The death of Stephen Gately is sad for many reasons, not least because the fellow was so utterly modest and charming. He was a joy to meet and more than just interesting to talk to.
Indeed, everyone who met him — fan, or fellow professional — sort of fell in love with him; as many people have said in the past twenty-four hours, his death makes no sense at all.
When Boyzone had their big hit with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Jim Steinman’s “No Matter What” from Whistle Down the Wind, Stephen became a regular at ALW’s Sydmonton Festival and was soon building a new career in the musical theatre in the revival of Joseph and as take-over casting as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Palladium.
He had a natural ease and star quality on stage, and it’s impossible to believe that he wouldn’t have gone on to enjoy a lengthy career on both stage and screen as a highly popular entertainer.
“No Matter What,” like “Next Time You Fall in Love” (lyrics by Don Black) from the second edition of Starlight Express, is one of Lloyd Webber’s very best pop songs, and although Stephen shared lead lyrics on most Boyzone numbers with Ronan Keating, it’s him we shall always associate with the song.
It went to Number One in August 1998 and stayed there for three more weeks and was a hit, too, right across Europe.
But an unseemly row developed when the price of the single in Britain was cut to one penny below the minumum necessary for it to be registered in the charts, a move allegedly executed in order to facilitate a quicker journey up the listings of Boyzone’s next song, not written by ALW and Steinman.
The composer was furious, claiming that his own record company, Polygram, had thus ruined his chance of having the bestselling West End show single of all time.
Tim Rice joined Lloyd Webber in writing to The Times to bemoan sharp practices in the record industry: “Albums may generate more income, but in the long term the downgrading of the individual hit song will be disastrous for our music industry.
“The Beatles opened up the world of British music with wonderful songs, and no-one complained if nine or ten tunes were selling simultaneously.”
As ALW admitted at last week’s Press launch of Love Never Dies, however, the record industry has changed tumultuously in the past few years, and the internet has seen off the hegemony of the charts.
But I bet that if “No Matter What” was re-released tomorrow, it would zoom straight back up to the top spot. It would be a wonderful memorial to lovely guy and a great pop song.