Thursday 18 January 2018

Is this the final bow of the pop legend Louis? Don't bet on it

NOT COMING BACK: Media left shocked by Walsh's X Factor retirement

X Factor judges (left to right) Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa Contostavlos and Louis Walsh. Photo: PA
X Factor judges (left to right) Gary Barlow, Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa Contostavlos and Louis Walsh. Photo: PA

Ah here! He's not gone yet.

It's a tribute to the pop Frankenstein monster Louis Walsh has created that a year before he bows out of X Factor the British press are already falling over themselves to report the news. A year in advance? "Beatles band to break-up . . . next year." C'mon. Where would you get it?

Those of us who've monitored the Kiltimagh Kid's rise and rise to the summit of pop's Everest can but shake our heads and say, "That's our Louis".

After 10 years of charming/infuriating/numbing (readers can delete where applicable) the television public on Saturday evening TV, Louis has decided to call it a day, cash in his chips, or even take a hike.

Or has he? The first thing you learn with the Mayo Maestro is that maybe, just maybe, not everything is exactly what it seems.

That life-threatening small plane crash in the Australian outback that almost, but mercifully didn't, deprive the world of the talents of Boyzone. Louis' X Factor make-over that wasn't. The Carter Twins . . . the lad Walsh has been spreading his conjurer's cloak over pop audiences since the New Musical Express was a child.



Back then, he was the only boy in the village to have that bible of British pop on order at his local newsagents.

Armed with a digest of pop trivia, schoolboy Louis would haunt the local Diamond Ballroom, soaking up the atmosphere being created by Maxi Muldoon's Clipper Carlton or Michael Deeny's Chips.

The local railway station burned down in 1923, but there was no stopping Louis. Soon he was camped in Pembroke Road, helping out at that bastion of the Irish showband industry, the offices of the Tommy Hayden empire.

From teenage booking agent he quickly became a Eurovision mover'n'shaker with Johnny Logan.

I can testify that in Greece in 1992, locals spoke of little else than "the lovely Lee-nda" after another Louis protege, Linda Martin, had won the Eurovision in Sweden.

Already Louis had triumphed where Alexander the Great had failed. It was just a sign of what was to follow.

This week, Louis announced, "I've done it all". And he has. For 10 years he's been on that X Factor, banging his pencil, pointing like a mad thing and pontificating. Stars of the future have come and gone. But, there, like a wild-eyed Dr Who at the heart of the star-making machinery, presides Louis Walsh.

Where did it all go right?

Louis Walsh loves pop music like a flower loves the rain. In this digital age, he still keeps a juke box in his home. It's like a shrine, a devotional object that reaffirms his belief in the transcendental power of the pop single.

You won't find prog-rock Iron But terfly or avant-industrial Throbbing Gristle on Louis' jukebox. What you will find are many of the great artists who've pushed the boundaries – Dusty Springfield, the Fab Four, Patsy Cline, the Beach Boys. Louis knows his onions.



Studying the brightest and most resourceful pop music managers of his generation – Brian Epstein, Larry Parnes and Andrew Loog-Oldham – he learned what they did right. More importantly, he noted where they went wrong.

Like the great managers before him, Walsh intuitively understands how a sow's ear can be turned into a silk purse. And pop music being the Industry of Human Happiness, we've all, at one time, bought shares.

At first Louis, and his then business partner John Reynolds, struggled to get Boyzone away. There was resistance in the boardrooms of fashionable London. An Irish boyband? The concept didn't compute.

But Louis harnessed the marketing savvy of former Irish beer brand whizzkid Paul Keogh and drove a coach and the four through the halls of Wham, Bros, Take That and East 17. He quickly left those British Svengali's – Nigel Martin-Smith, Tom Watkins, Simon Fuller – trailing in his wake.

Their wealth had allowed them to become art collectors. And soon Louis was adorning the walls of his many luxury pads with Warhols and le Brocquys.

It's well known that pop fame eats itself. While Westlife's Shane Filan pleaded bankruptcy and others took to pantomime, few of Louis' clients could have imagined that their mentor would become a bigger deal than a whole cavalcade of stars.

So now we face the final curtain. Well, a year of final curtains. Louis, like a Bruce Forsythe for the rave generation, is giving it another whirl.

And, who's to say that he won't show up his fellow panelists for their ignorance of street trends and vintage singalongs?

From Samantha Mumba to Jedward, Louis Walsh has long known what the kids want. And Simon Cowell, the mogul who reckons he knows everything, believes Louis still has plenty to offer.

His determination fired by the mega-global success of One Direction, Louis is getting back in the ring for one more round.

As Ireland's other pop giant, Van Morrison once tootled, "It's too late to stop now".


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