The Liverpool-Donegal singer's brand of country music has attracted attention outside of Irish country-rock, with a rapidly growing fan base
Country music’s latest and brightest star, Nathan Carter, has a rapidly growing fan base all around Ireland. In 2013, the clean cut, charismatic young singer with the common touch enjoyed unprecedented success, appearing in sold out shows at Belfast’s Waterfront hall, the Millennium Forum in Derry and the Olympia theatre in Dublin. He sang the Australian and Irish national anthems in Croke Park, and Christmas Carols at Dublin Castle. 2014 promises to bring Carter more fans and fame further afield as he looks set to sign a deal with a major UK record label and has concerts scheduled in England, Scotland and America.
Four years ago this month, the 23 year old golden voiced multi instrumentalist took to the road with his six piece band. Along the way he recorded two concert DVDs, four albums, including Where I Wanna Be which shot to number one in the Irish music charts ahead of Michael Buble and One Direction and several hit singles, notably the smash hit ‘Wagon Wheel’ which has earned him a gold disc.
Born in Liverpool, Carter, whose grandmother hails from Warrenpoint in County Down, was raised in the city’s Irish community. Singing traditional songs, he won the All Ireland Fleadh in 2005. He sang with his school choir when they performed for Pope John Paul II in Rome and played accordion in a Ceili band.
Leaving school at 16 he was determined to fulfil the dream he had as a three year old. He told me, ‘I don’t think I’ve said this before but I remember sitting in playschool daydreaming about singing on stage. My grandparents introduced me to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash, Dickie Rock and Daniel O’Donnell and my mum loved songs like Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do you Go to My Lovely’, the first tune I learned on the accordion, or Donny Osmond’s ‘The Twelfth of Never’, which I still sing in my shows.’
Influenced by a new generation of country singers including Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Shania Twain and Brad Paisley, Carter began performing on Liverpool’s pub scene. Then he moved to Ireland, first to Donegal and finally to Enniskillen. The town which lies at the crossroads between Bundoran and Belfast, Donegal and Dublin, has become a hub for young country music, having attracted several other second generation emigrants like Lisa McHugh, Sean Loughrey and the Benn sisters, Carrie and Leanne.
At Enniskillen’s Diamond Records store, which specialises in country and Celtic music, owner Liam Benn explains how Carter mixes elements of traditional and modern country:
‘There are traces of the basic fiddle and guitar combo of Irish Hillbilly, the Scottish folk that became bluegrass banjo, and sentimental ballads, including emigration songs. If you listen well you’ll notice that, in common with the gaelic Sean Nos singers, he uses subtle ornamentation, adding warmth and colour to his voice.’
Carter concurs. ‘My style is a unique country and it is hard to put it into one box for I also play Beatles songs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll numbers like Van Morrison’s ‘Precious Moments’. Now I have started writing more of my own material and already have four new songs for my next album.’
Carter has also reinvented Ireland’s showband era. Among his fans are those who in the 1950s and ‘60s danced to the Clipper Carlton, the Miami Showband, the Mighty Avons or the Premier Aces at venues like the Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarne, the Plaza in Belfast, the Arcadia in Portrush, and the Corinthian Ballroom in Derry.
Father Brian D’Arcy, once known as the showband’s priest, says of Carter. ‘Every chance I get I go to see Nathan. He’s a top class performer. He loves singing, he loves the audience, he loves entertaining, he’s a natural on stage. He’s got it. He’s going to be a massive star here and in America.’
And then there are the younger fans- the 66,000 or more who follow Carter on Facebook and download the Nathan Carter App. They are deserting the discos, learning to jive and flocking to his shows.
Apart from his film star good looks, and what his manager, John Farry, calls his ‘God given gifts’ - a velvet voice, innate musicality and the versatility of an all around entertainer - Carter knows a good song when he hears it.
‘I first heard ‘Wagon Wheel’, which was penned in part by Bob Dylan, and recorded by Ketch Secor and the Old Crow Medicine Show on a friend’s ringtone and thought I could do something special with it. I listened to Johnny McAvoy singing the sea shanty ‘South Australia’ and made my own version. ‘Ho Hey’ was already a hit for the bluegrass band, the Lumineers and ‘Caledonia’ was originally a Scottish folk song.’
Carter’s showbiz road show is a slick operation. An 18 ton tour bus emblazoned with his image and manned by a stage crew of 10 ferries equipment and instruments, including a grand piano, around the country. His management team and promotion company oversees concert and tour bookings, publicity and merchandising. Carter’s CDs and DVDs sell like hot cakes. Buy a 2014 Nathan Carter calendar and this summer join him and his friends on the Costa de Sol for a country music jamboree by the sea.
On stage Carter is dressed in a midnight blue three piece suit offered to him by his favourite men’s wear outlet. The band strikes up and the girls in the audience scream as Carter sings, ‘There’s nothing like a country song to leave those blues behind’.
His rendition of ‘King of the Road’ is equal to and many would say excels Rogers Miller’s original version. Accompanying himself on the piano he delivers a bluesy ballad then raises the temperature with a foot tapping, four on the floor dance number.
There’s a wink for the girls, a rip roaring accordion break, a change of key and another hand clapping sing along with the audience. At the end of each show, Carter devotes time to his fans, posing for photographs with them and signing CDs. He insists he is pleased to acknowledge their support in this way.
‘I don’t remember names but I do remember faces and can often say to people I saw you at such and such a gig,’
As for Carter’s future plans, he is obviously keen to write more of his own songs. ‘After the current tour I’ll be back in the recording studio which is one of my favourite places to be. It’s a break from the concert circuit and I love the process of laying down a song with the other musicians chipping in their ideas.’
I have never been to Nashville but plan to spend five days there during our American tour in May and I long to play in Australia for I have so many friends who have emigrated there.’
In person, Carter’s just like the boy next door but he’s savvy, sensitive and smart, and there’s not a hint of a superstar ego. And finally, a word to those who say, ‘Country music is not my cup of tea.’ Have a listen but watch out, for you too could become a Carter convert.