Let’s run some numbers. We could call it pop bingo. Or we could just call it: “Ronan Keating: tallying up a hit-machine”.
19: the years the singer and songwriter has been making music.
35: his age. (So, yes, he was only 16 when he started out in Boyzone. Bless.)
13: that’s 13 million – Boyzone’s total worldwide album sales.
10: that’s 10 million – the number of copies the Irishman has sold of his 11 solo albums.
42: that’s 42 million – the combined single and album sales of his career
68: million YouTube hits; over 202,000 Facebook likes; over 240,000 Twitter followers… he’s a super-social social media superstar.
50: the countries in which Keating has performed, two of them (the Netherlands @ 1997, Ireland @ 1999) witnessing his hosting duties at the MTV Europe Awards; one of them (The Seychelles @ 1998) the scene of his MC role at Miss World; one of them (Australia @ 2010, 2011, 2012) giving him a platform as an X Factor judge); and one of them (Germany @ 2006) letting him open the World Cup by performing under the Brandenburg Gate.
30: the length of the record-breaking run of consecutive Top Ten UK singles that Keating reached in October 2007. On his way to securing a place in the Guinness Book Of Records, he beat Elvis.
3,750,000: the amount in £’s that Keating has raised in his role as an ambassador for Cancer Research UK. His annual Emerald & Ivy Ball is the biggest single night fundraising event in CRUK’s calendar
1: Ivor Novello for writing Picture Of You (1997)
1: BMI European Song Writing Award for Long Goodbye, a Number One country hit in the US for Brooks & Dunn.
2004: the year he was honoured with a role as UN Ambassador for the Food & Agriculture Organisation.
Thousands: the amount of miles Keating has swum, hiked, climbed and run in aid of the Marie Keating Foundation, the cancer charity he founded in memory of his mother.
But that’s enough of that. Keating is not a man for counting his cash, nor for sitting on a throne made from melted-down platinum discs. The days when he measured out his success in his fleet of fancy cars are long gone.
“I had 11 at one time!” he says with a sheepish grin, “including a ’63 Chevy Corvette, a ’66 Mustang, a ’72 Dodge Charger, a Ford Bronco, two Range Rovers, a Porsche. It was ridiculous. It was just gluttony – but when you’re a kid and you make too much money you do stupid things like that…”
Yes, Keating is proud of his achievements. But never one for looking back, right now he’s more interested in what comes next. And that’s Fires, his new solo album. After a run of three concept and collaboration albums, including last year’s blue-chip partnership with Burt Bacharach (When Ronan Met Burt), it’s his first album of new material in six years.
“I actually compare this album to my first solo record, and I don’t think I’ve made a record as good as my first record until now,” Keating says with characteristic straight-talk. “This is the one I’ve been trying to make since 2000 – seriously! Twelve years in the making, and it’s finally here!” he laughs. “I’m excited and I’m passionate about it.”
We don’t have to take his word for it. The re-energising of Ronan Keating is ear-peelingly apparent on the album’s first single, the title track. ‘Fires’ is a soaring, punchy pop anthem, written with young, London-based Swedish songwriting team Electric.
“I wanted to go to radio with something first that was dramatically different from anything I’ve done in the past – something exciting, up-tempo, energetic, that felt now.
“And the track just said so much to me. Obviously I’ve been through a turbulent time over the last few years. And really for me the song is like lighting a fecking fire under my arse! It’s time to move, it’s time to get myself up out of this hole and get moving. I created the issue, I created the problem and I had to correct all my wrongs, and try get myself back on my feet, and start moving forwards. And that’s what this song says to me. That’s what it’s about.”
So, Keating is on fire. There’s a similar gung-ho spirit in I’ve Got You, a U2-go-pop belter, and Nineteen Again, a bright, singalong rocker written by Rick Knowles and Greg Alexander (who Ronan famously worked with on hit singles Life Is A Rollercoaster and Lovin Each Day). If Keating had said the working title of the song was “Let’s ’Ave It!”, few would have been surprised. The youthful zest and exuberance crackles from the song, which was also co-written with Electric.
