Back in August 2008, Sligo Weekender interviewed Mark and included, in their publication, an old pic of him and his mates from IOYOU, the band Mark, along with Shane and Kian, was in before Westlife.
Mark’s still a Sligo boy at heart
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Mark Feehily’s blend of dark mystirious looks and rich soulful voice have made him an integral part of the success story that is Westlife.
As part of a series of features marking the 10th anniversary of the band, SHARON CONWAY chatted to the down-to-earth singer about his early days auditioning for plays at the Hawk’s Well, the harsh reality of the music business, and what he plans to do with his well earned year off.
MARK FEEHILY is, without doubt, one of the most natural and down-to-earth people I have ever encountered through music.
With his meteoric rise to fame through Westlife you could be forgiven for thinking that at least some of that success could go to a young man’s head. But not so with Mark.
You can tell within minutes of meeting him that this is a guy who has been brought up well. And for anyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting his parents – Oliver and Marie – you will know why.
It’s easy to see where he inherited his modesty, good nature and worldly realism.
I cought up with Mark when he was in Sligo recently and we chatted about the decade he has spent in one of the world’s biggest pop acts. Throughout those ten years as Westlife, they have achieved so much and are an amazing success story.
“I never expected that we would go on to have the success that we have had,” he said. “When I was a young fellow, the ultimate buzz for me was being in the musicals at the Hawk’s Well. In fact I remember scaling the ‘Bits & Pieces’ section of the Sligo Weekender for auditions for the local musicals. Getting into the plays in the Hawk’s Well was as big a thrill as being on any other stage in the world!” said a reflective Mark.
“That stage was the only stage in my world back then. Though there was a time in my life where I didn’t think I was good enough to be picked for any play, musical or band,” he said. “I suffered periods of self doubt and lack of confidence just like anyone else does.”
But it just goes to show you that if you perserve at something and you are passionate big things can happen.
“I mean, I never thought I would have a ten-year music career at this level. I thought I’m just a boy from Calry, who’s going to want to listen to me?”
Well… as it turns out there are a couple of million people who want to listen to the sultry smooth and soulful tone of Mark Feehily’s voice. His distinctive singing style lends depth and panache to the Westlife sound, marking the band out of your average boy band trying to crack it in the music business.
“I have never for one minute taken the success we have for granted or or been blase about it, particularly at the start when we were new to the industry. When we started achieving things and having number one singles and albums, we never got carried away with the success.
“Each and every step of the jurney has been amazing. It just goes to show that you can come from anywhere in the world and have success.”
Mark has some advice for young people wanting to make a career out of music.
“It’s not everyone who is cut out for this business. In fact it took me a long time to get used to being in the industry and the whole marketing aspect that goes with being in a boy band. There is a huge emphasis on image which is unfortunate. How you look is nearly as important as how you sound.
“The music business is a business after all and you shouldn’t expect miracles. Record companies will always want to change the way you look and the songs you sing. People are so fickle in this industry, one record company head might say that you are while another record company man might thing you are the next big thing and sign you on the spot and make you a huge international star. You just can’t predict how things will go and you can’t be too sensitive because sometimes your feelings will get hurt.
“It’s a weird business but if you can take a step outside of it and look at it objectively then you see it for what it is. After all it’s a very lucrative business to be in and the record companies look at you like you are a product – just like a jacket on a rail in a shop, or a car in a showroom. You are a product that could potentially make the record company a lot of money.”
The entertainment industry is cut-throat at the best of times but Mark maintains it’s even tougher on girls.
“It’s very different for girls. At least guys can get away with a little stubble but with girls there is so much more involved in terms of hair, makeup, cloths. There is so much competition from other girls and it’s definitely a lot harder for girls to make it in the music business. Girls need to be even tougher than men.
“The size zero trend, which started in LA, is really bad in the UK at the moment. It’s really worrying to think that so many young girls feel they have to be bone thin to be attractive. It’s nice to see that Irish men still appreciate a normal looking woman with curves. They don’t like that skiny look on women.”
Another downside of the industry is that you will always be compared with other artists he says. “You will always be called the next Britney Spears, or the next J-Lo etc, and I don’t think it will change.
“The business will always be full of people who are rude. You have to be very strong and if you are the kind of person who can’t take a few knocks then you can forget about it.
“I was naive at the begining of the Westlife years. We were literally thrown in the deep end and it was a case of sink or swim. I have learned to toughen up and not be too sensitive. It’s like any other business where people are trying to succeed.”
When he’s not involved in the demanding throes of the music world, Mark loves nothing better than spending time at home.
“I am extremely proud to be from Sligo. I live in London most of the year and it can be a very fast and impersonal place to be.
“There is so much emphasis on image and materialism that personality gets lost. Here, people have a much more relaxed view of life and I feel very much at home. There is no bitchiness about appearance. In fact I would go so far as to say that I feel very protected by the local Sligo people.”
I asked Mark whether people are constantly harassing him wherever he goes.
“It’s funny, but people don’t hassle you when you are in Sligo. There is a mutual appreciation thing going on. People give you your space. That’s because people are very proud of you and what you have achieved as a band.
“Well, I am just as proud to be from Sligo,” he said. “The last thing I would want is to be put on a pedestal in my own home town. I just want to be perceived as normal here.”
Whether or not Mark Feehily will ever be perceived as just a normal person is doubtful. He is loved and adored by millions of women (and a lot of men too, I’m sure) worldwide.
“You do get the students who are from out of town coming up to you saying, ‘Oh my God it’s Mark from Westlife!’ but the local people don’t bother you. I think they like for us to feel that we can come home and just chill-out and relax in Sligo.
“Ten years on and I still get people passing by on the street saying, ‘How are ya Mark?’ It’s like people here want you to feel that you can walk around town as normal. They sense it.”
And when he does get to spend that valuable time at home he likes to pick up a certain local newspaper to get reacquainted with current affairs in Sligo.
“I love reading the Weekender whenever I can, especially because we are away so much and have to rely on our friends and families to tell us what’s going on in Sligo.
“It’s nice to pick up the local paper and see who you know in it.”
Looking to the future, I ask Mark if he has plans for a solo venture.
And the answer is unequivocal. “I have absolutely no aspirations to make solo singles or videos but I will always sing. As it is I sing from the minute I get up until I go to sleep at night. I don’t just stop because Westlife are on a break. Singing is part of me! It’s more about waiting until we go back into being Westlife.”
And before he gets back into the ‘swing’ of being part of one of the most successful pop acts of all time, he intends to enjoy a well-deserved break (the band announced a few months back they were taking the best part of a year off) doing a bit of everything.
“I would really love to do some travelling. There are so many places I want to see. I’m the kind of person who loves to immerse myself in anything that’s creative. Be that painting, writing songs, or even just going to the theatre.
“What we have done as Westlife has been massively positive, but there comes a point when you have to do your own thing, even just for a short while. I am hoping that this will be a fruitful year for me personally and I am really looking forward to it.”