Westlife to split after 14 harmonious years

 

THERE MAY be no need for a special telephone line to be opened up to provide counselling to distraught fans (as happened when Take That first broke up in 1996) but the news yesterday that Westlife are to split will have had many a besotted groupie crying into their pillow last night.

After a hugely successful 14-year career, the Dublin-Sligo boyband say their decision to break up “is entirely amicable” and that “after spending all of our adult life together we want to look at new ventures. Westlife has been a dream come true for us.” As they announced their split they also revealed details of a Greatest Hits album to be released in November and a special farewell tour for the summer of 2012.

Having sold 44 million records worldwide – including 15 number one singles and seven number one albums in the Irish/UK charts – Westlife remain one of Ireland’s best-selling musical acts. They set a new chart record for having their first seven singles go to number one and had massive merchandising sales, but to most music critics they had no musical merit whatsoever, specialising as they did in syrupy cover versions targeted at a pre- and young teen market.

They formed in 1998 when their manager, Louis Walsh, held auditions in Dublin for a younger Boyzone-style band. Shane Filan, Kian Egan and Mark Feehily were from Sligo and Nicky Byrne (who is now married to Bertie Ahern’s daughter, Georgina Ahern) and Bryan McFadden (who left the band in 2004) were from Dublin.

They were signed by Simon Cowell to the BMG label and their immediate success was helped along by (for the boyband genre) a very strong group vocal ability and a photogenic, clean-cut image. Although all still teenagers when they first tasted success they handled their fame and popularity very well and avoided the usual tabloid scandal pitfalls.

While largely specialising in cover versions they did make a fair stab at writing their own material and as a hard-working touring band they became not just a big live attraction in Ireland and the UK but also in Europe and Australasia. However, they never enjoyed much success in the lucrative US market.

Even reduced to a four-piece following the departure of McFadden – who never quite made it as a solo act – their appeal showed no signs of wavering and although they were most popular in the teen market they did have a substantial fan base among older fans who appreciated their slick and shiny music and dance routines.

The boyband genre is one of the most difficult and demanding areas in the music industry, with many casualties who have been unable to keep up with the workload, the clean-cut image and the derision from serious music fans. Within the parameters of the genre, Westlife achieved excellence. Having a 14-year career in boyband circles would be the equivalent of a rock band having a 35-year career.

Their split isn’t that much of a surprise given that their last album, 2010’s Gravitydidn’t perform to expectations and earlier this year they split with their label boss, Simon Cowell. At the time, Nicky Byrne said of the split: “We signed to Simon back in 1998 and he was brilliant but then came the development of X Factorand American Idol.Simon became famous himself and his interests went that way rather than on Westlife. We almost felt a bit unloved by Simon, to be honest.”

Worth an estimated €15 million each (and that would be a conservative figure), Shane Filan plans to embark on a solo career; Mark Feehily will stay in the music business as a songwriter; Nicky Byrne has plans to become a radio DJ and Kian Egan is planning to work in television.

WESTLIFE GREATEST HITS

Although they did sell substantial amounts of albums, Westlife will be remembered as a record-breaking singles band. Their Irish/UK number one singles were:

* Swear It Again, If I Let You Go, Flying Without Wings, I Have A Dream(1999)

* Fool Againand My Love2000

* Uptown Girland Queen Of My Heart(2001)

* World Of Our Ownand Unbreakable(2002)

* Tonight, Hey Whateverand Mandy(2003)

* You Raise Me Up(2005)

* The Rose(2006)