Review: Westlife at First Direct Arena in Leeds

Westlife are back for their 20 Tour.
Westlife are back for their 20 Tour.
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They say that all good things come to those who wait.

And for anyone who still remembers the pop supergroups of the nineties and noughties, absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder.

Back then, cassettes were pushed into obscurity by the arrival of the CD and die-hard fans desperate to learn the lyrics of their favourite pop tunes would have to collect the song lyrics from a popular magazine each week.

The sugar-coated pop bubble felt like it was starting to burst when Geri left the Spice Girls, leaving fans wondering what it was going to mean for the phrase ‘friendship never ends’.

Thankfully, Irish popstars Westlife - after being renamed from Westside - burst into the charts and stole the hearts of teenage girls across the globe.

The cheeky five-piece went on to dominate the global pop market by notching up over 55 million record sales overall worldwide and a place in the Guinness World Records fame after clinching seven consecutive number one singles in the charts.

The most devoted Westlife fans will still remember the searing resentment harboured towards children's television character Bob The Builder after that Christmas number one debacle, before the band went their separate ways in 2012.

But now, 20 years on, they’re back - and yet it feels like just 20 minutes ago since I was among the throng of teenage fans seeing them live for the first time in 2002.

Read more: Westlife at Leeds Arena June 2019: stage times, support acts, setlist and how to get tickets
With barely any seats spare Leeds' First Direct Arena is packed with fans welcoming the band back to the spotlight. Many of those have been on the Westlife journey from the very start.

Among the die-hard fans are a group who travelled from Singapore just for the chance to witness the come back.

And what a come back it was. No gimmicks, no backing dancers - just Shane, Kian, Nicky and Mark taking centre stage with the hits and the voices to boot.

Opening the show with Hello My Love the band burst onto the stage ready to take fans on a nostalgic journey down memory lane with some of their biggest hits.

Swear It Again - the song that saw them soar to the top of the charts with their first number one - followed quickly by My Love, When You're Looking Like That and Uptown Girl.

And it was clear that not only was it going to be a trip down memory lane for fans but also for Nicky Byrne who had a stint with Leeds United in 1995 for two years.

Read more: Westlife's Nicky Byrne talks about his time at Leeds United during reunion tour
Speaking to the packed arena he recalled his time training on the streets of Beeston Hill and a chance encounter with a group of men at a cash machine in Harehills that left him wondering whether he would be mugged.

He told the crowd: "Those Wortley and Beeston Hills that we used to do pre-season training on up and down until you literally spewed up it stood me well.

"Those lads never caught me. Leeds United gave me one thing apart from a great football career. It made me fast and it made me fit and they were never going to catch me."

He went on to thank the coaches at the club - including Eddie Gray - for making him a "young fit lad" and shared his memories of Mister Craig's nightclub.

He added: "I had a wonderful time in this city and it's always great to come back. And you made me feel so welcome when I was here living here.

"It's a brilliant city and it's really amazing to be back playing with the lads."

And the home-grown fans were lapping it up.

A surprise Queen medley followed and it wouldn't be a Westlife concert without the return of the stools as the band perched on them for stripped back versions of Unbreakable and Fool Again.

And before we knew it the show was rounding off to a close with the touching rendition of You Raise My Up dedicated to those who have lost loved ones. The arena transformed into a sparkling spectacle as mobile phone lights twinkled.

Returning to the stage for their final encore with Flying Without Wings and World of Our Own the group signed off for the evening in style.

Packed with key changes this was the Westlife that fans have adored from over the decades and with the promise of a new album later this year it's the welcome back they deserve.