With their choreographed dance moves, Abba covers and 20 million record sales worldwide, Steps were just as much part of the nineties music scene as Oasis, Blur and Britpop.
Now 20 years on from their debut release and with a combined age of over 200, the pop sensations are back with a new album, nationwide tour and a desire to relive those heady days when Faye Tozer, Lee Latchford-Evans, Ian ‘H’ Watkins, Claire Richards and North Walian Lisa Scott-Lee ruled the charts with the likes of Tragedy, Stomp and One For Sorrow.
“It’s been crazy really,” wonders Chester-born Lee, as he takes a break from Steps’ current UK dates.
“I’m surprised and shocked but also very happy and excited people still want us around. As long as they do, we’ll do all we can to give them a good time - that’s all we want to do.”
As part of their 20th anniversary celebrations, Steps have recently announced a huge summer outdoor tour including a performance at Bolesworth Castle, near Chester, on Saturday, June 23, 2018, with support from fellow ‘90s pop stars Blue.
“We’ve got some good support from the industry and they felt it was worth taking a risk with this tour because the biggest risk for us was actually coming back with an album of new music,” says Lee, 42.
“In 2012 we did the whole nostalgia tour which went really well for us but it was all the old hits.
“It made us think there was something in this and that people do love Steps.
“They want that fun factor and to forget the way the world is at the moment, because let’s be fair it isn’t the best at the moment.”
Steps first broke into the pop scene in 1997 with their debut single 5,6,7,8 and fast became synonymous with lively dance performances and colourful costumes.
In just four years they went on to achieve an unbroken run of 14 top five singles in the UK (including three number ones), two four-times Platinum albums and one
five-times Platinum album.
A decade after their break up in 2001, the band decided to reunite, shooting to number one with their 2011 hits compilation The Ultimate Collection, and selling out their
20-date Ultimate Tour.
This year saw them bring out their highly anticipated album of new material, Tears on the Dancefloor, which achieved Silver status in just three weeks, leading to next year’s tour that will see Steps play huge outdoor venues across the UK.
“When we came to making new music we weren’t really sure how we fitted in today’s market,” admits Lee.
“We worked with the right producers and listened to hundreds of tracks and between us and our management we picked up the ones we thought could make an album. When we put Scared of the Dark out it got to number one on the iTunes chart and the promoters were like ‘let’s do a tour’.
“Originally it was 15 dates but it sold out and now we’ve got 22 arena shows.”
While many bands struggle with reforming after so many years, Lee denies there was much acrimony over Steps’ original split and that 20 years seemed to be something worth celebrating.
“It’s weird really but nothing’s changed,” he says.
“We fitted back into our roles despite it being 20 years since we first met.
“We’ve all gone off and done other things but when Steps get together there’s something that happens that we can’t put our finger on.
“It just works: we all know who’s good or bad and at what and people go where they need to go and we get on it.”
Following the split, H and Claire went on to form a duo and signed a new record deal while the rest of the group became regulars on the reality TV circuit. Lee also became a qualified personal trainer and released his own range of fitness equipment.
“When we first got back together in 2011, H and I hadn’t spoken in six or seven years,” says Lee.
“I love him to pieces but we come from very different worlds and he was unlikely to come down the pub and have a pint with me.
“Despite that we get on really well and I think we admire, trust and respect each other for who we are and it just works.
“Me and the girls always spoke individually and we would hook up for a drink or see at each other auditions or at musicals.
“We were never in each others pockets though and people move on, especially when they get a family. But now it’s actually like being in one big family and I love touring – it’s a nice place to be.”
So much has changed in the music industry since Steps heyday that Lee admits he sometimes struggles to understand which chart they qualify for any more.
“Nearly everything has changed but the biggest thing is certainly the internet,” he agrees.
“The way people just stream a song or whatever you call it without paying for it… I’m old school and I don’t care.
“Everyone would release a song on the Monday and they’d battle it out all week to see who got to number one.
“Nowadays you’ve got a video chart, a streaming chart, a download chart – when Scared of the Dark came out I didn’t really understand what was going on!
“I think we’re of an era where our fans want to own a physical copy of our music and put it in their player and this year we even had our first vinyl release, so I went out and bought a record player for the first time.
“It sounds fantastic. I got one with a CD and a tape built in and it looks really old fashioned and it’s amazing – people love it and people are bringing the vinyl to get signed, so I think it has been really successful.”
As for the likes of X Factor, which emerged in the years since they split, Lee’s no fan of a programme which tried to recreate the Steps chart-bursting formula.
“I personally think X Factor is a double-edged sword,” says Lee.
“When we were around you had to really fight to get yourself known.
“You’d be knocking on doors and sending off CDs and tapes and doing loads of auditions.
“No one else really sees that side of things, but if you were lucky you’d get in the door and someone would sign you and you were on you way and it was fantastic.
“The way X Factor works it gives you instant access to the public, which is a great opportunity for those who’ve got talent. But if you don’t have the talent it’s taking the mickey out of people.
“If I had a friend in that situation I’d have to be honest with them
and say look you’re not going to make it – let’s find something you are good at.”
With the date at Bolesworth something of a hometown show for Lee, thoughts wander to his childhood growing up in the region.
“I was born in Chester and grew up in Ellesmere Port so this gig is so special for me,” he says.
“I was in out of Chester all the time through friends, parties and work and I remember Rosies Nightclub very well!
“I love Chester – the walls, the River Dee. Everything about it is phenomenal.
“I remember watching kids jump off the bridge when I was young, thinking they’re crazy!
“All my family are still in the Port but I live in London now and they only get to see me now and again as I only get to visit about twice a year.
“I really miss them but it’s great when we tour as they’re able to come to Manchester and London and Liverpool, so we get a chance to catch up.”
With his middle name taken from Everton’s former forward Bob Latchford, I close by asking Lee what his thoughts are on the current situation at his club – who have just welcomed Sam Allardyce into the managerial hot seat.
“I was born with an Everton scarf around my neck so I didn’t have a choice about supporting them,” he laughs.
“It has been a nightmare recently but now Big Sam has stepped in maybe the turnaround is about to happen.”
He joked: “Maybe they need to come and do some dancing with us and they can see how it is to run around for two hours!”
l The Grandslam 2018: Summer of Steps Tour with special guests Blue will include a performance at Bolesworth Castle, near Chester on Saturday, June 23, 2018.
Tickets at Bolesworth Castle are: £39.50 + booking fee (Bronze), £45 + booking fee (Silver) and £65 + booking fee (Golden Circle). Tickets on sale now from: www.stepsofficial.net or www.ticketmaster.co.uk or www.lhgtickets.com
Please note tickets are all standing. Limited accessible tickets available from www.ticketmaster.co.uk
Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.