My memory of (Boyzone and) Stephen

Everyone’s tweeting today on the sudden death of Stephen Gately. News outlets internationally are writing columns of obituary and tributes. Media notables and fans are saddened by the news. Boyzone found themselves to no longer be a band of five.

Growing up in South East Asia in the 1990’s, boybands were de rigueur du jour. There was the sensational New Kids on the Block, soon rivalled by Take That but also quickly usurped by Backstreet Boys. At the same time Boyzone came onto the radar and sure enough, the entertainment magazines were pitting the Americans against the lads from UK and Ireland – NKOTB vs TT, BSB vs BZ. It wasn’t even unusual to see magazine covers graced by these guys issue after issue.

Boyzone : Mikey, Keith, Ronan, Shane and Stephen

Boyzone : Mikey, Keith, Ronan, Shane and Stephen

My initiation to Boyzone was during a school trip, when a friend raved over “Love me for a reason” and had played the cassette (yes, cassette!) of the band’s debut album on the bus as part of the road entertainment. A couple of years later, when I was moving to Ireland, said friend made me promised to tell if I ever meet any of the boyz.

Sure enough, Ireland is a small country and Dublin is not all that big either. About a week or two before Stephen came out publicly, I bumped into him at the Westbury Hotel. (I got an autograph but I don’t think I ever remembered posting it to my friend.) Not long after that I also bumped into Ronan Keating and Shane Lynch at Dublin Airport, when I was there to meet an aunt who was returning from her holiday.

What I remember of the boyz were chart-topping pop songs loved by many (SE Asian market was – and still is – very much pop/rock-orientated). An ex even bought a special collection Swatch which had been programmed to scan as entry ticket to their concert as a birthday gift. I couldn’t go though, bummer.

Moving to Ireland, I found it rather strange then that not many people I know seemed to like them. Or at least nobody was admitting to it. Yet they continue to sell their singles and tour dates like hot cakes. I began to think maybe the people I know were closet fans. Or perhaps it was an uncool thing to openly claim listening to boy/girl band of any sort?

That mattered not to me. I happily listened to them from time to time, and I attended a gig during their last tour prior to their split. I got lucky and had amazing seats near the front, at the centre block. I went on to have a great time, and so did my cousin who was highly sceptical of them (she was more into R&B than pop).

Never one to follow artists’ careers closely (even to this day), and as my music preference changes over the year, I never quite knew exactly the direction each of the boyz were taking during the split. I saw videos of Ronan on MTV, news article on Stephen’s West End shows, and glimpses of Keith Duffy on Coronation Street when I was channel-hopping. When they re-formed the band last year, I respected their decision to perform a come-back tour but by then I have left my teenage-year admiration behind me and not at all too nostalgic over it.

On hearing the news today, that Stephen had died in his sleep at the age of 33, I was saddened nonetheless. He was gracious to me when I bugged him for an autograph (what can I say – I was very young and impressionable back then, with too little sense) and he was a talented young man who co-fronted Boyzone with Ronan. His role in the band was an important one, his voice distinctive and instantly recognisable in their hit tunes.

There will be investigation in the next couple of days to look into the cause of death, and the boyz are reported to be heading out to Majorca where Stephen was on holiday with his civil partner Andrew Cowles. A family spokesman claimed there was nothing untoward that led to his death but attributed it to natural causes, and a funeral in Dublin is planned for hopefully by the end of the week, accounting for time to conduct the post-mortem examination and arrangement to fly the remains home.

Meanwhile, in memoriam of someone who loved to sing and to please the crowd, here’s Stephen singing Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.

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