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'We were a joke'

'We were a joke'
From BBC - September 14, 2017

Whatever you do, do not ask Niall Horan about One Direction's concert debut.

"I never want to talk about that gig again," grimaces the star. "Worst night of my life. The worst One Direction show ever."

The band were less than a year old when they played the Watford Colosseum in December 2011. They'd just hit number one with What Makes You Beautiful but, despite weeks of live performance on the X Factor, they were not quite prepared for the rigors of a full show.

"We have refused to talk about it ever since," says the 24-year-old. "It was a disaster. We were just a joke.

"Anything we rehearsed just went out the window. It was our first ever gig and we just did not know what the [expletive] was going on."

Contrary to his memory, the show got a four star review in the Watford Observer, which praised the "tightness of the vocals"; and fan-shot footage captures a likeable, if ramshackle, trot through the band's first album.

"Yeah, there was a charm," admits Horan. "But the second gig was better."

Of course, One Direction went on to sell out stadiums around the world - but with the band on hiatus, Horan is back in smaller venues again, giving fans a preview of his acoustically-led debut album in a series of intimate gigs in the UK, US, Japan, Australia, Mexico and Europe.

"It's brilliant, especially with the type of music I am doing," he says. "You feel like you are in someone's living room.

"With One Direction, we were doing five or six kilometres a night, running around the stage like lunatics.

"There's none of that now. I will probably put on a bit of weight, standing still and playing guitar all the time!"

So far, the singer has released two solo singles - the folky coming-of-age tale This Town and the slyly funky Slow Hands - both of which highlight Horan's handsomely husky voice.

Crucially, they have made an impression outside One Direction's core fanbase. Slow Hands, in particular, stealthily became one of the songs of the summer.

"It's been out 15 or 16 weeks now and it's still creeping up the chart," says Horan when we meet in late August. "It's the fourth most-played song on US radio this week, which is just a joke."

It's a world away from One Direction's chart performance, where songs would typically make a strong debut then nosedive out of the Top 10.

"I think it's just the way streaming is these days," says Horan. "Before, you'd release a song and you'd know by the end of the week if it was going to be number one or not. Now, you have a chance to get a bit of longevity.

"I think it's much better. It gives people time to live with the tunes."

Monkey trouble

Horan was born in 1993 in the small Irish town of Mullingar. His mum soldered pewter, the town's main export, and his dad worked at the butcher's counter in Tesco.

His parents divorced when he was five and, after a period of shuttling between households, Horan moved in with his father.

With his dad working nights, he often had to do his own washing, ironing and cooking. In the mornings, he'd wake himself up and walk a mile-and-a-half to school.

Everything changed when he auditioned for the X Factor in 2010, at the age of 16. Dressed in a lumberjack shirt and brimming confidence ("I have been compared to Justin Bieber, and it's not a bad comparison"), he belted out a wobbly version of Ne-Yo's So Sick.

Despite negative comments from the judges, he squeaked through to the next round and was eventually incorporated into One Direction.

"After the first audition, I packed up everything in my life in a bag," he wrote in One Direction's book, Who We Are.

"I did not realise at the time that, when I was stuffing clothes into the little suitcase, that was pretty much me leaving home for good."

For the next five years he was locked in a yearly cycle of recording, promoting and touring albums. At the BBC Music Awards in 2015, Horan confessed he'd only spent four nights in his own bed that year.

So by the time One Direction went on hiatus that December, he was more than ready for a break.

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