First Published April 2019
MOGUL, MAVERICK, MAGICIAN? LOUIS IS ALL AND MORE!
Whether you love him or hate him – and let’s face it, it tends to be one or the other with very little grey space in between – Louis Walsh has written himself into several chapters of the history of music on this island. From Eurovision adventures with Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, to the creation of Ireland’s original boyband Boyzone, on to their successors Westlife, who, again whether you love them or hate them, became one of the biggest pop outfits on the planet. And somewhere along the way, too, there was Jedward! Then there’s Louis’s time as a judge on The X-Factor, and most recently, filling the same role on Ireland’s Got Talent. Mogul, maverick, magician? Louis Walsh is all of these, and more.
Thanks to Linda Martin, with whom I had the pleasure of working with on a project lately, I found myself in the very lucky position of spending some time in Louis’s company as he continues work on Westlife’s stunning comeback. Despite having one of the busiest diaries in showbiz, Louis was generous with his time, honest in his thoughts, and good craic, too. And a conversation with Ireland’s King of Pop is a pretty good way to celebrate the occasion of the 250th column of ‘On The Right TRAX’ (OTRT)! It was with Westlife that we began…
I was at the final of Dancing With The Stars recently and that was my first time to see Westlife perform ‘live.’ I really surprised at the genuinely affectionate and excited response the lads got from the audience as soon as they walked on set. I wondered what was it that first made Louis and the lads themselves first think that those kind of feelings were still there for the band?
“Well when they sold out two Croke Parks, ya know, that’s 160,000 people. They’re the BIGGEST pop act ever in Ireland. You have U2 doin’ rock, and you have Westlife doin’ pop. And it just works. They have a massive following. They’ve sold fifty million records, had fourteen #1’s. There’s still a massive, massive market and appetite for Westlife.”
Take That are the original kings of the boyband world, and even now as a three-piece outfit, they’re still going from strength to strength some thirteen years after reforming. What does Louis think makes Take That so special, and is that now the same kind of blueprint that Westlife will follow for their career now?
“Well Westlife are much bigger in Asia, and Thailand, and China, and Japan than Take That, ya know, much, much bigger. I think Westlife are gonna rule the world! Pardon the pun [laughs] [‘Rule The World’ is one of Take That’s most famous hits].They’ll rule the world in the next two years. Their new album is amazing, they’ve got songs from Ed Sheeran, and James Bay. It’s going to be their best album yet, and it’s coming in September.”
Of course, there would be no Westlife – just like there would have been no Boyzone – without Louis. He’s become one of the most influential, famous, and successful men in the history of Irish entertainment, and all strating from a little village in Mayo, Kiltimagh…
“Well in the pop business, yeah. I like what I do, it’s a great job. And I like music, too. We have some great talent in this small island of ours. We have some amazing artists for such a small place, from actors to rock bands, and pop bands, everything.”
Thinking back to before it all began, could Louis have seen in his mind the kind of career path that’s taken him to where he is today?
“Absolutely not, no. I didn’t know what I was going to do for a long time. But I knew I just didn’t want to work in the bank. I didn’t want any kind of a nine-to-five job. I wanted a five-to-nine job! [laughs]. I wanted something that I liked doing. And i think people should only work at what they like doing, and what they love, definitely.”
So what was Louis’s very first step in doing what he loved to do?
“I got a job with Tommy Hayden in the showbands and I learned so much from the actual showbands. From people like The Freshmen, and Chips, and Red Hurley, all of those people. That’s how I learned the game. I was working in their office and I was doing the phones, fan-mail, and all of that. I started at the bottom, it’s the only way to learn any business. I knew I loved it straight away, it was great. It wasn’t for the money, I just loved the whole music thing. And it wasn’t really like a ‘job’, it wasn’t like I was working, ya know. It was something I loved to do, and that was important. And it still is today.”
It’s always seemed to me that Louis has a sense of self-confidence and self-belief that must be infectious to be around for those who work with him, but must also have helped him to see opportunities that others would never have dreamed of…
“Well you have to be positive and confident. Nicely confident, not over-confident. I don’t like over-confident people. You have to know that you can do it, whatever it is, and you have to believe that you can do it. I mean, I have to give these people [artists] confidence, because most of them lack it in the early days.”
What other personality traits and skills have been most important to Louis in helping him to achieve what he has?
