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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Barry Egan

Westlife were never cool and they are no longer a ‘boyband’ but their grown up fans love the dad dancing


Life’s old certainties have been obliterated – replaced by general anxiety, war in Ukraine, international economic downturns, austerity, global warming, rising homelessness and the return of Covid 19.

Westlife’s answer was to turn up the music and dance.

And so it proved last night at Dublin's 3 Arena where 11,500 fans had the time of their lives, dancing, singing and basically taking sanctuary in the glorious escapism of pop music, courtesy of Ireland’s foremost boyband, albeit a boyband in name only as they are of a certain age

Back in the golden age of boy bands in the late 1990s and early Noughties, one critic noted how Westlife perfected “the art of getting up off their stools during a triumphant key change, the baller move of balladeers”.

Stools were conspicuous by their absence onstage last night at the 3 Arena. There was no need for them.

Nicky Byrne, Shane Filan and Kian Egan barely stopped moving for the entire time the trio (without Mark Feehily because of illness) were onstage belting out the winning formula of retro classics that everyone had come to hear. From ‘Uptown Girl’ to ‘If I Let You Go’ to ‘Swear It Again’ and all the Number 1 hits in-between.

Kian recalled sitting in his bedroom in Sligo in the summer of 1998 when Louis Walsh rang to suggest he and the rest of the band record ‘Swear It Again.’ By the following April it was the top of the charts in England. All these years later they are still belting it out.

It finally came to end around10.30pm when Westlife encored with ‘Flying Without Wings’.

Thousands of phones with the light application switched could be seen held aloft, the owners swaying in time to the music of ‘Flying Without Wings’. It was a galaxy of bright beams in the darkness. A galaxy of bright hopes in the darkness as everyone sang along as if their lives depended on it:

“Everybody's looking for that something

One thing that makes it all complete

You'll find it in the strangest places

Places you never knew it could be

Some find it in the face of their children

Video of the Day

Some find it in their lover's eyes

Who can deny the joy it brings

When you've found that special thing

You're flying without wings.”

It was a triumphant ending after two hours of hits and anthems, melodies and memories. Two hours where their fans got to spend the night with the band who sound tracked their youth.

The main takeaway from the show was that pop music can deliver to the listener a sense of liberation from reality however brief.


The cynics may scoff and groan that they’re not Fontaines DC or Murder Capital. I would point them in the direction of a quote by Noel Coward: "Let's be superficial and pity the poor philosophers," says Elyot in Coward’s Private Lives, "and enjoy the party as much as we can."

Last night in a very large venue by the docks in Dublin 11,500 people enjoyed the party as much as they could. They enjoyed the medley of Abba’s greatest hits, among them, including 'Dancing Queen', 'Gimme Gimme Gimme' and their 1999 Christmas number one single, 'I Have a Dream'.

They enjoyed the costume changes and the high-tech stage production and the lads shaking their ageing backsides to a snatch of Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love.’

They also enjoyed Nicky as a way of introducing ‘Mandy’ somehow finding a girl in the audience of that name. But not before the son-in-law of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern asked the poor girl to produce photo identification from her handbag, which she did.

“Sorry, I sound like a Garda!” he laughed.

Near the end of the show, Nicky et al donned Santa cowboy hats to have everyone join them in a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells.’

This was followed up by an unapologetically sing along of Westlife melodies (which Nicky dedicated to his wife Georgina who was in the audience), from ‘I’ll See You Again’ to ‘Walk Away’ to ‘Queen Of My Heart.’

When Shane brought the audience to join them in ‘This Love Is Unbreakable’, he announced: “Thank you for all the memories, Ireland.” By the end of the song, Nicky ordered everyone up on their feet to dance to ‘World Of Their Own.’

By this stage of the night, the crowd was in a world of their own anyway, dancing and singing along to the three fellas on the stage: “I'll tell you things that no one else knows/I let you in where no one else goes.”

Nicky told the crowd at the end of the song: “It is absolutely incredible to be standing up on this stage after 23 years. It’s great to see that some of you have got children and they’re here tonight. We’ve seen you all grown up. We are starting to grown down! “ he laughs, “That's what happens.”

The young Prince Charmings of teen pop are no longer young but they can better than ever; their voices – especially Shane’s – have more depth than before.

There is a maturity in the performance of the songs that only comes with age. The lyrics have different meanings because the people who sing them (Westlife and their fans) are no longer young and as innocent as they once were.

It would be easy, even stupid, to dismiss Westlife who started 23 years ago as an Irish Take That or Boyz II Men in 2022 as a sort of Boyz II Middle Aged Men.

Nicky, Shane and Kian move on stage with a rhythm that is certainly dad-dancing with an edge. But because they are not trying too hard, or taking themselves too seriously, there is a certain joy in that, in letting go.

Westlife don’t have to concern themselves with being cool because Westlife were never – ever – cool. They’re as likely to reside in the pantheon of hip as Roy Keane is likely to appear on RTE’s Dancing With The Stars. Or Dancing With The Staff, as Westlife’s manager Louis Walsh once quipped.

Westlife. Picture: Aaron Chown

Yet somehow it all came together last night. The songs from ‘What About Now ‘ to ‘World Of Their Own’ were better for the voices that sung them having gained something with age. The young female fanatics have now grown older and appear, as Nicky noted, in many cases to have become mothers. Last night many of them seemed to have brought their daughters along to the show.

It would be unfair to quote Philip Larkin’s infamous verse n his poem ‘This Be The Verse’: “They f*** you up, your mum and dad/They may not mean to, but they do/They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you”, because the daughters went to the Westlife concert presumably willingly and no doubt enjoyed the songs in a similar way that their mothers first did over twenty years ago.

And doubtless their daughters will enjoy Westlife too one day …when Nicky, Shane, Kian and Mark are moving across the 3 Arena in 20 years from now in gold-plated Zimmer-frames as Boyz II Elderly Men.

The future is safe with them. As Paul Morley once wrote in The Guardian on why the boyband will always thrive - “because there are always hordes of new teenage girls arriving, needing to transfer their chaotic internal affections from cuddly toys to something a little more solid.”

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