It all started in a small town called Sligo in the North West of Ireland. Shane Filan, Kian Egan and Mark Feehily were appearing in a production of Grease in their local theatre. After the last show, they had a party and all the people who had played T-Birds in the show, began singing a song. It was realised straight away that they all had good voices and sang well together and one girl told them that they should all do something with their talent. They took her advice and got together and formed a band called Six As One. This was made up of Shane, Kian, Mark, Derrick, Graham and Michael. It was decided that they would do a one-off gig, something that would be fun, but not too serious and they built up a thirty minute set of cover versions. Their first gig was to be held at the Southern Hotel in Sligo.
After this gig, they all went back to doing Grease again, but this time Six As One sang songs in the interval. After the school summer holidays were over and some of the the group had finished their exams, they concentrated back on singing. The band became very popular in Sligo and it was around this time that some of the band members wrote a song called "Together Girl Forever". They also changed their name to IOU because it seemed more catchy. Their popularity grew and grew and they became the biggest band in Sligo. This attracted two managers who were keen to tie them to a contract, but the restrictions were very complicated. Shane didn't like the idea of signing it one bit and it was put on hold. Whilst they were thinking about this, they released "Together Girl Forever" on CD by a small independant record company and it sold well around Sligo.
Whilst all this was going on, Shane's Mum had been sending letters and copies of the "Together Girl Forever" CD to Louis Walsh hoping that he would be able to help them get a better contract and in late February 1998, she finally got through. She convinced him that it was worth having a chat with the band and seeing what they were like. The band knew nothing of this until she rang Shane to tell him that Louis wanted to meet them. At first Shane wouldn't believe her, but after some persuauding, he did and he was really really pleased and excited.
The next big thing that happened was when Louis told the band that he had got them the support slot at the Backstreet Boys concert in Dublin. They had to get three songs together and they had to prepare a 15 minute routine. The songs they chose were, "Together Girl Forever", "Everlasting Love" and a cover of The Who's "Pinball Wizard". They also went to a local clothes shop called EJ's Menswear and bought matching tops and trousers to wear on the night. The show was a hit and Louis decided then that he wanted to manage them, but there was some bad news to come. He wanted a five piece group, so somebody had to go. Derrick was chosen because although he was a good singer, he looked more mature than the other guys which everyone felt upset the cosmetic balance of the group. Derek was devastated, but there wasn't a lot he could do about it.
With the guys now down to five, they began working hard preparing to meet various record companies. They recorded two songs onto a demo tape and fine tuned their voices. This was when Ronan entered the picture. He came along to meet the band, help Louis choose the songs and lend his mind to the groups development. He got on well with them and when Louis asked him if he would like to help manage them, he couldn't refuse. With the management set in place, they set up their first meeting with a record company. Unfortunately it turned out that the man they met wasn't interested in signing the band. He only wanted to sign Kian and Mark. It was disappointing and it was decided that they would have to get their act together and sort themselves out. Unfortunately another member of the band had to go. This time it was Graham. He was about to turn 22 and this meant that he was quite a lot older than the other guys. He took it better than Derek and put everything into his last gigs so that he could go out with a bang.
The band now only had four members, so auditions were held for a fifth. They were held at the Red Box in Dublin and approximately 300 young people auditioned for a place. Amongst these 300 young hopefuls were two lads called Nicky Byrne and Bryan Mcfadden. Nicky had worn a black suit, but Bryan had only worn baggy trousers and looked a bit rough. Nevertheless, they still got to sing and did very well. Nicky sang "Father and Son" and came in too early but he kept his cool and carried on signing. The shortlist was narrowed down to six and then just two - Nicky and Bryan. No-one could make a decision as to which lad to choose, so they were asked to sing a capella. Still no-one could decide. In the end it was decided that both lads would be chosen and see how they fitted in with the band.
Nicky and Bryan hit it off straight away and got on with everyone else very well too. After a short stay in Sligo, the group returned to Dublin to perform a showcase at the Red Box for a record Company. It was at this point in time when the biggest upset was announced. The managemant had always wanted a five piece band so yet another band member was dropped. It was Michael. He was totally devastated and for a long time afterwards he didn't speak to the group. Then one day, he said "Fair plays to you all" and seemed to understand a little better why they had dropped him. Now that the line-up was completed, IOU were ready to start trying to get a much wanted record deal and maybe some nationwide success.
The first show to unveil the new-look IOU came in July as the group headlined the annual Beat On The Streets roadshow around Ireland sponsored by 2FM Radio. The open air concerts were staggered over eight weekends and attracted thousands of teenagers. During these concerts, IOU's popularity grew and grew and they began getting a big fanbase. It was during this tour that the group developed their own pre-concert ritual to focus their minds before taking to the stage. They would form a circle together and pray, then moments before going out they would each put one hand into the circle and lock them together. Then they would count to three in Irish and shout the band's name. This is a tradition they still maintain today.
It was also around this time that the band got their first tour manager. His name is Anto Byrne (but there is no relation to Nicky). He was told to look after the lads and was likely to need total commitment to his job for at least six years. He has to make sure everything runs smoothly and is with the band from the minute they get up in the morning to the minute they go to bed at night.
The band now had a new manager and the success of the tour behind them and were now looking for a record deal. The last A&R man they met was a guy called Simon Cowell. He had met the band about four months before and hadn't wanted to sign them because they hadn't looked right together. This time they had a the new line-up and a better sound and he really wanted to sign them. He talked to RCA and they agreed with him and so they got their first record deal.
Next up was to support Boyzone on their UK tour. They had been given four songs to sing and these were "Swear It Again", "Flying Without Wings", "Everybody Knows" and "If I Let You Go". They had also been given a knew name. This was Westside. Louis had come up with the name after seeing it on the side of a rubbish skip! The band were now on the road to success and they'd only just met!
The Boyzone tour started and ended with Westside stealing part of the show. They attracted so much attention from the fans that the RCA offices were sent over 10,000 enquiries about the new band. TV shows and magazines started to take an interest too and even though the band had only been together for four months, they now had their diaries booked a year in advance. Over the next few weeks, they went back on the road and did under 18's clubs and a BBC roadshow to make sure that it wasn't just Boyzone fans who liked them. This was very tiring for the band and they had a lot of rows and got very fed up. By the end of the tour their tempers had come to a boiling point. On the way to their last gig, their tour manager told them to shut up. Then Kian said that they should all sit back and look at what they had. Everything was in place to be a great band and they had to stop arguing or it could all go wrong. From this moment on, they snapped out of it and realised it was true and they couldn't afford to throw it away.
This gave them the confidence to go on to do the Smash Hits Roadshow. They worked very hard on this and they came out on top winning the award for the Best New Act. It was a real achievement and they deserved it. They gave the award to Louis, then asked Smash Hits to make five more copies, one for each member of the band.
The real big test came on Wednesday 3rd February when Westside had to sing in front of cynical music journalists, PR's and executives from rival record companies. It was to be held at the Cafe De Paris in London and Westside rehearsed their set for hours to make sure it was perfect. The show was a hit and now everyone who was anyone knew about them. This was the time when they had to start recording their debut album and doing lots of promotion in magazines and on the TV. Unfortunately they had to change their name again because of difficulties with merchandise. There were companies in America with the same name so to avoid any complications, they were re-named Westlife.
Their first single was called "Swear It Again". They released it in Ireland first, then in the UK. Around 1,000 fans turned up to their signing of this single in an HMV store in Dublin and the single managed to go straight in at number one. Then when they released it in the UK, it did the same and finally Westlife were on their way.
Recent singles have included: If I Let You Go and Flying Without Wings. Both went to number one.