Kathy Don­aghy

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - COMPETITIONS -

“Coun­try mu­sic star Nathan Carter has shot to fame and now, at the age of just 28, he has re­leased his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. He talks about his beloved Nan, how he got started in the busi­ness, life on the road and why Fer­managh is so spe­cial to him.”

You know you’re in the com­pany of mu­sic roy­alty when Nathan Carter walks into the room. The megawatt smile and cheeky-chap­pie per­son­al­ity are there in spades. Be­fore he can sit down to talk, two fe­male fans have al­ready ap­proached and asked for a pic­ture with him. He gra­ciously ac­cepts. He’s made their day.

This is not un­usual. Ev­ery­where he goes, fans ask for pic­tures with him — it’s some­thing that comes with the ter­ri­tory.

Nathan’s hit song Wagon Wheel, which led to a num­ber one al­bum of the same ti­tle in 2012, changed the game for him and was, he says, a ground-break­ing force in his ca­reer. The song was ev­ery­where and, all of a sud­den, so was he.

Yet Nathan’s not some jaded star be­moan­ing the at­ten­tion. He ap­pre­ci­ates the fans. “Most of them have 100 pic­tures with me, but they still want more. I of­ten think, ‘Are they not fed up look­ing at me?’ But if they weren’t com­ing back to the gigs, we wouldn’t be on the road — they make it hap­pen,” he says.

His is not a story of overnight suc­cess. It’s one of hard graft and tenac­ity. Nathan has been singing and play­ing mu­sic since he was a child. He jokes that at one point he tot­ted up the amount his mother and fa­ther had paid for all his lessons, and it came to about £20,000.

Now, at the young age of 28, he has writ­ten his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Born for the Road. Funny and self-dep­re­cat­ing, Nathan was du­bi­ous when first ap­proached about do­ing a book. “I laughed orig­i­nally when they said to me about writ­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — I’m 28! What am I go­ing to fill it with — pic­tures?” he says.

But the more he talked it through with the pub­lish­ers, the more he felt at ease about telling his story so far.

And so far that story, of a young boy from a semi-de­tached house in Liver­pool who be­came one of the best-known faces in coun­try mu­sic in both parts of Ire­land, has been pretty amaz­ing.

From read­ing the early chap­ters of his book, it’s clear that the pro­fes­sional you see on stage and on tele­vi­sion spent much of his young life hon­ing his craft. He was play­ing an ac­cor­dion with the lo­cal ceilidh band and deeply in­volved with the lo­cal branch of Comhal­tas (a body which pro­motes Ir­ish cul­ture) in Liver­pool from early child­hood.

Ev­ery year, the Carters — mum Noreen, dad Ian and chil­dren Nathan, Kiara and Jake — along with ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents, Nan and Grumps, would take the ferry to Ire­land and hol­i­day wher­ever the All-Ire­land Fleadh was be­ing held.

In 2005, on a stage in Let­terkenny, Co Done­gal, Nathan won gold in the solo singing com­pe­ti­tion. The year be­fore, he had been made head cho­ris­ter of his school choir, singing on Top of the Pops with a ver­sion of All To­gether Now.

Singing in bars and pubs all over the north of Eng­land gave him more ex­pe­ri­ence. And so, at the age of 18, with the words of his beloved Nan to “keep prac­tis­ing” in his ear, he moved across the Ir­ish Sea to form his own band.

His Nan’s friends, Ann and Jim McClay, gave him a home from home as Nathan be­gan to try and break into the scene here.

His back­ground of hard work stood him in good stead as he gigged around the coun­try with his band.

He wouldn’t change a thing and be­lieves it’s prob­a­bly harder for young singers or mu­si­cians who be­come fa­mous af­ter com­ing up through a re­al­ity TV show.

“I al­ways think it must be tougher to do it that way. If you have even a slight bit of suc­cess overnight, you prob­a­bly don’t know how to deal with it be­cause you haven’t done any ma­jor graft­ing and work to get to that point,” says Nathan. “I would ad­vise any­one start­ing out in the mu­sic in­dus­try to go to the gigs in the pubs and clubs.

“A lot of peo­ple, like Ed Sheeran, did busk­ing in the streets to try and hone a craft and a way of per­form­ing.

“You can’t buy ex­pe­ri­ence — that’s the

You don’t know how to han­dle overnight suc­cess ... you can’t buy ex­pe­ri­ence

bot­tom line. I’ve made a lot of con­nec­tions and had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ences, from be­ing in a choir, to en­ter­ing Fleadh Cheoils, to play­ing in folk clubs and pubs. It’s life ex­pe­ri­ence.”

That broad mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence means that the coun­try mu­sic tag doesn’t re­ally fit. “The Ir­ish coun­try thing — that whole ti­tle is to me a lit­tle bit strange. I would record folk songs and Celtic songs. I would prob­a­bly con­sider my­self a lit­tle bit broader, but that’s not to knock that genre. I do a lot of dif­fer­ent stuff,” says the star.

