Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting ECHONEWS to 80360, or email us »
Boyz are back for you
THE Boyz are back and they are heading for town.
Hailed as the biggest selling R&B band of all time, Boyz II Men dominated the music industry in the 90s.
With their trademark smooth harmonies the group broke chart topping records and won four successive Grammy awards thanks to hits such as End of the Road and I'll Make Love To You.
"It was just a dream come true for a group of guys who originally wanted to sing as a way of charming the ladies," laughs Nathan (Nate) Morris from the band.
After a five year hiatus Boyz II Men are back on the road with a new album of classic medleys called Motown: Hitsville USA, produced by American Idol judge Randy Jackson and featuring the hits of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations among others.
The stout producer personally oversaw sessions for the album, which is made up of cover versions of the Detroit hit factory's biggest sellers.
Despite having recorded alongside the likes of Madonna, Celine Dion, Elton John and Destiny's Child working with Randy Jackson was a great experience according to Nate.
"It was great," he says, "We worked well together especially on the Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing tune. It was great to get him producing and to be working alongside such a talented individual."
Boyz II Men formed initially in 1988 as a quintet but Marc Nelson left early on to pursue a solo career leaving Nate alongside Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman and Michael McCary.
By 1991 they had signed to Motown records and released their first album Coolhighharmony, with Michael Bivens of Bell Biv Devoe fame as executive producer.
It was hailed a New Jack Swing classic and earned them their first Grammy.
In 1992 they recorded End of the Road with legendary writer and producer Kenneth Babyface' Edmonds for the soundtrack of the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang.
Later released as a single it became their all time biggest worldwide hit holding the American Billboard chart number one spot for a record breaking 13 weeks, beating the previous holder Elvis Presley's Don't be Cruel which had held to top spot for 11 weeks in 1956.
"I don't think words can describe how we felt," recalls Nate. "It was a great achievement and we owe a lot of it to the fans who kept us there at the top for all those weeks. You get to a stage where you can't get any higher, but we wouldn't have asked for anything more."
But more was to come as the boys beat their own record with the release of I'll Make Love to You from their second album simply entitled II.
They spent 14 weeks at number one and when their next single On Bended Knee replaced that in the charts Boyz II Men became only the third act ever, after Elvis and the Beatles, to replace themselves at the top spot.
They were universal pin ups and fans clamoured to see their shows, even sending them presents.
"We used to always get that," Nate recalls, "We often get sent random things like perfume, underwear, pictures. Its crazy that people would think to send some of the things we get sent."
But changes in the music industry saw the band forced to adapt.
Nate says: "Things are very different out there in the music industry now though. When we started out love songs were the thing but now its all about hip hop and this gangsta style. Society has changed and music seems to have changed with it."
The band itself has also changed with ill health forcing Michael to quit in 2003.
The debilitating disease scoliosis meant he was finding it increasingly hard to move on stage and he took the painful decision to quit performing altogether.
The remaining band members reinvented themselves as a threesome and continued touring and still enjoy working together according to Nate.
"Becoming a threesome was hard but we're used to it now. Michael left a long time ago and there are no hard feelings between any of us," he says. "We all worked well together and still do which is one of the main reason why we have lasted this long.
"We definitely have staying power and try to keep things tight knit," he insists.
"There are a lot of good artists out there at the moment. UK wise we really rate Leona Lewis, that girl can sing and seems to be doing well for herself. In the US though we think Mario has some great music and he writes some good stuff too."
With the release of the Hitsville album Nate, Wanya and Shawn have once again taken to the road and their UK tour brings them to Southend on Sunday (March 30).
Nate says: "We love the tour because we get to see the real fans and the people who support us. It's good that we can give something back to them.
"In fact we love most things about touring except the lack of sleep we usually get and sometimes the food we try isn't as good as the home cooked cuisine," he smiles.
"Performing at home is always great. But now that we have been doing the UK tour for a while we have seen some nice parts of the UK and met some nice fans, like in Scotland for example, which we hadn't visited before.
So how does a British audience different from their home crowd?
"We wouldn't say they differ, Nate says, "but as they don't get the opportunity to see us as much as the US crowd do, it's like they get more involved and into the performance. We still manage to get everyone up off their seats, singing along to the old classics."
They have witnessed a change in audience though.
Nate reveals: "We still get the older crowd that must have grown up listening to our records but it's funny that we also get a lot of people in their 20's especially girls coming along to watch us.
"Its mad that we have had an impact on these fans as they were probably babies when we first started out. If you take the time to watch the crowd at any gig, it's pretty diverse.
For the boys themselves the joy comes from performing their own favourites: "We like all the Motown stuff, " says Nate, "but End of the Road is defiantly up there in the favourite list. It got us so much success and we love performing this to the fans. Otherwise anything by Marvin Gaye or Babyface."
So what can those coming along to the show at the Cliffs Pavilion on Sunday look forward too, I ask Nate.
"They can look forward to us of course." he chuckles, "but on a serious note they can look forward to a night of good music and a good performance from us.
"There will be loads of the old classics and a selection of tracks and medleys from Motown . We have been rehearsing and getting ourselves geared up for the gig. We can't wait to see you all."