by Paul Stewart, Melbourne Herald Sun
BOTH bands can be described as musical megastars, but Shane Filan of Westlife says his group and fellow countrymen U2 are really "just typical Irish lads who love music and like a beer".
Filan, whose band has sold 40 million albums worldwide, says Irish musicians do not take themselves too seriously."I think that is why we get on so well with Australians, because you guys are the same,'' he says.
"Anyone being pretentious or big-headed is quickly brought down to earth.''
He says he admires the way U2 was still "so grounded'', despite the band's success.
"I was out at a bar in Dublin recently having a few pints and Bono and his mates arrived and he was quick to come over and say hello,'' Filan says.
"He is so laidback, despite the fact that those guys have been mega successful and now are very, very rich.
"Larry, U2's drummer, contacted us and asked for our autographs because his girlfriend is a big fan of ours. We could not believe that, because we are such great fans of theirs.''
Renowned for big ballads and sweet soul harmonies, Westlife was formed in Dublin in 1998.
Despite little radio support in Australia, the band has a huge following here and its album Face To Face is nearing double platinum status, thanks in part to an appearance on Dancing With the Stars earlier this year on a packed promotional trip.
"I am really happy to have broken through in Australia at last,'' Filan says.
"My brother is a doctor in Melbourne, so I feel like I have a connection with the place.''
The singer, who wants it known the Socceroos were "robbed'' at the World Cup, says he and his bandmates have just started work on a new album.
"We always release an album a year. We just love what we do,'' he says.
"I am proud of what we have achieved along the way.
"Having said that, it could all end tomorrow, so you have to work hard while you can.''
During their career the members of Westlife have met the stars of stage and screen, but one particular meeting still stands out for them.
"We got to meet the late Pope, the one before this new guy, and that was just an amazing experience for a Roman Catholic boy in Ireland,'' he says.
"My mum was so proud of me, more so than for most other things we have achieved.''
Despite conquering markets throughout the world, Filan admits his act still struggles to gain a significant following in the US.
"I think a lot of it has to do with politics in the American music scene,'' he says.
"They love promoting their own acts and artists from out-of-the-way places like Ireland and Australia have to face extra hurdles to crack it there. That makes the success of U2 there even more admirable.
"Look at Robbie Williams, he is a massive performer everywhere except the US -- it does not seem to worry him though and it really doesn't bother us.
"We are proud of our music and what we do and that is all that matters, really.''
Filan regards his bandmates as survivors after coping with the sudden departure of Bryan McFadden, who left Westlife to pursue a solo career and is now dating Australian singer Delta Goodrem.
They also feared that many young female fans might abandon them after member Mark Feehily declared he was gay.
Yet Westlife continues to enjoy huge sales and sold-out concerts.
A feature of any of the band's performances is the number of cover songs. The current tour has included versions of songs by Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Justin Timberlake, Robert Palmer and The Pussycat Dolls.
"Look, a great song is a great song no matter who wrote it,'' Filan says. "We really just love to sing those kinds of songs.''
While the singer admits he has contemplated a solo album, he says he would hate to leave Westlife.
"I don't think it would be as much fun doing it on your own,'' he says.
"We are now a real gang and have shared some great times together, plus we love each other's company and honestly, I know I keep saying it, but we really just love to sing together.''
Apart from their own recordings, the Westlife lads have developed a reputation for working in tandem with some of the great female vocalists. Past collaborations include sessions with Mariah Carey, Diana Ross, Donna Summer and Lulu.
Filan predicts big things for one particular female vocalist.
"I think Delta Goodrem is set to become one of the world's major recording artists,'' he says.
"We had never met and talked until recently. We all went out and had a few drinks together for Bryan's birthday.
"She is gorgeous and a really nice person as well.
"I have had a chance to listen to some of her new material and she is hot.
"I think she is a much better singer than Mariah Carey, for example, and we have worked with her.''
Westlife plays Rod Laver Arena September 20. Bookings: 132 849.
I love the way they make it sound like it's Shane's band, and not a vocal harmony GROUP.
Though there won't be much of him left once Mark gives him a severe kicking for the Mariah Carey comment.