5ive looks back: ‘Label wants a boyband with an edge – ours is pretty sharp’ | Pop and rock

5 members (from left) Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville and Scott Robinson in 1997 and 2022. Next photo: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Stylist: Andie Redman. Photo archive: Getty Images
5 members (from left) Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville and Scott Robinson in 2022 and (with the rest of the band) in 1997. Next photo: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Stylist: Andie Redman. Photo archive: Getty Images

Formed in 1997 by the management team that formed the Spice Girls, 5ive are the bad boys of pop known for hoopla and big hits like Keep On Movin’ and Everyone Get Up. The band split acrimoniously in 2001, and reformed without Jason “J” Brown for the reality show The Big Reunion in 2013. Abz Love left in 2014, so 5ive now consists of Sean Conlon, Ritchie Neville and Scott Robinson. This year they released Time, their first album in two decades.

Ritchie

My recollection of this photo is I was glad we were lying down so I could half rest while working. I carry a little burden; we ate a lot of junk at the time, quick fix. Once we started fine, I said to management: “Look, we’re going to die if we keep eating like this.” So they upped the ante on the food.

I found an advertisement for audition 5 in a newspaper. It was a photo of actor Paul Nicholls’ head and Peter Andre’s body, and the caption was “Do You Want To Be a Spice Boy?” My instant reaction was, oh, give me a break! Then the wheel started turning and I applied.

Auditions are like a circus. An act of respect, people dancing breakdance. I swayed from side to side feeling very awkward and sang George Michael’s Freedom. From 3,000 people to 14. Once we were all in the same room, they had the last five people within 30 minutes. I think Scott is gobby and thinks a lot of himself, while Sean is a bit gloomy and rude. Now that I know him, I realize that that’s his way of dealing with anxiety.

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I know management wants me to be the Baby Spice of the group. I loved Nirvana and dance music – I went to Glastonbury to see Prodigy when I was 15 – so I wanted to rebel against the role for a long time. The more tired the five of us got, the more we fought – punches and kicks being thrown. I remember walking past the pet store and seeing this puppy. It was a herd of pygmies and all the other dogs bit and climbed on it. I saw myself so I walked in and said, “How much for the dog?” I bought it right then and there.

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After the band broke up, I moved to Australia and we lost touch. I want to be anonymous. I closed the door, was a recluse for years and may have had a bit of a drinking problem. One day I was at Pizza Express and Coldplay was playing. I was flooded with tears and felt very mixed. I realized all I wanted to do was music.

This time the 5ive was much more functional and less anxious. I knew the other two would show up for the show on time, do well and go home after putting food on the table for our kids. That’s all that matters.

Sean

I will be 16 when this is taken. I’m really a boy, and the term boyband doesn’t suit me at all. Before I joined 5ive, I wrote songs at home. I got A’s in GCSE music, but didn’t show up for all my other exams. I joined thinking it was a way to get into this industry, but we ended up getting really big. There’s no turning back.

I had a very simple childhood living in the council house. When I joined 5ive, we were usually paid £100 a week – it was like winning the lottery. Everything was spent on alcohol. Being bad is part of our marketing – every time we appeared in the tabloids we would panic, but Simon Cowell would say: “Perfect! It’s going well!”

I find it difficult being away from my family. I was only 15 when I went, so I cried a lot. I was a kid, and felt completely overwhelmed. I would be signing in stores and could barely look at the fans. The kids know I’m struggling. They supported me, but I was having a bit of a breakdown. Eventually, I started going to counseling and they advised me not to go back to the group. The record company told the press that I had glandular fever and ended up using my cardboard cutout for the Let’s Dance video. After that the band disbanded.

We weren’t as boisterous as the first time. We’re men. Father. Still love a good drink – only now do we know when to sleep.

scot

This shot was done by a photographer who did many of our shots; he would close one eye to take a photo, and the other would look big and weird. I remember him on the steps above us, his round eyes looming over us.

I’ve always wanted spiky hair, but I knew I could never do it unless I was a pop star because it was a little out there. As soon as I logged into 5ive, I said to management: “I know exactly what hairstyle I want.” They said no, but I managed to persuade them. I thought: here it is! I’ve made it!

One time I was getting my hair done in a hotel bathroom before we went to record We Will Rock You. I asked Abz to come in and see if the back looks okay. He had smoked a cigar in the bedroom and left it unattended. When we turned around, the whole room was on fire. Using wet towels over our heads, we crawled out, and just as we were about to escape Abz said: “No man, my Timberland boots!” I said: “Leave your boots on! It’s not worth it!” We were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. Everyone thought it was so funny, but it was actually quite traumatic.

The record label wanted a boyband with a slight edge, but ours was pretty snappy. We’re all close, but having a lot of things so young it’s always going to end badly. Once I tried to leave the group after a fight with J. In a meeting with management, I told them: “I am not who I am, something is wrong. I want out.” Instead of trying to get help for me they said I couldn’t leave, so I lost it. I pinned Richard [Griffiths, the band’s manager] against the wall, and Simon Cowell tried to fight me off of him. I stayed in the group a little longer, but it was difficult.

For his own reasons, J doesn’t want to rejoin the group, and I’m not against it. Before the Big Reunion we went out for a beer and I said: “I’m bigger than you are now – I’m not the little kid you bullied before.” We had a very open and good chat as men, and I respect his decision to stay away. About eight years ago, Abz tweeted saying he was leaving 5ive as well. I’m sad he couldn’t even pick up the phone and tell me. We haven’t spoken since then.

Because of the hurt and pain from my time on 5ive, I never thought I’d be able to sing those songs again. Before Big Reunion I did solo shows and covered songs like Sex on Fire. One day my wife, Kerry, said, “Sing Keeps Moving”. I was reluctant, but did it. The crowd went wild. I realized, why do I avoid? These songs are amazing. I turn my negativity into something positive, and for that I am proud.

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