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Martin-Smith entered the entertainment industry in the early 1980s working as a casting agent from offices in Manchester's Royal Exchange. From there, he challenged the "London-centric" attitude of many in the business, championing the cause of local talent and establishing many actors in film and television. His first success in the music industry was the artist Damian who had a UK top 10 hit with a cover of "The Time Warp" in 1989. He also ran the Film Artist Agency at Half Moon Chambers in Manchester.
In 1989 following the success of US boyband New Kids on the Block, Martin-Smith decided to create a British version of NKOTB with a similar "chosen" formula of singers and dancers. In 1990, he assembled Gary Barlow, a 19-year-old from Cheshire who had been singing and playing the piano on the northern club circuit for five years; Mark Owen, an 18-year-old Manchester United trialist; Howard Donald, a 21-year-old vehicle painter who also DJ'd, danced and modelled; and Jason Orange, a 19-year-old painter and decorator from Manchester who had danced on Pete Waterman's television programme The Hit Man and Her. Martin-Smith put out an advertisement for another singer, and chose 16-year-old bodypopper Robbie Williams from Stoke-on-Trent.
Take That sold 19 million records (9 million albums and 10 million singles) between 1990 and 1996. Between the band's first single release in 1991 and their break-up in 1996, the BBC described Take That as "the most successful British band since The Beatles in the UK, beloved of young and old alike". Take That's dance-oriented pop tunes and ballads dominated the UK charts in the first half of the 1990s, spawning two of the best selling albums of the decade with Everything Changes in 1993 and their Greatest Hits in 1996.
In 1995, Williams left the band. After his departure, the third Take That album Nobody Else was re-issued in some markets excluding some vocals by Williams, most notably a new recording of "Love Ain't Here Anymore". Williams did not perform any lead vocals on this album, and band members later blamed this on his "lack of interest and commitment" in the recording of the album. The rest of the band finally split in 1996.
Robbie Williams left Take That in 1995 under a strict performance and confidentiality agreement. In 1997, Martin-Smith sued Williams for unpaid commission in relation to a Take That management contract. Williams responded by saying that Martin-Smith had been in breach of his fiduciary duties as the group's manager. The court found in Martin-Smith's favour and determined that Williams had indeed violated the terms of the contract. Williams appealed against the decision but lost again.
The feud between the pair resurfaced when Williams' biography written by the journalist Chris Heath, Feel: Robbie Williams was published in 2004. Williams described how Martin-Smith allegedly destroyed his confidence, and did not hide his hatred for Martin-Smith whom he calls "the spawn of Satan" claiming that the manager told people he was gay. He noted that: "I can say something nice about every single member of Take That. But when it comes to Nigel Martin-Smith....I want to rip his uterus out."
In response, Martin-Smith blamed Williams' inability to deal with his sexuality as the major cause of the singer's insecurity and his drug and alcohol issues, and stated: "It's very sad that Robbie has turned out like he has. He doesn't seem at all happy. He has been suppressed and the ramifications of that are now beginning to show. He looks a mess, he looks like a lost unhappy individual. It's very telling that none of his relationships with women have lasted. He is now dating another actress in LA. It won't last. It's all for show. Deep down he is gay. Robbie and I were completely comfortable with each other. He was the more dominant one and knew what he wanted. That's not the behaviour of a man who is experimenting for fun. It was for real."
On Williams' 2006 album Rudebox, Williams originally detailed in the track "The 90s" about how he fantasised about gouging out Martin-Smith's eyes out during his time with Take That. The lyrics prompted Martin-Smith to instigate legal action against Williams and EMI prior to the album's release. EMI instructed Williams to rewrite the song and remove the offending lyrics. However, since promotional copies of the album had already been dispatched to the media and the lyrics had been made public knowledge, Martin-Smith proceeded with his lawsuit against Williams and EMI and won £300,000 in the High Court for defamation of character. Williams and EMI were also forced to issue a public apology to Martin-Smith.
After Take That
Martin-Smith entered into a consultancy deal with Virgin Records and managed the come back of Scottish singer Lulu. Around this time, Martin-Smith made a huge investment in his Manchester-based talent agencies moving into purpose-built studios and offices and employing leading agents to oversee his roster of artistes. The NMSM Talent Group now incorporates:
- Urban Talent: an agency specialising professional actors with a natural talent to work in television. Two of its clients are actors Gerrard Thompson from In the Flesh and James Bryhan from The Apostate.
- Lime actors - a management company for professional, trained actors. One of its clients was former Coronation Street actor Adam Rickitt, signed in 1997.
In 2005, Martin-Smith was contracted to work on the re-launch of Take That which saw him co-produce a TV documentary about the group, manage the release of their Ultimate Collection compilation album, and launch their sell-out UK tour. However, Martin-Smith was removed from the position once the documentary was over and just before the tour as, according to Mark Owen, he "wasn't needed." Martin-Smith later said: “I can’t believe what a success the comeback has been. I thought they would do the tour and that would be it. But now they could tour every year and pack stadiums.”
In 2008 Nigel Martin-Smith, formed a new vocal group after auditioning boys from the North West. The initial line up consisted of Lewis Conroy, Dean Kelly, Jayme Kontzle and Craig Worsley. The band was initially called ASBRO, a play on words related to an ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order), and were described by Danny McFadden in The Guardian as the new East 17.
Martin-Smith stated in an interview that, in seeking members for the band, he, "wanted them to be ‘streetwise’ as well as having bags of personality, a good voice and looking good in front of a camera."
In early 2010, Martin-Smith auditioned for a fifth member, which resulted in the addition of Kris Evans to the group. At this point Lewis Conroy left the line up and the group became a four piece consisting of Evans, Kelly, Kontzle and Worsley.
In 2011, due to the negative associations linked to the name ASBRO, the group became known as The Mend. Of the change, Dean Kelly stated in an interview, 'We loved the name Asbro, but we felt it was holding us back because there was negative feedback about it. We thought ‘we need to mend this’, hence how we came up with The Mend.' Jayme Kontzle added of the name change, "No record label has seen us as The Mend so it’s like a new start for us. It also stands for The Manchester End."
They stated during their first appearance on Britain's Got Talent in early 2012 that they had been together for three years.
Manchester Gay village
In 2000 Martin-Smith opened the first of his commercial entertainment venues in Manchester's gay village a nightclub called Essential. He then opened a second venue in 2004 called "Queer" - a cafe bar by day and a bar/club by night on Canal Street and finally "Boyz" - an underground pop bar club also on canal street all of which have since closed down.
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