“I just like life. I enjoy life, I really do. I enjoy every single day and I think I’m very lucky to be doing something I like. Because it’s not an easy business, either. I’m a salesman basically, at the end of the day. I sell music, I sell bands. And I love it. And I don’t want to stop!”
The latest series of Ireland’s Got Talent, on which Louis is a judge, has just wrapped up in recent weeks. And of course, nobody thinks of the X-Factor without thinking of Louis, too. So I was wondering, if Louis was to put together a judging panel for a similar kind of show, out of all of the people he’s worked with already in that capacity, which three would he choose to join him, and why?
“Oh! Well I’d pick Simon Cowell, definitely. And Sharon Osbourne, too. And…I think…Nicole Scherzinger! Yeah, I think those three. They’re the best I’ve worked with, especially in the U.K. But then Denise [Van Outen] and Michelle [Visage] are brilliant on Ireland’s Got Talent. They are just so amazing to work with. So for an Irish show, it would be the two girls. They’re incredible.”
Just going back in time a little bit, probably one of the first times the general public in Ireland ever became aware of Louis was when he was working with Johnny Logan and What’s Another Year won the Eurovision.
Now, despite the brilliant record we have of winning that contest, we’ve really lost our way in the last decade or more. And this year – with all due respect – hardly anyone knows the singer we’re sending[Sarah McTernan, singing ’22’]…
“Awful! It’s awful. Listen, I know about the Eurovision. I’ve been there about ten times, with Jedward, with Jump The Gun, with Johnny Logan, with Linda Martin, with Brendan Murray. And the only one that didn’t get through was with Brendan. And I thought he had a great song and a great chance, I really did. Now, it is harder than before. And whereas the eastern Europeans are sending their biggest acts, we’re sending unknowns! You can’t send a total unknown onto a big stage. I don’t even know who the girl is that’s on this year, I’ve never heard of her. You can’t do that. You have to send an established artist, someone who’s not afraid to go out there and work it. Linda Martin always worked it, so did Johnny Logan, they went out there the week before and they charmed everybody. And they had a great song. And they gave a great performance. It’s everything. So we need to send an established artist. But you see, nobody wants to touch it because of our track record in recent years. Everyone thinks it’s the kiss of death because of people not getting through. So people are afraid to put their careers on the line, and to take that chance.”
What does Louis think of the Irish music scene right now, especially the growing popularity of country music with artists like Nathan Carter and Cliona Hagan now household names?
“I think Picture This are brilliant, and Kodaline. I think they’re two amazing Irish bands. And we have Dermot Kennedy coming up now, too. There’s new acts coming along all the time. And of course Hozier had a #1 album in America, that’s an incredible achievement.”
And what of Nathan and Cliona, would Louis be a fan of those country artists?
“Well it’s not really country to me. They’re entertainers. And they’re two great entertainers, both of them. But they’re not really country. They’re middle-of-the-road artists and they’re great at what they do.”
Louis has already lived an amazing life in music, one that will definitely make a bestseller some day if her ever decides to write a book about it. But he’s still young, still ambitious, I’m sure, so what would he still like to achieve in music?
“I’m going to work with Westlife, I’m going to do Ireland’s Got Talent. And I’m going to look around for something new, some new singer/songwriter in the next year or two. I’m not rushing. But I know the talent is out there. I’m just going to do what I do. And I’m going to enjoy life! [laughs].”
We finished up with a few quick-fire questions, beginning with does Louis have a favourite song from all of the acts he’s worked with?
“Oh! Well I have loads of acts [laughs]. It would probably have to be a Westlife one. It would have to be Westlife because they had amazing songs. I think…’Flying Without Wings’ is a great song. It’s a classic, a classic pop song.”
The proudest moment of Louis’s career?
“I think when Boyzone had their first #1, that was like, wow! And winning Eurovision with Johnny Logan and Linda, that was exciting!”
The biggest disappointment along the way?
“I think it was when the record company stopped spending money on my last band, Hometown, I was very disappointed because I thought they were a brilliant band, and they deserved more because they were incredibly talented. But the record company pulled the plug and there was nothing I could have done.”
Who would Louis love to have worked with, or to work with in the future that he hasn’t had a chance to yet?
“People like Elton John and David Bowie, I love artists like that. I find them inspiring. And obviously The Beatles. I love all the greats.”
If a movie is ever made about his life story, what does Louis think it should be called?
“Oh! [laughs]. It should be called, ‘He Didn’t Give A F*&k!’ [laughs]”