Boyzone: 'When we're together, Stephen Gately is still very much alive'
Losing a beloved member often signals the end for a band, but not Boyzone. As they prepare to play Belfast, Shane Lynch tells Chris Jones why Stephen Gately is still a part of the group five years after his tragic death
"People come quite early to our shows and have their blankets on the ground with their picnics and their bottles of wine and their cheese boards," says Shane Lynch of the open air shows the band often play now. "As the evening falls and we get on stage everybody gets up and starts bouncing around. It's a great atmosphere."
Whether such genteel scenes will be replicated when the band play the big top at Belfast's Falls Park on August 2 remains to be seen, but the foursome are certainly looking forward to returning to the city.
"We like to always start or finish our tours in Belfast," says Shane (38). "It's one of the best gigs we could do. For whatever reason, the people of the North just like to party. They're always the loudest, always the most enthusiastic and they give you your best show back. And if the crowd are up for it, it gives you an amazing time up there on stage.
"I've always had an amazing reception from people (there). I always said that if I was to move back to Ireland I'd go straight up north. I just love the vibe of the northern people. They have a heart like no other I've seen around the world."
Thankfully for Shane, they also have a sense of humour that chimes with his own, as he discovered after a gig in the early days of the band when he was pulled over in his car by the police just outside Belfast wearing little more than a pair of boxer shorts. "The adrenaline used to be pumping after coming off stage," he laughs. "It was literally: get off stage, strip your clothes off and leave them with the wardrobe girls, jump in the car and drive. We had a laugh and a joke about it, though."
For Shane, his interests in Northern Ireland aren't just limited to his stage career, either. He has also recently indulged his love of sculpted hair, bushy beards and 1920s fashions to join forces with a local businessman to open a barber shop in Portadown, called The Elk & Clipper. Another shop is due to open next month in Banbridge and more are planned.
"It's awesome, man, I'm very, very excited about it," he says. "I'm obviously heavily tattooed and I've got a big beard, and it's a particular look and style. The first one in Portadown is absolutely flying, and I'm just trying to bring business to the towns of Northern Ireland."
It's over two decades since Boyzone's now infamous first appearance on RTE's Late Late Show – in which the floppy-haired youngsters from Dublin carried out a cringeworthy dance routine in front of Gay Byrne.
Under the guidance of manager and music impresario Louis Walsh, Boyzone were soon to find themselves at the centre of a pop hurricane, their lives a constant blizzard of hit singles, TV appearances, press attention and all the temptation that goes along with being in a pin-up boy band.
Following a six-year hiatus, the band reformed in 2007, but even with the spotlight having long shifted to younger bands, Shane says that they are a tighter unit than ever. Now they are husbands and fathers approaching (or, in Mikey Graham's case, past) their 40th birthdays.
"I think now is a better time for all of us," says Shane. "Back in the day, it was a bit of a rollercoaster and a journey of madness. There was no time to breathe back then. Nowadays there aren't as many TV shows, magazines, and you do all your radio in one room at one time. You don't have to travel the world. It's a lot less pressurised. And in that comes a lot more freedom, and me and the boys can hang out and enjoy each other's company.
"Don't get me wrong, it's not always been cushty and everyone playing happy families. There have been times where we've had stupid, silly arguments but they're few and far between now. We're all grown men, we've all got families and we help each other."
That bond was never tested more than following the sudden death of founding member Stephen Gately in 2009, from an undiagnosed heart defect. Shane found out in a phone call from bandmate Ronan Keating. "I didn't really believe it when I first heard," he says. "I can't say I had any emotion. I was numb. I think it took quite a few months for it to settle in that he was gone. (For me) it wasn't a breakdown, mourning approach, it was to stay strong and crack on. A few months later, it really hit me he was gone."
Following Stephen's passing, difficult decisions had to be made. The band had been in the middle of recording the comeback album that would end up being named Brother in tribute to their lost bandmate.
"We were maybe 10 tracks in to making the album when he passed," he says. "There was a bit of a weird time of: 'What do we do? Is it over? Or do we crack on and make it happen?'. We decided that if we say it's over, then it's all gone, the whole thing, and the great memories of him. So we decided to push on and finish the album and bring Steo with us.
"People will see four (members) and that's fine, but we will always be a five-piece. I guess (his death) is one of the reasons why we continue to be together. For us, when we're together, he's very much alive."
With the loss of Stephen still keenly felt, Shane has little time for those who have tried to besmirch his name, such as Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir, whose savage opinion piece, describing the circumstances surrounding Gately's death as "more than a little sleazy", prompted thousands of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. "We know the truth and for one individual to have their own opinion, that's not the world," he says.
In any case, Shane prefers to enjoy the present and look to the future. Boyzone are set to release a new album of Motown covers later this year, his motorsport career continues apace, and he is enjoying life with wife Sheena and daughters Billie and Marley. "Family life is awesome," he beams. "It settles you down a little bit too and makes you grow up in many ways. Sheena is mother hen. This whole world I live in would fall apart around me if she wasn't there. She's the one that makes it all go. She's quite an amazing wife, actually. Amazing woman, amazing mother and I'm very lucky to have her."
Boyzone play the Belfast Feile on August 2. For details, visit www.feilebelfast.com