The man himself puts it like this.
“Making this album has been very rewarding. It was like therapy. And while I was writing and recording, I went back to the drawing board many times and thought, ‘No, this isn’t right, this song isn’t good enough,’ and reworked it. And I’ve never done that before, not in 22 years of making music. But you’ve got to question yourself. And that’s something my wife really helps with – she’ll say to me: ‘Why are you going with that?’ And my lack of patience gets annoyed with that. But in the long run and the big picture, she’s right – it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
That’s where Ronan Keating is at. This, meanwhile, is where he’s been, in the busy years since the Irishman joined Boyzone as a 16-year-old schoolboy:
40 million album sales with Boyzone
22 million copies sold of nine solo albums
14 solo Number One singles
160 million YouTube views; 510k Facebook likes; 523k Twitter followers
50: the countries in which Keating has performed
One Ivor Novello for writing Picture Of You (1997)
One BMI European Song Writing Award for Long Goodbye, a Number One country hit in the US for Brooks & Dunn.
Impressive achievements, for sure. But they’re not something Keating is dwelling on, or getting hung up on, in 2017. Right now, Keating is all about pushing on with a bold new chapter in a two-decade-plus career. As a new year dawns, the 38-year-old is all about his new endeavours, the next challenge, the next-but-one goal.
Those include more acting – after his acclaimed leading-man run in London’s West End in stage musical Once, he’s recently completed filming World War 2 drama Another Mother’s Son, alongside John Hannah, Jenny Seagrove and Amanda Abbington.
They include more TV work – after five great years as judge on the X Factor Australia and a further year as coach on The Voice Australia, Ronan will soon be making a guest appearance in the award winning Australian drama, ‘Love Child.’
They include more artist management – after discovering, developing, funding and A&R’ing arena-filling Kodaline, Keating is now working with another exciting new Irish band. Watch this space…
But all that isn’t even the half of it with a coffee business venture, his ongoing cancer charity work and the imminent arrival of a new baby. However right now, Keating is all about his latest album… Time Of My Life. The album of his life, a record on which he’s dug deep, pushed hard and been unafraid of wearing his heart (and his tunes) on his sleeve. This album is the first fruits of not only a rejuvenating new relationship with his new label Decca, but also a genuinely content place in life and love. These are instantly affecting songs of celebration and emotion, of love and loss, but more importantly… unblinking honesty.
“In the past, I fell short because I put out something out that was only OK,” he admits with a sanguine shrug. “Whereas I think with this album, it’s a true reflection of me and the music I want to make. I took my time and I questioned myself, I wrote from a very honest place and I said it’s not ready when other people thought it was. I followed my instinct on this one and so I think I’ve made the best record I could have made. I’m careful to say that because everyone says that – but I do honestly feel that this is the best album I’ve made in 20-odd years!” he laughs.
The jumping off for the Dubliner was his 2015 role in Once.
“That show did a lot for me as a performer,” affirms Keating of the stage adaptation of the acclaimed indie film that featured songs written by Glen Hansard. “I’d never worked as hard as I did on Once, it was a discipline doing eight shows a week and never once calling in sick – I didn’t want to let anyone down, especially those paying for their tickets. When I first got offered the part I didn’t think I could play guitar, not properly like Glen does, then I spent three hours a day for a good couple of months, learning to play those songs because it wasn’t the singing or the acting that had me worried. It was the guitar work. I play guitar, and I write on guitar, but I’d never played anything like the incredible stuff Glen does. And that really pushed me. I surprised myself.
“And on stage I was shitting myself! That first show…” he winces. “When you’re in a boy band, you’re protected. There’s a few of you, there’s the band, there’s backing vocalists. Even when I went solo I was protected in my comfort zone. But on a theatre stage, it’s so intimate and you’re totally exposed. I felt naked up there. But Christ did I grow up and learn my craft! And after 145 shows I came out of it feeling unstoppable. That was the turning point for me.”
Fittingly, the closing track on Time Of My Life is new version of Hansard’s Oscar-winning Once song Falling Slowly, here sung with 2015’s breakout British country-folk duo The Shires.
“I wanted to bring a piece of those four months with me, forever, so recording that song does that. It’s stunning, and I love The Shires. And It’s an amazing song – honestly,” he says in rapt appreciation, “Glen smashed it there.”
Once helped in other ways, too. On the four-month run Keating became firm friends with cast-mate Dan Healy, an actor and singer-songwriter. Late night jam sessions in their backstage dressing rooms moved, once the run was completed, into intense-but-instinctive writing sessions last spring.
