Westlife makes a comeback on its own terms

  • Music
  • Tuesday, 06 Aug 2019

(From left) Nick Byrne, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan and Shane Filan are back together again as Westlife Photo: Universal Music

When tickets for Westlife's two-night concert (Aug 8 & 9) at Malawati Indoor Stadium, Shah Alam, went on sale back in April, it was officially sold out in less than 48 hours.

Tickets were snapped up equally fast for its Britain and Ireland dates.

It's an amazing feat on its own; even more so since the Irish group officially broke up in 2011. If anything, this confirms the hold Westlife has with the fans.

Members Nicky Byrne, 40, Shane Filan, 40, Kian Egan, 39 and Mark Feehily, 39, officially announced Westlife's comeback in October last year, promising a world tour and a new album in 2019.

On schedule, the Twenty Tour kicked off in May with multiple dates in Britain and Ireland. Its South-East Asia leg started with a performance in Bangkok on July 26, and will end with a one-night concert in Singapore on Aug 10. Meanwhile, the group's new album – an 11-track record titled Spectrum – is due for release on Nov 8.

"It's very satisfying. It's very exciting. It's overwhelming actually," shares Byrne over the phone from Dublin, Ireland, on the speedy ticket sales. "It's great to be back, preparing for a Westlife world tour... We have a great memory of Asia in the past, a great memory of Kuala Lumpur, it was an amazing city to us."

The Irish pop group first came to formation in 1998, and released many hit singles from the start to the 2000s, including Flying Without Wings, Swear It Again, If I Let You Go and My Love.

Being current

During the group's reign, too, it broke records and created new ones like becoming Britain's top-selling album group of the 21st century, selling over 55 million records worldwide; the only band to have its first seven singles enter the British chart at No. 1; and achieving 14 No. 1 singles, trailing behind Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

While Byrne calls the group's comeback as Westlife 2.0, he says its goals remain the same.

"We want to do what we did the first time around; we broke records and we travelled around the world with our music. So this tour is not just about going back and doing all the old songs – of course, we are going to sing all those great hits – but I guess we're trying to make some new records and sing new songs.

He adds: "All those fans who supported us in the past are all a lot older now and maybe have their own children. And maybe they're introducing our music to the youth of today as well as their own age group.

"So I think that's a big, big challenge for us as well to try and compete in the current music scene. We're obviously a lot older than we were when we were teenagers, but we're not too old to try and be current."

A reason given for the group's initial split was the members wanted to take a break after spending some 14 years together, to look into new possibilities as solo artistes.

During that period, Filan went on to release three solo albums while Feehily rebranded himself as Markus Feehily and launched a solo career in 2015.

Egan ventured into television, taking on the role as a coach on The Voice Of Ireland and participated in the reality series, I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here!

As for Byrne, who will turn 41 in October, he took part in Strictly Come Dancing, performed at Eurovision Song Contest, hosted Dancing With The Stars as well as manned his own weekday radio show for five years with the Irish station 2FM.

Naturally when the talk about the comeback surfaced, Byrne understandably had some doubts.

"I had so much going on in my personal life. Work-wise, it meant I had to give up my radio show and hosting job.

"Also what's important to me, most important, is I have a wife and three children. All my children are in school. And Westlife takes you away around the world. All those things, I had to consider.

"So one of the things that we talked about in the band is how we can do the band again, but differently."Doing it right

According to Byrne, the four of them figured the best way is to make sure both work and personal lives have equal importance.

"When we were 19, for example, we would have got on a plane and travel to Asia, South America, Australia, Europe and then maybe back to London, and we would have been away for maybe three or four months at a time, before going back to Ireland.

Westlife still has got what it takes judging from how fast its concert tickets are sold. Photo: Universal Music

"I'm not sure we can do that, or want to do that, when you're 40. And I've got three children.

"We all agreed that we would have to maybe do two weeks (of concert) and come home, do two more weeks and come home again, if we want to do it right," offers Byrne.

Another worry he had was whether they'd still enjoy each other's company, after being apart for seven years. Well, Bryne confesses he needn't have worried about this at all.

"Thankfully when we got back together, the same bond is still there.

"We still have the same fun, we can still sing the songs the same and be able to enjoy it. And that's important; it's nice to be able to do something that you truly enjoy with good people."

He mentions what has become different though: "We're more tolerant of each other, definitely. From the break, we all managed to live our own lives and be able to gain experiences and bring those experiences back to the bond ...

"We all have opinions, and we will have disagreements, but we try and work through them, because we know that it's all for the common good.

"So definitely we're more tolerant and understanding of each other; it's something that we have all brought back this time."

In perfect harmony

The ever-lasting bond Byrne is talking about is obvious in the two new singles Westlife has released so far: Hello My Love and Better Man; both songs sound as if Westlife never broke up.

FYI, both songs were written by Ed Sheeran and Steve Mac (who also wrote Flying Without Wings); they are co-writing and co-producing Westlife's 11th studio album Spectrum.

"I heard that Ed Sheeran was a fan of Westlife the year Westlife split up," explains Byrne. "I heard him perform his version of Flying Without Wings on a radio show in Ireland.

"I remember thinking when I heard that, even back then, 'We influenced, in some small way, Ed Sheeran'.

"And then he obviously became the most incredible artiste in the world, and some of his songs I felt could have been, you know, a Westlife song, like the ballad Perfect, it quite easily could have been a song by Westlife.

"I also remember saying to some of the guys during our time away, it will be great if we ever get back together for our 20th anniversary or whenever we do, and we get Ed Sheeran to help us out because he's a fan.

"What we didn't realise was, he was already writing some Westlife songs and wanted to get them to us even though we weren't a band any more.

"So some people believe in fate and some people believe that the stars are aligned but something definitely happened because he wrote new songs and here we are.

"He's written six songs now for Spectrum, and it's the most incredible album we've made so far," he says, of Westlife's upcoming release.

In an interview transcript provided by Universal Music, Feehily describes the album as a good balance of ballads and fast numbers. "It's all about fresh pop music, the vocals, melody and good production."

As for what it was like to get back into the recording studio after so long, fellow group member Filan recalls: "It was very natural. I think we were just genuinely happy to be back together.

"We talked about the things we've done in the past, all the stories we remember as individuals. To be able to sit down and talk was a nice moment.

"And it was very natural for us too, it didn't feel awkward at all. We haven't sat in a room together for six years so that was a big day for all of us and we are so excited for the future of Westlife."

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