The uncanny thing about nostalgia is that it reminds you not only of the moments, people and places associated with a phase of life, but also the person you were then. Few things are as powerful as music (and music concerts) in placing you right back at the time when you consumed it, or it consumed you. Heading to the Westlife concert with my co-Westlife-admirer-friend, I was 15 again. She shared anecdotes about Shane Filan, I spoke of my affection for Mark Feehily, and we commented on how unlikely it would be to spot too many male fans at the gig.
Ironic though it was, at the time when “boy bands” were popular, boys found it “un-cool” to call themselves admirers of the bands. Westlife, in particular, for their ballad-like renditions that put their fine command as musicians on display, arguably found favour from female listeners. On Friday night, however, this distinction wasn’t evident. Turning out to cheer for the quartet that marked their India debut with The Wild Dreams tour, the band brought ’90s back as their fans matched them word for word as they rendered Seasons in the sun, Lay my love on you, Uptown girl, Swear it again, and World of our own.
“When you think about [other boy bands like] NSync, or Backstreet Boys, they were so cool compared to us. And a lot of people said, ‘Oh, Westlife is a bit more, I suppose, for [the lack of] a better word, more boring.’ We didn’t have crazy music videos and dance routines, and most of our music was ballads. But, if you chase the idea of being cool or trendy you will no longer be that one day. [Our music] stood the test of time. We never tried to be cool and that has allowed us to have longevity. We always wanted to be classic,” says Feehily two days before their act when asked about the longevity they’ve enjoyed.
When he takes to the mic, Feehily commanding renditions can stop one in their tracks. His ability to flirt with music has always earned him admirers, but his performance at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course showcased how confidence—a result of the years of experience spent on stage entertaining fans—can make an act more enjoyable. How difficult could it have been to find his space in a quartet, we wonder? “You never truly find the perfect balance to that,” he says when we ask him if members of Westlife were able to artistically express their individuality. “What you do is, like you do in any relationship, [make it work]. It’s the same as a football team—there is no I in a team. But, the individuals have to still be happy and content to continue to be a group. But, there’s only so much space you have within a group, a team, or a family, for individuality. So, you have to try and find a balance between each individual’s tastes and desires. The magic is not in the differences, but in the common ground. It is always about what I have in common with the other boys, not what I have that is not common. We love what we do, which is record music and perform,” he says of the show that was brought to India by Book My Show Live.
Looking back at their journey, Feehily is unable to put a number on the moments that played defining roles in making them who they are. “The first is when our manager signed a record deal with Simon Cowell, and we had our first number one with Swear it again. We still perform it to this day. It’s a classic—it doesn’t scream 1999, and doesn’t feel out of date. We were lucky to break a lot of records (the band holds 14 Number one singles in the UK—a number only surpassed by The Beatles and Elvis Presley). Also, we ended up doing a duet with Mariah Carey. We were excited enough to meet her, and then to find out that we were going to do a duet with her [was fantastic].” Addressing the departure of Brian McFadden from the group, Feehily says a “negative” incident ended up having positive outcomes. “Our reaction to the person leaving brought the four remaining members closer. So, the idea that at a time of need, you can become stronger was obvious. If you approach it correctly, such incidents can make you stronger. Not long after that, we released a song called You raise me up, which was also a massive milestone. It [made us popular] in countries that we had never even been to before.”