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Leaving of Liverpool

Country music superstar Nathan Carter tells David Hennessy why he has made a new departure with his latest album, why he can’t believe the success he has had over the last ten years in Ireland and why his Irish World Award means so much to him.

It is ten years since Nathan Carter relocated to Ireland and been performing with his band. Those ten years have brought him unbelievable success. He now tours as far afield as America and Australia in addition to his legions of fans in Ireland. It is no coincidence that his success coincides with the image of country music as a genre getting a makeover. Once considered out of date and out of touch, singers like Nathan and Lisa McHugh have made it trendy again.

Nathan performs at the Circus Tavern Complex in Purfleet on Saturday 15 February, Valentine’s weekend, with special guest Claudia Buckley.

Asked if he can believe he’s celebrating ten years with his band or how good the years have been, Nathan told The Irish World: “Not really, no. I couldn’t have really planned it to be honest having moved to Ireland and having the career that I have been lucky enough to have over the last ten years, it’s been a whirlwind and it’s been great fun.

“I’ve had a ball, met some amazing people and probably achieved a lot more than I thought I would have done which is a great thing for me to be able to say.”

Can Nathan pick out a highlight of the last ten years? “I performed in Croke Park two years ago when Pope Francis came to Ireland. That was a huge deal for me, alongside Riverdance, Andrea Bocelli, Daniel O’Donnell, there was a whole host of singers and I was top of the bill for that day singing to 60,000 at Croke Park while it was televised all over the world. That’s one I will definitely never forget for sure.

“I’ve been very luck y with the chart success here in Ireland which I never really expected singing country music or folk music you would be able to actually get into the mainstream charts. Over the last ten years, I’ve been really lucky that five of the albums have gone to number one. The only other act it has happened to is One Direction. That was a huge surprise to me when IRMA got in touch last year and said that this award was going to myself and One Direction. I didn’t expect it.”

People often comment on how down to earth Nathan stays in the face of all of his success: “I think people definitely keep you down to earth. I started off in pubs and clubs and Irish Centres as a one man act playing with my keyboard. I never really intended it to go this way, I just wanted to make a living at it whether it be solo or with a band.

“I would always be happy to go back to that if I had to. It wouldn’t be a huge chore to me and I think I always have in the back of my head it could all end tomorrow. I think if you look at it like that, it keeps you very down on the ground and also my family are very normal people. I think if I changed in any major way they would certainly tell me quick and I would be getting a belt around the head.”

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Born in Liverpool with heritage from Newry, Nathan was learning the accordion from a young age and would be still only ten when he won the All Ireland title for traditional singing. These early trips to Ireland were the introduction to the country he now calls home: “I have always loved it there. I first came over when I was a kid. I used to enter the Fleadh Cheoil and visit family and friends every summer. I would spend the whole summer in Ireland really so it became a second home and I kind of always thought I would move over but never planned it until I got the offer of a few gigs when I was about 19 years old.

“I came over to do them and I ended up staying. I set up a band and it took off from the start. It was good fun, played all over the north. It was Northern Ireland that welcomed me with open arms and I developed a fanbase there with a lot of young people which hadn’t really been seen before. It was more mature age group, shall we say, who would have been going out to the gigs.

“It’s great to say I’ve seen it change and the stigma that was attached with country music (is no longer there). It was definitely considered very niche and more for the older generation. It has transformed and turned around, that has been one of the highlights for me: Because I know when I started out it was very uncool to be singing country and to be going to a gig that had country was seen as very uncool whereas now, especially in Ireland, we do see every year massive big country festivals and I play a lot of the big festivals where people go out to just see the Irish country acts never mind the American. I’ve seen a lot of these festivals growing over the last six or seven years because of the popularity of the acts and the new generation who have got into it. It’s really great to see.”

Did Nathan care that country wasn’t cool? “I’ve always liked that kind of music. My granddad used to play all the great American singers like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers. I grew up always listening to that kind of stuff. As well as that I was dragged along to the Irish Centre as a kid when I was five or six to learn how to play the accordion and would have seen bands like The Dubliners, The Chieftains and The Clancys, all of those bands that I was very fond of when I was a kid. The mixture of the American country music and the Irish folk music is always what I grew up listening to and love. I’m glad to say I’m still following that kind of music and I’ve been very lucky to be singing it and to playing it in venues that I get to play.”

