gave birth prematurely so he spent time away from the band as did Ritchie who injured himself whilst performing in Europe. An arena tour was announced but quickly shelved after the band claimed it had not agreed to, which lead to rumours and speculation about their stability and future together. Five announced they were to disband in September 2001. A final single and greatest hits album were released shortly after the news.
In 2007, Abs, Scott, Ritchie and J reformed but again disbanded some months later after failing to secure record label interest.
STATS AND TRIVIA
Biggest Hits: ‘Keep On Movin” was their first UK chart topper, spending one week in pole position in October 1999.
Singles Data: 11 singles with 133 weeks on the Official UK Singles Chart
Number 1 singles: 3 – ‘Keep On Movin”, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Let’s Dance’
Album Data: 4 albums with 96 weeks on the Offical UK Album Chart
Number 1 albums: 1 – ‘Five’
BEYOND exciting, right!!! It’s really great to see these bands back together again. Don’t forget The Big Reunion begins on ITV2 from Thursday 31st January at 9pm – be SURE to tune in to this unmissable TV event!
Read the ITV press release here. Photographs courtesy of ITV. Chart data supplied by the Official Charts Company.