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13 April 2011: Westlife lead singer Shane Filan, ahead of the Irish band's one-off gig tomorrow, is gung-ho about their new lease of life. The star gets candid about parting with music mogul Simon Cowell, new singles and facing off against the younger boy bands
Some things just get better with age.
When Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan burst onto the music scene 13 years ago, they embraced every second of fame as Westlife joined the boy band race for world domination.
Slipping gracefully into their 30s, the older, wiser, slightly greyer foursome are far from ready to put the now more appropriately-named "man band" into an early grave.
In fact, quite the opposite.
"The car needs a re-spray," says lead singer Filan over the phone, his age the only thing allowing the cheesy metaphor to fly. "We're the same body but with a clean new look. I think that's what people want to see. They wanna see a clean new thing," he adds with a cheeky Irish chuckle.
The average age of the band has more than doubled but the energy levels have increased and they are stronger than ever. Where many of their loyal fans (most of whom are now in their 30s and 40s) may have been dragged down by the pressures and stress of everyday life, these boys have developed some kind of super power — making them more energetic, enthusiastic and determined than ever as they come to Dubai to perform on Thursday.
One of the Ireland's biggest selling groups of all time, the boys partly credit this new lease of life to a move which saw them parting ways with music mogul Simon Cowell after 13 years.
The Irish band, who are managed by X Factor judge Louis Walsh, left Cowell's Syco record label just last month and signed a multi-million pound deal with Sony RCA.
"We really felt like we've been let down by our record label a lot in the last couple of years," Filan says. "They admit it as well. They know we haven't got the attention we deserve. It's a massive television company, doing the X Factor and stuff. A worldwide company. You get caught up in that and then you realise this isn't the right place for us to be.
"We've left Simon on very good terms. He knows he's focused on the television and we knew we had to focus on the music. But we have a lot of respect for Simon. They are the record company we've been with for so many years and they've given us all our success but in the last couple of years we've felt like we just could have done with a bit more support."
As Filan clears the air over an issue which has troubled the band for a number of years now. I try to picture the lads in the middle of a nasty dispute, but can't see it.
Filan confirms my suspicions and manages to be positive about a man and the company that have let him and his bandmates down so badly.
"It's been fantastic but we all knew we could have done better. I mean releasing one single off an album and stuff — we did that the last time and that's crazy —we should be releasing three or four singles from every album."
Full of praise for the high-waist trouser-wearing music man, Filan says Cowell had given them breaks nobody else could have done and told fans not to worry, as they'd still make an appearance on the X Factor.
"It's a privilege to get on it, to be honest," he says. "It's an amazing TV show. You can't get a better launch pad for your album and I'm sure we'll continue to get a spot."
In stark contrast to the stagnant recording group they say they were becoming, Byrne, 32, Feehily, 29, Egan, 30 and Filan, 31, say things are about to change.
"It's just like chalk and cheese — the attention now is what we needed."
With no less than 14 UK No 1 singles behind them (only Elvis and The Beatles have had more), Westlife hold the record for the most consecutive number one singles in the UK and have had seven No 1 albums.
"Simon understands," Filan reiterates, and I question whether he is trying to convince me — or himself.
"There's definitely going to be a few changes. We're going to start recording as soon as we get back from Dubai," he says. "It's going to be dynamic with the release of three or four singles because we'll release ballads and up-tempo stuff too. New singles and new videos — it's like a breath of fresh air we really need."
The past two years haven't been the best for the band — Byrne and Egan both lost their fathers in 2009 and their close friend, Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, was found dead that summer.
In a touching interview with tabloid! in 2009, an unguarded Byrne talked about life without "Pa" by his side.
"2009 was particularly bad, to be honest," says Filan, sorrow still etched in his words. "Last year we were still grieving. I think they're still grieving. I'm not sure it's something you ever get over. And on top of that we were frustrated because we knew we were underachieving."
Stand the test
As with many of the bands which stood and continue to stand the test of time, Filan says it's all about trust.
"The main thing in a boy band, in any band, to be honest, whether it's two or three guys, is that you have to trust each other," he says. "There's a lot of testosterone in the room, a lot of opinions and egos. It's natural. Especially if you get famous, make a bit of money and experience success. Everyone's going to have more opinions and more ego. It's about everyone having a certain amount of honesty with each other and remembering who you are and where you came from and why you're here. The job at hand is to make music after all.
"It's not to be flash and go off the rails. It's about truly making music, enjoying the shows, having fun and seeing the world."
The boys regularly tour the UK's largest arenas and appear as guests on countless television shows but are also realistic about knowing they're not the "latest thing" anymore.
Last year, before the release of their latest album, Gravity, the boys were "man" enough to admit younger, fresher boy bands like JLS were likely to beat them in the race for the top spot in the album charts. That prediction came true, but Filan says it's OK.
"It really comes down to fanbase," he says, very matter-of-factly. "I mean when you're a new band starting out it doesn't matter because your fanbase is young. There's a new band just starting out — One Direction from the X Factor — and I think they're probably going to be the next big thing of this year. If you go up against them in the charts then they're probably going to beat you," he says laughing.
"It's not like it used to be, it's not about the song, fanbase has a massive impact, especially in the first week sales. I mean in the long term it's not so bad, I think we sell just as much as anyone in the end, but first week sales — if you have a young fanbase, you're always going to do well.
"Our fanbase isn't as young as it used to be — 30 and 40-year-olds — people who are happy to buy the album next week. They're not waiting in line on Monday morning to snap it up, or downloading it at midnight. It doesn't happen like that.
"We're still on top of our game. But we have to wish the young ones good luck. This is their time and they deserve it. Whether they'll still be doing it in 10 years time," he says posing the question and answering it in the next breath, "only time will tell."
Don't miss it
Westlife perform on April 14 at the Centre of Excellence Sports Complex, Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Jebel Ali International Hotels. Tickets, available from boxofficeme.com, Virgin Megastores and Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, are priced Dh250 for regular and Dh450 for Golden Circle.
Source: Gulfnews.com. Image credits: Supplied
Image credit: Supplied