“I’ve written plenty songs for myself in the past, but never to this depth,” is Keating’s simple summation. The first song that felt like a keeper was Let Me Love you, a soaring, “organic pop” song that begins on acoustic guitar before bursting into a song which wouldn’t be out of place in a Coldplay set. Or, as Keating sees it, a beach.
“That song dictated the sound for the album. And guided me on a path. I felt like I was sitting round a bonfire with a festoon of fairy lights, on a beach. It’s got that kinda vibe. Bit hippie!” he admits with a smile of a song pegged as Time Of My Life’s first single. “It put me in that zone. Just a gorgeous song.”
Breathe is another belter, a joyous exhalation in gloriously melodic form. Keating attributes its core inspiration to his wife.
“I never knew love could be like this before I met Storm. To find someone that truly knows you and loves you, no strings attached, is liberating. We’re in it together and for the right reasons, so I guess there’s lot of security that comes with that… and a lot of inspiration for this album. Storm allows me to be me and understands how I need to be creatively – this was an awakening for me. To find the love of your life and for that person to nurture your dreams and goals and want to help you achieve them, is truly inspiring. This album would not have happened without her support and love.”
Ronan and Storm Keating married last year, in a ceremony that climaxed with a special friends-and-family gig featuring a performance from good friend Ed Sheeran. Keating is proud to reveal the missus as the supplier of sublime backing vocals on the delicate, intimate In Your Arms and, more notably, his impressive duet partner on the rousing As Long We’re In Love.
“She was very nervous, but she sounds incredible. Those are very special, very personal songs, but they sound even more special with her on it.”
Acknowledging that his wife has inspired the most personal songs of his career, Keating is quick to add that with a chuckle, “I don’t want to sicken people! But I’m very proud of the love we have and the person she makes me. Storm is one of those genuinely kind women who is brings out the best in people and has given me a reason and a focus like I’ve never had before. As well as an appreciation of my worth which I’ve never had before.”
There are more pointed emotions elsewhere on the album. Keep It Simple, the only piano-based song on an album that otherwise is built around simple guitar, is fleshed out with beautiful strings.
“One of the key lines is, ‘I’ve fallen out with the friends that I’ve borrowed…’ That was a big deal for me, talking about the people who pretended to be my friends when I was on my high. And when I was on rock bottom they disappeared. That was a real eye-opener for me. So in some ways that song is a screw-you to them. It’s ultimately a love song and the lyrics speak for themselves, but yeah, there are some hard truths in there about lessons I’ve learnt along the way too.”
Keating is similarly forthright on Don’t Think I Remember.
“That’s a song I wrote about growing up in Ireland. It’s autobiographical and reflects on my brothers and sisters emigrating to America ’cause there was no work in Ireland and like so many others, they left home for better opportunities. And then it also touches on that tall poppy syndrome – that begrudgery you get in lots of small places. I’ve felt over the years that there was a sense that I’m too big for my boots, that I’ve lost my way, that I don’t know who I am. But I’ve always known my roots and I’ve always been proud of them. Ireland is my home, and I do remember. I guess when you’re young you say and do stupid things because you’re still growing up and working the world out. And then when you’re doing it in the public eye it’s less forgiving because people don’t see the whole picture, they just get a small snapshot of something from a sensationalised press point of view. It’s tough but I get it, I know I’m guilty of judging people or situations purely from what I read too. So this song’s a total heartbreaker for me, ’cause those rumours hurt. Being misunderstood is a difficult thing, specially when it’s by your own people. Right now I can’t even sing that song, ’cause I well up. It’s the story of my life, and of how proud I am to be Irish. And I know I’ll get some shit for it, because the Irish don’t like to be told. But I don’t care. It’s true and meant, and it’s from the heart.”
So it is with the entirety of Time Of My Life, an album recorded simply and honestly in London last year with seasoned producers Steve Lipson (Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams) and Peter Vettese (Annie Lennox, Simple Minds), and with musicians including Healy and long-standing members of Keating’s live band.
Speaking of which: “This album is all about live,” he says. “Dan and I will just start out doing acoustic sets in the early part of the year. I want people to hear the songs as I wrote them.”
With songs with a core brilliance as instantly impactful as the ones on this 12-strong set, “we don’t need bells and whistles production, because the album’s not about that. But then, in the second half of the year I want to do a proper world tour. It’s three years since I did that. To go out with all this new material, and playing guitar, will be so exciting. These songs were written for live performance.”
It all speaks of a refreshing artistic reset for this musician who, still only in his thirties, has already gone to so many places, explored so many ideas, before arriving at what he considers the album he was always waiting to make.
“I could never have written songs like this beforehand,” Ronan Keating isn’t afraid to admit. “I wouldn’t have had the balls – I wouldn’t have had the brains,” he laughs. “But this music is the sound, and this is who I am. And this feels absolutely right.”