Six months ago, the pop world was rocked by the sudden, tragic passing of Boyzone star Stephen Gately. At age 33, he was holidaying with his partner in Spain when he died, leaving a gaping hole in the band’s line-up and the group’s plans for the future unclear.
But last Friday in Australia, Boyzone released their new album, one which the four remaining members of the Irish manband have dedicated to Stephen’s memory.
Just days after the album’s release, we have a chat with Boyzone’s Mikey Graham and discovered a young man still trying to comprehend the loss of a ‘brother’.
“It’s not easy. It just is not easy. We all still struggle emotionally with the way things are now. You’ve got to keep yourself together for the sake of the people around you. I suppose our families have been good and very supportive of us and then the four of us are very supportive to each other as well. It’s emotionally turbulent – that’s all it is. People say that time heals. I hope it does, because it’s still pretty raw at the moment,” he says, clearly pained to talk about Stephen.
“I still keep referring to the band as the five of us, ‘til I remember that it’s not that anymore and it’s a weird, weird thing. We’re not programmed to comprehend this, so I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Formed in 1993, Boyzone consisted of Ronan Keating, Shane Lynch, Stephen Gately, Keith Duffy and Mikey Graham. The fivesome were formed as Ireland’s answer to Take That, who were already achieving chart success in the UK. But it didn’t take long for Boyzone to start achieving success in their own right. Their first single proper ‘Love Me For A Reason’ was a big hit in the UK, even cracking the top 50 here in Australia. But after five years and eight UK No.1 singles (two of which hit the top five in Australia), the lads called it a day, taking the time to concentrate on themselves.
“Everybody just went their separate ways for a while. They grew up – they got married and had children and experienced life in a very different way apart from Boyzone,” says Mikey. He, like the band’s other members, also tried his hand in the solo stakes during the band’s 12 year hiatus, releasing the album ‘Meet Me Half Way’.
“You know, I was only 27 or so around that time and when you’re in a boyband, you’re quite eager to be taken very seriously by the serious music critics. And that’s what I did with that album. I was desperate to prove myself.
But not knowing much about the industry at the time and not knowing the marketing aspect of it, I was trying to capture an audience that wasn’t listening. I let slip the audience that was interested. It was a lesson in life – I learned an awful lot about the industry by doing that album, but nonetheless, I’m very proud of the work that I put into it.”
The band members also spent the 12 years in the pop wilderness growing up, starting families, settling down and having children. But the boys had discovered there was an ever-growing chorus of fans who were desperate to see their childhood heroes reform.
“It was just for a couple of one-off tours and gigs. We just decided that it felt okay to continue to do that, so that’s what we did. But it’s a very very different world now than it was all those years ago because it doesn’t just directly involve the five of us anymore. It now involves our families as well.”
But Mikey admits that it may just have been the reformation of another ’90s boyband that spurred the Boyzone lads’ reunion on.
“A catalyst for the reunion would have been the Take That reunion. Gary (Barlow) is a good friend of mine and during the time he put Take That back together, he’d suggested to me about also maybe getting Boyzone back together.
Then I went to see him and the band on tour in Ireland, and I discovered that until that point, I hadn’t actually missed it at all. I felt that it would be nice to get back on the road and do a couple of shows. And that was it. I made a couple of calls to all the guys and we began to get the ball rolling.”
And roll it did – Boyzone set off on a series of live shows throughout the UK and Ireland in 2008, discovering that their fanbase was still very much alive and well. Their tour sold in excess of 200,000 tickets in just one day, proving that brand Boyzone still had plenty of pull.
“We had initially just done the reunion tours based upon the nostalgia and the greatest hits albums and so on, but then one song (‘Love You Anyway’) had been absorbed by the public and by ourselves, which then made it a case of ‘well, what now – do we go forward or don’t we?’ So we took a vote on it and unanimously, everybody wanted to go forward. So we went back into the studio to do the new album because it felt like the right thing to do.
“So that was it – and we were all excited about the future of Boyzone and were in the process of putting this new album together and doing the A&R and so on and then we were struck by the bombshell of Steven’s passing.
The whole world was just astonished that a young man of 33 years of age died the way that he did. It’s not supposed to happen in life anyway at such a young age. We think we’re going to live forever, but it just wasn’t supposed to be our story. This wasn’t how we were seeing things progressing for the future.”
But even without their ‘brother’ by their side, things did progress. They chose ‘Gave It All Away’ as the first single from the new album. The track, written by Mika, was one of two tracks Stephen had recorded vocals for before he passed away. One week after its release, ‘Gave It All Away’ debuted at No.1 in both the UK and Ireland.
Further success was to follow. The album ‘Brother’ was released in tribute to Stephen Gately one week later. It too debuted at No.1 in both the UK and Ireland, continuing the band’s run of No.1 studio albums.
“We were worried when we decided to go and do this album. We were obviously slightly apprehensive with how we’d be received, so we spent a lot of time in with our A&R and record company people and in the studio doing the best that we could. To invest all the knowledge that we knew about songs and songwriting, about the business and the market to make sure we put the right album together.
Thank God it seems to be doing even better than we expected. It went to No.1 three or four times over the past month or so. It debuted at No.1, then fell down, then came back up again. It’s still really strong and I believe it’s still at No.2 this week.”
It’s true, Boyzone’s album has dropped to No.2 on this week’s UK album chart, being dislodged by Lady Gaga’s ‘Fame Monster’. We call her a bitch on the band’s behalf.
“Yeah, well we knocked her off the No.1 spot there too, so it’s push and shove.
No, but we’re really, really thrilled, to be honest. We can’t wait to tour this album all around the world and in particular to come down to you guys down there as well.”
Wait, was that a hint of a Boyzone Australian tour?
“Australia’s always been very kind to Boyzone and has been warm and welcoming to us, so we’re all looking forward to getting down and doing some good shows down there for you. So we’ll certainly be down to Australia, there’s no doubt about that.
We love the place too much not to be down there. It won’t be too long before we announce dates. That lovely warm weather and all you have – any excuse to get out of the rainy Irish weather, you know. I love Byron Bay – that’s the place I’m hoping to retire to one day and do some good songwriting.”
Boyzone’s single ‘Gave It All Away’ is available digitally now.
Boyzone’s album ‘Brother’ is available online and instores now.