Sligo native, Kian Egan talks to Stephen Holland about how good it feels to be back on stage after two years of a break due to the pandemic
While Westlife’s Kian Egan has a busy couple of months ahead on the groups fourteenth concert tour, he says that these days it’s family that comes first.
The Strandhill based singer spoke to The Sligo Champion about what Westlife has been up to since they decided to reform in 2018, the trials and tribulations of working through the pandemic, and how now with the wisdom of growing older they have found a way to balance the desire to make music with the responsibilities of their personal lives.
“Between the four of us in the group there’s ten children and everything is scheduled around them. Before we broke up in 2012 it was the opposite, but now if there’s a big birthday or a family occasion the touring has to work around that. As captains of our own ship, if it does not work for us, then it’s not going to work, that’s what we’ve been trying to achieve and it’s working quite well,” he said.
Westlife first came together in 1998 and from those early years right up until their break-up in 2012 Kian says that their entire lives revolved around Westlife.
“It was this amazing machine, no matter where we went it seemed to be successful and there was this demand for it. It’s strange when you start something so young and then it takes you right up to your 30s, I’m 42 now and I started singing in a band with Shane and Mark when I was 16,” he said.
“In your 30s is when life starts to change, people start having children and your commitments start to shift, we had given so much of our lives to it and nothing else was as important, everything would have to be dropped; Weddings, communions, confirmations, it didn’t matter what the event was or whose birthday you missed, back in those days it was like you just have to do it.
“That took its toll on us as the years went on, life started to change as we got older and it would create arguments, debates, and disputes amongst us. Nothing major, but in 2012 our record deal had run out and we were offered a new deal with more commitments. Everyone had got to the point where we thought let’s step away from this, the decision came to break up, and we did it right with a farewell tour and that was it.”
At that point Kian genuinely felt that could be the end of the group forever, they had fourteen chart topping hits, a number only surpassed by The Beatles and Elvis Presley, and now felt like the time to settle down and focus on his young family.
“We thought that was that, we’ll never do this again. Although maybe something in the back of our heads was thinking we could do a reunion in ten or 15 years, but everyone walked away,” he said.
At this point Kian was married to his wife, the actress and singer Jodi Albert, and they had their first son Koa a year before in 2011, this was followed by a second son Zekey in 2015, and a third boy Cobi in 2017.
“I went back to living a normal life and living in Sligo full time. My youngest started going to school and I was doing The Voice of Ireland which felt like more of a regular job, I wasn’t flying out of the country all the time just up and down to Dublin at the weekend,” he said.
“I did a few TV shows like I’m a Celebrity but I wasn’t chasing anything, if something good came my way I’d be willing to do it but I wasn’t on the hunt.”
Kian was content to be a Dad, to be able to enjoy surfing in Strandhill and grow his family, but as the years passed by he couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for all his former band had achieved.
“As the years rolled on, you’d sit back and watch other bands become successful like One Direction. I was thinking ‘wow they are ginormous, we were never like that’, and people would say ‘what are you talking about you were bigger’.
“When you’re on the inside you can’t pay attention to the magnitude of it all, you’re looking at the stuff in front of you, that’s the nature of life, but soon an idea came around,” he said.
Kian’s bandmate Shane Filan is married to his first cousin Gillian Walsh and the two bumped into each other at a family reunion and started reminiscing about the old days.
“With a few pints in we started chit chatting about the old days, ‘will we ever do it again buddy-style conversation’ and we both said never say never,” he said.
The feelers went out to Mark Feehily and Nicky Byrne and it seemed like everyone was on the same page and ready to give Westlife another go.
“It naturally progressed, everyone wanted it. We looked at all we had done, how successful we were, how grateful we were for it all, and how amazing it was that we could do it again,” he said.
They hooked up once again with their old manager Louis Walsh and before long Kian says that Ed Sheeran was writing songs for them and they were back in the studio making an album and planning a huge tour.
“I always say it’s fairy-tale stuff, three young guys from Sligo ending up on the world stage and Wembley Stadium, it’s pinch yourself stuff,” he said.
An Irish date to play Croke Park sold out in a record-breaking five minutes and it was then the group was able to see that the enduring appeal of Westlife had gone beyond even their wildest fantasies.
“It’s been more successful than we ever anticipated, we hoped it would succeed but the response to Westlife has really overwhelmed us, we didn’t think people would be as engaged as they are, and in a weird way it feels like it’s actually become bigger than it was before,” he said.
The band released a comeback album called Spectrum in 2019 and toured Europe and Asia where they performed to more than 150,000 fans over two nights in Dublin.
“All of a sudden we were playing stadiums all over the world, before this we would play arenas and do a couple of nights, but now the promoter was saying to put us in stadiums,” he said.
As what would be the largest and most expansive tour of their entire career was kicking into gear things came to a crashing halt with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic happened to us all and we buckled down and got on with it, we sat down on Zoom every second week to talk about our options and we even made an album going in the recording studio as individuals,” Kian said.