“Absolutely!” he smiles. “And it’s a fine line – I don’t want be going, ‘oh, right, I’m young, free and single, let’s go and have some fun…’ That’s not at all what I’m trying to say in any of this stuff. It’s really about, OK, I’m 35 years of age, I’m not a kid any more, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I still love what I do. I’m lucky and feel blessed that I’m still doing this and have an opportunity to do it. I want to put my best foot forward, I want to be the person I want to be. I don’t wanna hide.”
Ronan Keating recorded Fires in London and Dublin, and worked with writing/producing collaborators including Brian Rawlings and his Metrophonic Team, Steve Lipson, Mathias Wollo and Paddy Dalton. But the writing seeds of the album were sewn at the end of last year while he was in Australia, working on his third season as a judge on the local version of The X Factor.
“I’d never done anything like that before, and it was brilliant for me. I loved the whole process, and I loved working with Mel B. Twenty years doing it, and I only feel I can now sit on that panel and tell people the truth, whereas before I wouldn’t have had the knowledge. Now I can sit confidently and say, ‘that’s good, that isn’t good enough…’”
He admits that the insight that came from picking apart the nuts and bolts of songs and performance also fed into the making of his own new music.
“Being a judge on X Factor makes me stand back and look at myself in a way I wouldn’t usually look at myself.”
The Ronan-reboot is also apparent in Fires’ ballads. With a sweary laugh, he’s the first to admit that he’s done more than his fair share of slow numbers over the years. But when a song as good as Easy Now My Dear emerges from the sessions, he had no option but to apply his coolly soulful voice to the sublime, piano-based tune.
“That song is just one of those moments. We wrote it in the front room of my house in Dublin on the piano, me and Mathias and Paddy, and I think it’s just a very simple, beautiful ballad. The world is all going crazy around you and everything’s mad, and it’s just one of those songs where you settle down…
“It’s something that’s been very evident to me over the last few years. I’ve lived with anxieties and pressures, the fear and all of those different things. And this song is just really me telling myself to be calm.”
The gentle, stirring Love You And Leave You, flecked with pulsing electronics and brass, is, perhaps, the other side of the same coin.
“That’s a pretty intense track,” Keating says slowly of a song written by Cass Lowe. “When you listen to the lyrics, people are automatically gonna go, ‘oh, what’s he saying here…’ But that’s not where I’m coming from with this song. It can be looked at in very different ways!
As he enters his third decade in pop, 35-year-young Ronan Keating is back with a bang. Work on his golf handicap (14) will have to take a backseat; his keenness to start racing cars again will have to be parked for a while. The fundraising for his mum’s foundation, of course, will continue apace, as Keating works to expand both awareness and their fleet of seven cancer-screening trucks in the UK and Ireland – although he won’t be jumping into the Irish Sea again in a hurry.
“56 miles!” he exclaims of last year’s charity swim, “a stupid idea!”
But for now, the focus is on Fires, and the world tour planned for 2013 – his 20th anniversary of making music.
“I really am hungry for it,” Keating says, positively jumping out of his seat. “I wanna be back on the radio – six years away is a long time for me. Magic might play When You say Nothing At All or Tomorrow Never Comes; Life Is A Rollercoaster might get the odd spin here and there. But actual new music being played on the radio, it hasn’t happen for me in a long time.
“So, I am so energised and buzzed about getting back on the airwaves. I do feel we’ve made the best record possible. I mean, I hope I have another 30 years doing this. It’s on the one hand frustrating that it’s taken this amount of time. But I guess I’ve been through such a crazy few years that it’s had to happen like this.
“Now I’m ready. I’m coming with head, heart and soul with this record.”
Spoken like a man who really is on fire.