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 had performed in the school musical Grease together, and after their success on stage, had 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
The group released a single “Together Girl Forever” in Ireland in 1997. After limited success, Shane Filan’s mother, Mae, 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 Boyzone stepped in, agreeing 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 – 3 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 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 originally known as Westside — their name was changed by Ronan who felt that I.O.YOU was too boyband-esque. They first supported the Backstreet Boys 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 which went straight to the top of the British and Irish charts, becoming the biggest-selling debut single ever in Ireland.
Westlife’s eagerly-awaited debut album Westlife was released 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. Westlife 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, and their seventh single release, My Love, gave them a place in chart history as they became the only band in UK chart history to have their first seven singles debut at number one.
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, going 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”.
2004 saw the release of their fifth album Allow us to be Frank, covers of Frank Sinatra hits, 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 ninth album, Back Home, also debuted at number one on its release in 2007.
Following a world tour in 2008, Westlife took a well-deserved one-year break, followed by their tenth album, Where We Are, released in November 2009, and Gravity, their eleventh album, in 2010.
Greatest Hits and the split
On 19 October 2011, Westlife officially announced they would be splitting up. A (second) Greatest Hits album release was followed by a farewell tour in 2012. 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’s official statement read:
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 from Westlife, the time out allowed the guys 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, as well as spending much needed time with family and friends!
Highlights from their respective solo careers have 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
Shane, Mark, Nicky and Kian announced their return to Westlife in a video released on 3 October 2018.
View the video below:
To date in 2019 there have been two single releases – Hello My Love and Better Man – and the announcement of a UK, Ireland & Asia tour. This will be followed by a new album, Spectrum, later in the year – we can’t wait!
Pictured: Westlife celebrate signing a new record deal with Universal Music Group and Virgin EMI Records in October 2018.