Steps. You know Steps, right? Of course you do, you’re reading this on a queer lifestyle website.
I fucking love Steps. I’ve had a deep, abiding, burning love for them since I was about five. I can remember getting a counterfeit copy of Steps Gold for Christmas one year and playing it so much my mother still can’t listen to Better The Devil You Know without shivering. I can remember performing a one-man band performance of Tragedy in front of my class in primary school, complete with choreography and interaction with the audience. And I can also remember when Steps announced they were breaking up on Boxing Day in 2002 and crying at the news with my Nan.
If you were to trace the genes of my love affair, my obsession with pop music, you would probably find me dancing to Tragedy at ground zero. I can vividly remember penning my own Steps musical in Year 8 and feeling pretty convinced that I’d just written the next Mamma Mia. So, it may come as a surprise that, in all my 22 years of living, I’d never actually seen Steps live, although I did wear out my copy of their greatest hits tour on VHS.
So, you can imagine my surprise and joy when, for their 20th anniversary, Steps not only released a pretty decent comeback album, they also announced they’d be going on tour.
I turned up at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff full of apprehension but also a lot of alcohol from Be At One. My main anxieties revolved around whether Steps would live up to my ludicrously high expectations, if they would play my favourite song It’s The Way You Make Me Feel and if I could get close enough to Lisa Scott-Lee – a woman I consider the real-life personification of Valerie Cherish – to scream ‘B-LIST AT CAPITAL!’ at her.
All these anxieties disappeared as soon as the opening chords to Scared of the Dark blasted out and Steps stalked onto the stage dressed in floor-length red robes accompanied with jeweled red masks.
You won’t hear a song as unashamedly gay as Scared of the Dark this year. It has violins on a chorus that sounds like ABBA on poppers. There’s a choir that screams over Claire’s ad-libs. It has a key change. A fucking key change!
Watching Steps live in 2017 was a bit of an experience. First of all, I was surprised by how well everyone has aged. Faye in particular. Faye was a vision, mate. Their voices held up too. Claire, of course, took every opportunity to warble over the backing track and even Lisa gave it a good go-between breathlessly squeaking ‘Clap your hands! Cardiff!’ at the audience.
Also, the songs. The. Songs. I’d forgotten just how perfect Steps’ back catalog actually is. Don’t get me wrong, the tracks from their new album Tears on the Dancefloor are all perfectly alright, but they don’t compare to the pure pop majesty of all their greatest hits. One For Sorrow, Stomp, Summer Of Love, Last Thing On My Mind.’They even performed their novelty single 5,6,7,8 but dressed in full cowboy attire complete with banjo. I mean, there’s camp, and then there’s that.
I think the best bit of the concert though, that was seeing everyone else around me enjoying the spectacle. It was a veritable celebration of queer life in the UK. You had all the camp and butch old things holding their partner’s hands and dancing and singing along to every single word like their life depended on it.
It made me think that, actually, these were probably the songs that soundtracked these people’s twenties, the best years of their lives. The soundtrack to their first kiss. Their first trip to the gay club, the first time they’d ever truly felt represented and understood. Then there were the people like me; the people who had grown up with Steps but were too young at the time to realise just how gay they or Steps actually were, but were making up for lost time.
I even saw your standard, masc4mac, no camp no femme, Grindr gays with their too tight River Island T-shirts and baseball caps, clutching their pints but letting that masc mask slip for just one, glorious second to revel in some pure, unadulterated pop joy.
Because, ultimately, that’s what Steps deal in, joy. It’s littered throughout every single one of their songs and it was clear to say on their faces and the faces of every single person in the crowd that night. There will never be another group like Steps, they just couldn’t exist in the current pop climate. They’re from another age, almost. It’s fair to say that Steps were a very large contributing factor in who I turned out to be as a partly-functioning adult. And seeing them live was the best thing I did this year.
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