When we asked Nicky Byrne of veteran Irish boyband Westlife how it feels to be back on the road after the Covid-19 lockdowns, he mused, “Obviously the two, three years has been insane. At one point we all wondered - would we ever get back to do the job that we all love to do, which is being on stage singing songs? And that really can't be enjoyed unless you got big crowds, who make it all worthwhile."
He added, "The fans play an important, if not the most important, part of the whole thing. And during the pandemic, I guess people wondered if we would ever have those big crowds again. But finally, we're getting back slowly but surely. So, it's a real joy to be back, because I guess we all take things for granted; that's something we've all learned during that time.”
Westlife are all set to make their Abu Dhabi debut at Etihad Arena, Yas Island on September 29, as part of their Wild Dreams Tour. They will showcase their 18th studio album, Wild Dreams, released in 2021, as well as a host of classic hits.
As a fan who attended one of the band’s early concerts in the region at the Dubai Media City amphitheater back in 2005, I get why this melodically gifted quartet who have been belting out memorable tunes ever since they shot to fame in 1999 with the ubiquitous single Swear It Again, will always wield the power to pull crowds.
And despite the ups and downs encountered in an over 20-year career, including the loss of original member Bryan McFadden in 2004 at the height of Westlife’s fame, the band are still going strong. A split happened in 2012 but to the delight of die-hard fans, Mark Feehily, Shane Filan, Kian Egan and Nicky reunited in 2018.
The BRIT award winners last performed in Dubai in 2019 as part of their ‘Twenty Tour’, which marked the band’s completion of two decades in the music industry.
Nicky spoke to City Times about the secret of Westlife’s longevity, enduring hits, fan-favourite songs and growing up with his band members.
You’ve always had a loyal fanbase in the UAE. How do you feel about your maiden performance in Abu Dhabi and what can fans expect from the gig?
We were travelling to the Middle East as far back as 2000/2001. We were doing shows in different territories over there. Wonderful, brilliant place, great place to do a show.
Our Dubai show in 2019 was amazing. There were a lot of people from Ireland as well that live over there now; it was great to see some Irish people. Lots of nationalities actually, and yeah, the Middle Eastern crowd has always been huge supporters of the band.
I think it will be very exciting now to go to Abu Dhabi and see what that has to hold for us all, because it's really exciting that the band and the brand Westlife after 23 years is still travelling far and wide and doing shows. It's exciting times!
Westlife first found success in the late 90s - then split up in 2012 and returned in 2018. At this point in your careers, how would you look back on your evolution as a band?
Well, I said this recently in an interview - I think we're a completely different band and have changed completely since the early days.
Our music, although pop, has grown up. As guys at the ages of 42-43, I think we've matured, grown up a lot and I think we can relax a little bit, and enjoy it a little bit more.
Obviously, we’ve been doing this since we were 18-19 years of age but I guess when we had that break in 2012 for seven years, we all went away and lived our lives and did different things. I hosted radio and TV in Ireland and we all had solo albums as well. And we brought all those experiences back to the band. So, I think it made for a much better band. I think we've grown up.
Westlife had sold out shows a while ago at Dublin’s Aviva stadium. Many bands do not stand the test of time even though their songs may endure. What do you feel is the secret to your longevity and how do you inspire yourselves on a daily basis?
I think first and foremost, in any collection of guys or girls, whether it's a band or family or colleagues, when you're in a band for as long as we are, we're all of those things. We're friends, we're nearly family at this stage and we're working hard because we run a business as well.
So, I think you've got to trust each other, and be loyal to each other; they are the most important things. You have to look out for each other because people have individual ups and downs. We've all matured through the years. We've all been through everything from weddings, babies, parents passing away… so, we've got that quite close relationship with each other.
And then as a business, we have got to look out for each other. When we're recording and promoting albums, we want to make sure everybody feels fulfilled when they commit to this, and obviously on stage. But we love it!
It's a job that not many people in the world get to do, and we don't take it for granted. I guess we try to take each day as it comes and feel that we’re very lucky guys, who work hard.
Your Greatest Hits album re-entered the Official Irish Charts after your Aviva gigs, returning to the Top 5. How did that make you feel?
I guess music brings people back to different parts of their lives, different experiences and memories, so when they come to a show, it brings all those things back, whether it's a former boyfriend or girlfriend or a wedding song or a holiday or a baby…
The Westlife show is all about - particularly at the stage we're at in our careers now - re-living those brilliant times you had.
So, we love that. And funnily enough, while we're on stage, we're re-living moments when we were on stage! Most recently, we were remembering the times we did it in Dublin when we were 18, 19, 20. And I think we'll also have that when we play in the Middle East this time.
Westlife’s twelfth studio album, Wild Dreams, is a record you worked on during the pandemic. What were some of the themes that shaped the album? Do you have a favourite track?
Well, I think (it was) everything the world was going through. A lot of the lyrics from Wild Dreams were from what was happening in the world at that time.
There's a song I co-wrote called Alive, and I was looking ahead; it was all about looking to when the world will open up again. I wrote it in the summer of 2021 with a bunch of Irish guys called Picture This - very cool, very talented guys.
From the band’s vast musical repertoire, what are some enduring favourites at a live gig?
Twenty-three years in… I hate to use the word legacy, but there are those songs that will, I guess, be around and kind of attributed to us forever. World of Our Own is one. You Raise Me Up, Swear It Again, Flying Without Wings, My Love, When You're Looking Like That, and Uptown Girl, a big charity record with Claudia Schiffer in the video…
Then on the reunion we had Hello, My Love - a big comeback record. Songs like If I Let You Go - a big summer record in 1999. Also, What About Now was a big record for us back in 2009. We probably haven't mentioned some big ones, but all those songs really stand the test of time for Westlife and bring people back.
What Westlife track best captures your harmony as a band?
When you say harmony, I presume you mean the kind of respect and friendship we have amongst each other. What song represents that? Probably World of Our Own, because I think it really talks about being in your own mind, your own space, your own time, your own little funny little ways which can reach out to everybody individually. But I think as a band, it's a great song to perform live, a great part of the atmosphere.
Fans are an integral part of any artist’s success. Over the years your music continues to strike a chord with newer fans. What do fans mean to you and what message would you have for those in the UAE?
Without the fans, we have nothing. They bring great energy, great atmosphere to any live show. Every time we go on stage and experience these things, we truly come off stage feeling lucky, feeling refreshed.
Nowadays, getting older, feeling a little bit tired… but don't get me wrong, we love our live shows and our fans bring all those things to it. We’re looking forward to experience that in the UAE again. It is going to be a brilliant show, you will enjoy it, I promise.
Tickets for Westlife's Wild Dreams Tour in Abu Dhabi are available at www.ticketmaster.ae
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