Nathan’s new album is different from anything we have heard from him before. Heartland has a folk flavour and features collaborations with The High Kings and Finbar Furey: “This album for me was a complete step in a different direction because I had always recorded albums where the main element was country music.

“This album is totally Irish, it’s totally folk and I decided to collaborate with a couple of different musicians just to put my stamp on it and also authenticate it, to give it a bit of kudos.

“I got in touch with Finbar Furey first. I met him at a couple of gigs that I had done and he said he would perform on the album so I did a song called Donnybrook Fair and Finbar sang on it, played the pipes, the banjo and whistle. That was really cool because in my opinion Finbar is one of the last remaining true legends of Irish folk music.

“I wrote this song called May the Road Rise and after listening to it, I thought it needed more voices on it and the only band that I know of that are amazing tenors and amazing Irish folk singers, the best of them is definitely The High Kings. I knew a couple of the lads. I contacted Darren and he said they would sing on it so they were amazing, they added an awful lot to the song.

Nathan Carter with The High Kings.

“I’ve done a lot of gigs in America this year so I’m trying to tap into that market. The High Kings are well known over there, they’ve always toured there. I think it’s going to be a big help for us.”

Another track on the album is Winnie O’Neill, it tells the story of Nathan’s great-grandmother. When Winnie was on her way to America via England, all of her possessions were taken meaning she and her husband had to stay in Liverpool: “They got robbed on the boat to Liverpool and they were actually meant to be going to New York to start a new life and they obviously didn’t make it that far. They had to stay in Liverpool and they settled and had ten children, my nan being one of them.

“I just thought this is an amazing story and penned the song.”

Just last year Vince Power’s Liverpool Feis was cancelled with short notice due to poor ticket sales. At the late hour another promoter would step in to give people their show with Nathan performing in the hastily organised but successful concert: “It was a great event and I was glad to see that it got salvaged. It was great.

“It was obviously very disappointing at the time when the Feis got cancelled, the year before that had been a tremendous success with 10,000 people on the seafront in Liverpool with Van Morrison, Imelda May, some of the finest Irish music you will ever hear so to hear it wasn’t going ahead the next year was really disappointing. It turned out to be a good event. I don’t know if it’s happening again this year. It was an honour to be a part of it and it was great it actually got rescued.”

Irish World Awards

It was still early in his career that Nathan was honoured with an Irish World Award at the Galtymore in Cricklewood. It would not be the last award for him as this set him on the way to his huge success. He would return for our most recent awards at the Novotel in Hammersmith in 2017.

“For anyone playing on the Irish music scene in England, it’s probably the most prestigious award so to get ‘The Best Newcomer’ the last time it was ever in The Galtymore was amazing and gave me a huge boost and helped me along the journey.

“It was amazing and Paddy Cowan (Irish World founder and publisher) has been a big part of my story along the way from when I was a kid. To keep in touch with Paddy is always a great thing and he’s done a lot for me. For me to come back a couple of years back, it was a tremendous night. I wanted to give something back to Paddy and to the Irish community in London and further afield.

Nathan pictured at the 2017 Irish World awards with Irish World publisher Paddy Cowan.

“I used to play The Galty whenever Big Tom was there and Paddy got me that gig and that led to there being dances in the Crown with acts like Brendan Shine and Jimmy Buckley and I used to support them, myself and my keyboard. London’s always been very good to me through the years and I was honoured.”

Nathan has played many Irish Centres including the recently closed Birmingham Irish Centre. He is saddened to hear of community hubs like this closing: “I’ve played Birmingham on many occasions and I heard the end of the last year it was closing. To me that was very sad. Thankfully there is still a few of them left but it’s only a handful really still putting music on and keeping the Irish people in the area entertained.

“It’s a sign of the times. People have different ways of being entertained now with Netflix and so on. Even the pub scene is very different now from what it was ten, fifteen years ago.

“It’s a sign of the times but the ones that are still going, I would tip my hat to them and support them any way we can. We’re actually playing in Leeds Irish Centre next week, it’s one of our first gigs on the tour. It’s a sell out. We’re delighted. I did a gig there as one man ten years ago when I started out. Tommy, who did the bookings then and still does, was very good to me so we’re going back to do a gig there this year. I try and get back if I can to any of the venues that we used to play.”

Nathan is touring the UK now.

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