Westlife history from the 1990s to now: The beginning
The story of Westlife begins a long long time ago (well, back in the 1990s!) in a town named Sligo in the west of Ireland…
Three guys named Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan performed in their school musical Grease together. After their success on stage, they decided to form a band. The band’s name? Initially they were known as ‘6 as 1’, then ‘I.O.YOU’.
Mark, Kian and Shane in I.O.YOU (also pictured are Derek, Graham and Michael)
The first single
I.O.YOU released a single “Together Girl Forever” in Ireland in 1997. After limited success, Shane Filan’s mother, Mae Filan, contacted the manager of Boyzone, Louis Walsh, to try and persuade him to take a look at the group and to sign them up.
Although Louis was impressed it seems he felt he didn’t have the time to manage yet another band. But luckily for us, Ronan Keating (of established Irish pop band Boyzone) stepped in. Ronan agreed to co-manage the new band with Louis, and ‘Rolo Management’ was formed.
Westlife with Louis Walsh
Westlife with Ronan Keating
Nicky and Brian join
The lineup of I.O.YOU was changed – three of the original members (Derek, Graham and Michael) were asked to leave. Auditions were held in Dublin to find two new members for the group. Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden were eventually chosen…Brian changing his name to Bryan to make signing autographs easier. Westlife (as we now know them) were born!
The first UK Magazine article featuring Westlife – in Boyzone Magazine September 1998 – when they were still known as I.O.YOU (spelt ‘IOU’ in the magazine)
Westside go on tour
The group were now known as Westside — their name was changed by Ronan who felt that I.O.YOU was too boyband-esque. Westside supported the Backstreet Boys show in Dublin, and then toured the UK and Ireland with Boyzone in November 1998. They stunned audiences on the Smash Hits Tour around the UK, winning “Best New Tour Act” at the Smash Hits Awards in November 1998.
When they were known as Westside…and their leaflet text (below) given out at Boyzone concerts in 1998
Westlife featured in the Boyzone 1998 tour programme, below…
“so new they don’t even have a name yet”
Name change: from Westside to Westlife
The group were obliged to change their name from Westside to Westlife early in 1999 when it was discovered that a number of existing bands shared the same name. Undeterred, Westlife went on to release their first single Swear it Again in April 1999. The single went straight to the top of the British and Irish charts, becoming the biggest-selling debut single ever in Ireland.
Westlife released their eagerly-awaited self-titled debut album, Westlife, in the UK in November 1999, with double A-side single I Have a Dream and Seasons in the Sun becoming the UK Christmas number one of 1999. The guys won Record of the Year for Flying Without Wings in 1999 and My Love in the following year.
Winning numerous awards, Westlife achieved much acclaim and enjoyed a lot of success, breaking records seemingly as fast as they set them. Their second album, Coast To Coast went triple platinum in Ireland after only one day of release in 2000. They gained a placed in chart history with their seventh single release, My Love, as they became the only band whose first seven singles debuted at number one in the UK charts.
2002 saw the group release their very first Greatest Hits album, and Westlife’s subsequent album, Turnaround, released November 2003, continued the group’s success, as it went straight into the charts at number one.
From five band members to four
March 2004 saw a new chapter begin for the group as Brian McFadden announced his departure from the band, citing his desire to spend more time with his young family.
Mark stated in an interview:
“When Brian left the band it was a detrimental point, a really big turning point in our career. We thought maybe this was the end of the band, the beginning of the end. We chose to fight and to stay together. ”Mark speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, April 2019
Rumours that this might be the beginning of the end for the group proved unfounded, as Westlife continued as a four-piece, “in the tradition of all great pop acts”.
Westlife released their fifth album Allow us to be Frank, covers of Frank Sinatra hits, in 2004. This was followed by Face to Face in 2005 and then The Love Album, a concept album featuring covers of popular love songs, in 2006.
Making chart history, again!
By 2007 Westlife had achieved a massive fourteen number ones in the UK — the third-highest such total in UK history, behind Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and tied with Cliff Richard. Their eighth studio album, Back Home, also debuted at number one on its release in 2007.
Westlife took a well-deserved one-year break following their world tour in 2008. They released their ninth album, Where We Are, in November 2009, and Gravity, their tenth album, in 2010.
Greatest Hits and the split
On 19 October 2011, Westlife officially announced they would be splitting up. They released a (second) Greatest Hits album in 2012, which was followed by a farewell tour. The final performance of the tour was at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin on 23 June 2012, to an audience of 82,300, and streamed live to 200 cinemas worldwide.
Westlife released an official statement:
After 14 years, 26 top ten hits including 14 number one singles, 11 top 5 albums, 7 of which hit the top spot and have collectively sold over 44 million copies around the world, 10 sell out tours and countless memories that we will forever cherish, we today announce our plan to go our separate ways after a greatest hits collection this Christmas and a farewell tour next year. The decision is entirely amicable and after spending all of our adult life together so far, we want to have a well-earned break and look at new ventures. We see the greatest hits collection and the farewell tour as the perfect way to celebrate our incredible career along with our fans. We are really looking forward to getting out on the tour and seeing our fans one last time.
Over the years Westlife has become so much more to us than just a band. Westlife are a family. We would like to thank our fans who have been with us on this amazing journey and are part of our family too. We never imagined when we started out in 1998 that 14 years later we would still be recording, touring and having hits together. It has been a dream come true for all of us.
Kian, Mark, Nicky and Shane
The end of the beginning…
Following the break, the guys made use of their time out from Westlife to get away from what they had described as the “Westlife machine” and experience real life, as well as forging ahead with new careers.
Each of the guys spent time creating their own solo careers in music, TV, radio, and more, in addition to spending much needed time with family and friends!
Highlights from their respective solo careers included:
Kian released a solo album, Home, in March 2014. He presented a number of TV shows, and was one of the four coaches on The Voice of Ireland.
- Nicky released a solo album, Sunlight, in May 2016. He presents a radio show, The Nicky Byrne Show on RTÉ 2FM.
- Mark — who went back to using his full name, Markus, for his solo career — released his debut solo studio album Fire in October 2015, followed by a second festive album, Christmas, in December 2017.
- Shane released a grand total of 3 solo albums albums: You and Me, in November 2013; Right Here in September 2015; and Love Always in August 2017.
2018 Westlife reunion and the Twenty Tour
After six years apart from the band, Shane, Mark, Nicky and Kian announced their return to Westlife in a video released on 3 October 2018.
Over the years Westlife had become well known for sitting down on stools while singing, and then standing up for the key change – the guys made light of this in the video. View the video below:
Pictured: Westlife celebrate after signing a new record deal with Universal Music Group and Virgin EMI Records in October 2018.
Westlife also kicked off a UK, Ireland & Asia tour in 2019, celebrating their hits over the last twenty years. The tour, which is due to run until September, will be followed by a new album, Spectrum, later in the year.
The Westlife story continues!
Download the “Westlife: Our Story” eBook, published February 2010 (Price: £3.49)
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