Westlife's Nicky Byrne promises Dubai a 'wild night' during their Coca-Cola Arena concert on Thursday
Nicky (centre, left) with Kian, Mark and Shane
They're back in Dubai with their Twenty Tour celebrating two decades together
TWENTY YEARS IN the same job would count as a good old stint in anyone's books. For many it may even prompt a career path reevaluation. The repetition alone could have you climbing the walls, right? Not if you're an international pop star, it appears. Who could blame them? The idea of having thousands of screaming fans hanging on your every word for nights on end, not to mention the luxury travel and adventures with a group of like-minded musicians, must be a difficult habit to kick.
Hot on the heels of fellow boy-to-man band and compatriots Boyzone, who made a farewell visit to the UAE in April after a quarter century on the road (alas, all good things and that); the crooners who defined an era for many a millennial, Westlife, are Dubai-bound on Thursday to celebrate two decades at the top. Performing their aptly named 'Twenty Tour' concert in association with Book My Show at the 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena, City Walk Dubai, standards from their 55 million worldwide record sales will no doubt reverberate around the stunning venue from minute one to the encore. 'Vocal' is how we'd describe Shane Filan, Mark Feehily, Kian Egan, and Nicky Byrne's followers and this weekend will see them in fine voice belting out tunes including Flying Without Wings with the Irish lads. And don't think just because it is no longer 1999 when the band first set sail that you're going to receive any less energy emanating from the stage. At least one member, in his own words, possesses eternal youth.
"We have noticed on this tour that we have all grown up," Nicky Byrne told us this week before the four-piece arrived in the Emirates. "Fans that were once teenage girls are now coming to the shows with their husbands and kids! I guess we must have gotten old along the way too! Well, maybe just Shane, Mark and Kian. I'm still 25!"
Founder member Byrne (actually 40) still manages to regularly play high-level charity football matches, so we'll let the generous rolling back of the years slide. What definitely remains is that zest for putting on a decent performance as he explained.
"It's amazing to be coming back to the Middle East. It has been too long and we are really looking forward to it. The Twenty Tour is a celebration of 20 years of Westlife, so these concerts are full of memories for everyone, including us!
"Doing a show in places like Dubai is always cool as you get a lot of expats there coming along to experience a little bit of home. It's going to be a wild night."
Turn back time
'Wild', it may well be. Nostalgic, it will certainly be as the night's programme leans into the classics, offering a soupcon of new material garnish for good measure. It is only when taking a glance over Westlife's discography you appreciate the sheer volume of hits with which they have peppered the charts during their ascent. Swear It Again, My Love and Queen Of My Heart are just three randomly selected UK number ones out of a bundle that were released in only their first couple of years of operation. It goes to show you can't keep a good ballad down, yet Byrne stressed triumph was not simply down to inhabiting the softer end of the phonic spectrum.
"I just think good songs sung well will capture attention," he said. "Now, throw a bit of personality in there, and a lot of luck and you may have a hit."
Byrne went on to relate, far from any regrets regarding dropping too many ballads, perhaps at points they didn't dedicate sufficient time to penning their own material.
"If anything we went through a period of doing too many covers back-to-back, but they all charted very well and considerably added to our success, helping us sell-out tours, so I can't really complain. Do I care that we are singing Mandy in front of 60,000 people in a stadium? No, because we are singing World Of Our Own five minutes later. Plus Mandy (Scott English original, most notably released by Barry Manilow in 1974) was a number one for us too. All careers have different twists and turns, highs and lows."
Did the often playful jibes surrounding Westlife's infamous 'sit-on-stool-stand' choreography ever get to him? Nope.
"Everyone was pretty much nice to us that I can remember. And the criticism that was there, we didn't give two glances at. We were too busy having the time of our lives."
In 2012 Westlife took a break only to reunite in 2018. The interim years brought television work, bits of solo careers and much needed rest for the foursome, though the notion of coming back, Byrne said, was never far from their thoughts. Witnessing contemporaries such as the aforementioned Boyzone, Take That and the Spice Girls sell out stadiums after their hiatuses provided the impetus to get back out there. Memories such as collaborating with Mariah Carey are perhaps too powerful to ignore. Yet for Byrne, the greatest 'shiver down the spine' moments have never been meeting the stars. Whitney and Britney are names to rattle off in the footnotes. The real mementos are the audiences' gratitude.
"Performing a tearful version of You Raise Me Up at a show called Tickled Pink for breast cancer awareness in the Royal Albert Hall in London two weeks after my 35-year old cousin had passed away from the disease was tough, but amazing. Everyone in the crowd had in someway been touched by breast cancer and they gave us a standing ovation," Byrne said.
Tickets for the show are still available on coca-cola-arena.com, bookmyshow.com and ticketmaster.ae