The band’s twelfth studio album, Wild Dreams, came out in 2021 but the shows slated to promote it were continually postponed and Kian put his focus into family time.
“I was in Strandhill and I taught my kids how to surf, there was good moments and hard moments, stuck sitting indoors bored off our brains some of the time but we got through it, we were lucky not be stuck in an apartment in another part of the world or a big city,” he said.
“I remember back in March 2021 the whole place shut down and the sun came out and stayed out, unless you were 2km when Strandhill you weren’t allowed near it so Strandhill had the place to themselves.”
With time on their hands Westlife was able to craft what Kian says might just be the most important aspect of a live tour: The setlist. With a mix of songs from throughout their career and even a few surprise covers he feels the current Wild Dreams Tour setlist could be the best they’ve ever had.
“When putting together a show the most important thing is the setlist, we could play the same songs but if they weren’t in the correct order the whole thing falls flat on its head. It’s an artform getting it right and this is one of the best we’ve ever done,” he said.
“We know from standing on stage what will go well and we write out all the hits, the best songs, the up-tempo ones, ballads, and what should open or close the show, you balance it all out that way.”
In recent shows, audiences have been treated to a medley of ABBA songs that would be sure to get even the staunchest grump singing their heart out.
“We’ve always done a medley, in previous tours it’s been Motown, Blues Brothers, and in the last one it was Queen. ABBA is a band everyone knows the words to every song and a Westlife concert is designed as a sing-a-along that you can come to with family and friends,” he said.
“You could like us or loathe us but you’re going to know 60-70% of the songs and you won’t be able to help yourself from singing along. Our show is designed so everyone gets their money’s worth, it’s a good entertaining show and we pride ourselves on that.”
The Wild Dreams Tour sees the group in Asia through late September and early October before a string of European dates throughout November and December with everything culminating in Dublin’s 3 Arena just before Christmas, which is a first for the band
“We have never toured at Christmas time before, we’ve always been in the world of releasing albums and TV shows at that time because generally that’s when labels want albums out and you’re in promo-mode. This time we’re in touring mode and we’re inside stadiums,” he said. Kian says they are delighted to be playing Dublin as the final stop on this leg of the tour and after that it’s just a short drive to Sligo for Christmas and back to reality with the family in Strandhill.
“I am very Strandhill based, the kids are in school and we live a quiet life here taking the dog out for a walk, running errands, or doing the food shop in Dunnes, kids activities Monday to Friday have us run off our feet,” he said.
“I’m lucky to be able to be here with the kids and Jodie isn’t left to do it herself, apart from a few weeks here and there when I am on tour.
“In reality, we get the best of both worlds. Jodie’s come to live here from London and we feel like we can balance a little bit of another lifestyle outside of Strandhill life. It feels like a very positive balance.”
The Westlife reunion has been an exciting success for Kian and he’s glad that himself and the rest of the group have been able to go on grand stadium tours without it feeling like they’re giving up the rest of their life. He says that if they can maintain this type of balance that the future of Westlife could be a bright one.
“We take it one thing at a time now, with record deals we’re hesitant to sign a big commitment, not because we’re not commitment to the group, but we don’t want to be told you have to have this done by a certain time, which is what happens in every industry,” he said.
“For us there’s a busy seven or eight months ahead and potentially to the end of next summer, but after that I do see a stop although I can’t say how big or small. A stop is not a break-up, but it’s to take a few months and not be a member of Westlife and then come back and discuss what’s next.”
The group has worked consistently through the pandemic and by the time they get to the end of this current tour Kian says that will be five straight years of working and he’s conscious to take some time and ensure things don’t get stale.
“We want to keep our hunger strong and for the ambition of the band to remain high. We know from experience that doing it day-in day-out can take its toll and you need a break. Take acts like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and Elton John, any group that’s been together 20-plus years knows to come back every three to five years and the people are ready to hear the songs again,” he said.
One concert he is keen on is to perform a homecoming show in Sligo and highlighted previous concerts at Markievicz Park and Lissadel House as some of his favourites they have ever done.
“We’d absolutely love to play in Sligo again. it can’t happen this run but hopefully in next run we can get promoters and the Council talking, there’s lots of venues in Sligo where it’s possible,” he said.
As for Kian’s side-projects such as being a judge and coach on The Voice of Ireland or competing on and winning reality TV shows like ‘I’m a Celebirty...’ he says those days just might be behind him.
“If Westlife disappeared out of my life completely then I might consider looking at other stuff but I think I really have done the best of the best. I was in the jungle and I can’t think of a show bigger than that. I could go to a different part of the world and be a judge with The Voice but that means leaving my family, there’s different commitments now in life,” he said.
“It’s no longer about me, I have my eldest turning 11 and youngest turning five, they need their Dad around and I’m lucky enough to be able to be there so that’s what I want to do for them.”