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Boyzone and Westlife were huge stars but Brian and I felt left in the background, says Keith Duffy

Boyzone and Westlife were huge stars but Brian and I felt left in the background, says Keith Duffy

IN their boyband heyday, Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden were two of the biggest stars of the Nineties and Noughties.

But their one regret in the spotlight was that they never got to be lead singers with their respective groups.

Boyzlife’s Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden, previously members of Boyzone and Westlife, were two of the biggest stars of the Nineties and NoughtiesBarry McCallRexBut their one regret in the spotlight was that they never got to be lead singers[/caption]

Keith, 48, had his confidence shattered by remaining as backing vocals-only in Boyzone, while Brian, 42, felt forced to go solo from fellow Irish group Westlife.

In an exclusive interview, the pair — who formed duo Boyzlife in 2016 — opened up about their insecurities early in their careers.

Keith, whose Boyzone co-stars were Ronan Keating, Stephen Gately, Michael Graham and Shane Lynch, says: “Brian did a lot of vocals in Westlife compared to the amount of vocals I did in Boyzone.

“From the very early days in Boyzone, Stephen, God rest his soul, and Ronan, their voices were really distinctive and people knew it was a Boyzone song as soon as they heard it on the radio because of them.

“Our manager at the time, Louis Walsh, felt like it’s so recognisably Boyzone when you hear those two voices and if we were to change up the lead vocals with Shane, Keith or Mikey, we might lose the momentum.

“And it was all about getting to the next record and getting to the next hit. So before you know it you’re seven years into the business and you haven’t sung any lead vocals.

“All you’ve done is backing vocals and your voice hasn’t been heard. And unfortunately, what goes with that is a lack of confidence and self-belief, and performing is all about self-confidence.

‘­Luckiest people’

“After seven years of Boyzone I was quite insecure vocally, so starting with Boyzlife, singing with Brian and being 50 per cent of the lead vocal put a lot of emphasis and stress on me because it was the first time people were getting to hear my voice.”

Keith spent countless hours perfecting his voice for Strings Attached, Boyzlife’s 2020 debut album, which featured covers of some of their groups’ biggest hits.

He says: “I wanted to make sure my voice was worth listening to so I spent a lot of time with Brian coaching me.

“He was very patient with me. When we went to the studio to put live vocals on our new songs we did it line by line, to make sure everything was pitch perfect and in key. It allowed me to recognise my own voice again.

“We’ve been doing it for six years now and I really feel like my vocal ability is better now than ever before. It’s great when you’re in this business to be given an opportunity 30 years later to be out there singing to full houses.”

Boyzone, left to right: Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Stephen Gately, Shane Lynch and Mikey GrahamRexWestlife, clockwise: Mark Feehily, Brian McFadden, Shane Filan, Kian Egan and Nicky ByrneRex

On Brian’s shocking decision to quit Westlife in 2004, Keith says: “He is a singer/songwriter and a musician.

“He felt a little bit suppressed in the band and he wasn’t getting the opportunity to really show what he loves and believes to be him. He needed his artistic release.”

Despite feeling shoved into the background, they both insist it never caused any friction within their groups.

Brian says: “At the end of the day, we’re all professionals and we know to do what’s best for the band.

“I think we were all pretty happy to be in the bands we were in. It was one of the most amazing experiences and we were the luckiest people on the planet.”

The duo have played gigs all around the UK and are set to hit the road again in May.

They believe their vocal prowess has got better with every stage they’ve performed on.

Keith says: “Brian and I gig and work so hard. We don’t only do tours, we also do festivals, corporate events and private functions.

“The more experience you have, the more your confidence grows. You start to believe in yourself and your ability gets better and better.”

Getty – ContributorKeith with his wife Lisa in 2012[/caption]

AlamyBrian with his fiancée Danielle[/caption]

On tour, they both sing songs from their extensive careers, which includes 14 UK No1s for Westlife and six for Boyzone.

While they are open to treating their fans to some of their iconic songs, there are a couple of Westlife hits Brian isn’t too fond of.

He says: “There are some Westlife songs that I won’t do, like Seasons In The Sun and I Have A Dream. I hate doing those songs.

“We won’t do a song we don’t like but we have to understand there are some songs that fans might like. Luckily for us, the songs that the fans like are the same ones we like and vice versa.”

The two friends, who have an undeniable chemistry, also talk about how being in boybands has taught them to resolve conflict.

Brian explains: “We’ve experi- enced what the downsides can be if you let your emotions get in the way and you let stupid things cloud your judgment. Both of us know this is our baby and this is our business and sometimes we do things to annoy each other.

“We can have our little rows but at the end of the day it doesn’t last long. We will kill each other and     later we say, ‘Do you want to go for a game of golf?’.”

‘­Broke our hearts’

They released second album Old School last year, a collection of original songs they believe show their artistic side.

“It was quite difficult because for Boyzlife we had to create something brand new,” Brian says.

“We went through our old material and found some stuff we had written a long time ago and thought it was a great template for what we wanted our sound to be.

“It was a very different experience. We found one song I wrote 15 years ago with Guy Chambers (best known for his work with Robbie Williams) and that became the song we based the album around.”

Although Brian spent six years as part of Westlife, he says he no longer keeps in close contact with any of his former bandmates.

He adds: “I don’t personally ring them and talk to them all the time but I do see them.

“When we see each other we catch up and say hello.

“We don’t really keep in touch but we haven’t done in a long time.

There are some Westlife songs I won’t do, like Seasons In The Sun and I Have A Dream. I hate them. Luckily for us, the songs fans like are the same ones we like.

Brian McFadden

“People forget that after Westlife I moved to Australia and America and I was gone out of the UK and Ireland for ten years.

“We just have different lives. There’s no bad blood at all. We just don’t have that relationship any more. We’ve moved on.”

Keith’s story with Boyzone is slightly different, however.

After splitting in 2000 they reunited in 2008, a year before the tragic death of Stephen Gately at 33, and stayed together for 11 years before bowing out in 2019.

Keith says: “We were going great together until the very unfortunate incident where we lost our dear friend Stephen and that really broke our hearts.

“We went on to do an anniversary tour but it was never the same without him, despite the success.

“We had a good time and we paid great respect to him on stage and kept his memory alive. I’m still in touch with the lads. Ronan played the Royal Albert Hall on Mother’s Day.

“He lost his mother to cancer over 20 years ago now and he set up a charity. I stayed in touch and I’m in touch with Shane Lynch all the time.

“I have a base in Manchester and Shane doesn’t live far and he’s got an Irish bar in a place called Knutsford, down the road from where I live.

“So we enjoy a nice pint of Guinness on a regular basis.”

But would Brian ever be tempted to reunite with his former bandmates for a tour, like Keith has done over the years?

“I’m just going to make that a hard no,” he says. “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”


55million records sold worldwide
14 UK No1 singles including Flying Without Wings, Mandy and  You Raise Me Up
12 albums – 5 with Brian until his departure in 2004 – of which 7 went to No1


25million records sold worldwide
6 UK No1 singles including Words,  No Matter What and You Needed Me
7 albums, of which 4 went to No1

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