The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 31)

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Taking you back to the sights and sounds of a time when a fresh faced Dermot O’Leary hosted T4 on Sunday mornings, when the London Eye was erected on the South Bank and when twittering was a noise that birds made, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: the first member of one of Ireland’s biggest boybands of the 90s launches his solo career via the soundtrack of the year’s biggest romantic comedy box office hit…

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By July 1999, it was fast becoming a question of when and not if Boyzone were going to be splitting up any time soon. And to be fair, six years into their career – longer than most boybands manage – the evidence for the prosecution was mounting.

Earlier that summer, they had roared to a sixth number one single (‘You Needed Me’) and their greatest hits package ‘By Request’ had topped the album chart and was selling by the truck load. But the fact of it being a greatest hits album was already a warning signal of sorts.

Not to mention that several of their number had just had babies and/or got married, and one had also made a public declaration (Stephen Gately had come out to a national newspaper that he was gay around this time) that it felt as if it was only a matter of time before a big announcement of Take That style proportions was made.

But for some reason or another, even at the end of their sell out tour in December that year, it never really came, aside from a half-hearted mention of ‘taking a break for a year to pursue solo projects’. Partly because most attention was already being redirected to their defacto lead vocalist and arguably their most popular member, Ronan Keating. And the reason for this?

Enter Richard Curtis. Just as he has been behind the mammoth success of Yesterday this summer, twenty years ago it was all about Notting Hill, his touching, funny Brit romcom starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and something of a notional follow up to his 1994 breakthrough hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, which had defied expectations by becoming the highest grossing British film of that time.

Everyone was looking for parallels with Notting Hill, including on its soundtrack, which of course had provided Wet Wet Wet with their behemoth 15-week chart topper ‘Love Is All Around’. A couple of singles from the soundtrack had already gone first to top 10 success – Another Level with the Diane Warren penned ballad ‘From the Heart’ and Elvis Costello with his remake of Charles Azanavour’s ‘She’ – but the big guns were ultimately being saved for Ronan.

Sound tracking one of the film’s key scenes, where Hugh and Julia’s characters break into a private garden and share their first kiss, ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ had originally been a US hit for country singer Keith Whitely in 1988, with Alison Krauss following with her version in 1995. Richard personally asked Ronan to record a solo version and he duly obliged.

With built up demand from a solid couple of months of airplay and sell out audiences at the box office for the film, it was all but inevitable that Ronan was set for the first solo chart topper away from Boyzone, and on its 26th July 1999 release, ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ did exactly that, rocketing to number one for a two week stay before he was knocked off by the band who, to all intents and purposes, were in the process of superseding Boyzone, and who he had a hand in managing as well. We meet them later in this series, but I don’t think I need to tell you who they were, do I…?

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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