De­spite his hard work ethic, Nathan is a self-con­fessed night owl who loves to party. “I’m go­ing on a stag do to Ve­gas in the morn­ing. There’s good shows and the bars stay open all night. I like to let the hair down. I work hard and I play hard,” he says.

The singer is also known for his love of fast food and, while he’s a big fan of McDon­ald’s, he’s all about mod­er­a­tion.

“I go mad for a week­end and then I’ll cut back. Nor­mally, I don’t gig Mon­day, Tues­day, or Wed­nes­day, so I’d be in the gym ev­ery day. I do cir­cuit classes, some weights and a bit of run­ning.

“Any days that I’m off, I’m in the gym. It’s po­lar op­po­sites. I will eat rub­bish and have nights out. Then I rein it in and eat healthily for a few days.”

Be­ing in the pub­lic eye and us­ing so­cial me­dia to share what he’s up to — in­clud­ing post­ing the odd In­sta­gram in the gym — does come with its draw­backs, and in his book Nathan con­fesses that he tried not to read tweets af­ter tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances.

“It can’t help but get to you. Nowa­days, it only gets to me for about five min­utes and I move on,” he says now.

“Years ago I’d think, ‘I need to change my­self ’, when I’d read some­thing on­line. I could take it badly, par­tic­u­larly at a younger age.

“That’s the worst part of so­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially with kids. Young kids take it a lot worse than adults.

“Crit­i­cism can af­fect peo­ple very badly. For me, I’ve just got used to it. You get thicker-skinned and broader shoul­ders when you’re in the busi­ness for longer. I do feel for any­one start­ing out in the busi­ness.

“It’s key­board war­riors. You’ll never meet those peo­ple. They’ll never buy a ticket, they’ll never come in to see a show, so why worry about them?

“That’s what you have to get in your head, and I guess I have that in my head now.

“The only time that I get stick on­line is from men. I’m guess­ing it’s be­cause they’re feel­ing jeal­ous be­cause their part­ner is a fan. I can un­der­stand it.

“If I had a part­ner and she was mad about an­other fella on stage, I’d be think­ing, ‘Who does he think he is?’ So I get it.”

And so the con­ver­sa­tion comes around to re­la­tion­ships. In his book, Nathan talks about the first time he met coun­try singer Lisa McHugh. He says he in­stantly fan­cied her and, while they did have a re­la­tion­ship, it ended around six months later be­cause nei­ther of them were look­ing for any­thing se­ri­ous.

He’s still foot­loose, fancy-free and not wor­ry­ing too much about meet­ing some­one.

“If it hap­pens, it hap­pens,” he says. “I’m not out there look­ing for it to hap­pen. I think if you do (look for it), you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to meet the wrong per­son.

“If you want it too badly, I’d say it’s the wrong thing. Who knows who it’s go­ing to be? I’m 28. I prob­a­bly do need to buck my ideas up soon.”

I ask how he man­ages to make sure that the peo­ple he in­vites into his life , be they ro­mances or friends, are gen­uine and not just in­ter­ested in his fame and his con­nec­tions. He pon­ders the ques­tion for a mo­ment. “I’ve made bad de­ci­sions on that some­times. My long-term friends have helped me by say­ing, ‘You need to keep a dis­tance there’. I don’t see it some­times.

“I’m prob­a­bly over-friendly with ev­ery­one. I would in­vite ev­ery­one for a drink af­ter a gig — fans, pun­ters, who­ever. I would buy them all drinks, which is the wrong thing to do some­times be­cause peo­ple just want to be there to take ad­van­tage. That’s prob­a­bly one of my weak­nesses — suss­ing out peo­ple who want to take ad­van­tage.”

From the out­side, given his ca­reer tra­jec­tory, it could look as if Nathan has been plan­ning ev­ery­thing all along, but he main­tains that he’s just work­ing hard to write and sing good songs.

“I’m def­i­nitely not me­thod­i­cal. I have a very short-term plan. I’m a Gem­ini — there’s the twin thing. One is al­ways go­ing, ‘That’s prob­a­bly not go­ing to work out’, and some­times I can be glass half-empty, but then I’ ll al­ways keep try­ing.

I’ve been try­ing to find a house by the wa­ter for years... I’m just too fussy, I guess ‘I sur­round my­self with good peo­ple... you couldn’t have an ego be­cause they’d de­stroy it’

“There’s al­ways this ques­tion, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ I don’t re­ally know. I don’t think any­one can plan that far ahead,” he says.

“We’re try­ing Amer­ica. We’re go­ing to do a tour in Ger­many at the start of next year. That’s a mas­sive mar­ket that I haven’t tapped into. I did a few dates there ear­lier this year, and they were great. There’s new mar­kets open­ing up all the time, and who knows, if one of those clicks it could be an­other Ire­land that would al­low me to go and do big­ger shows and hope­fully are­nas one day.

“I’m happy to see what de­vel­ops in the fu­ture, ca­reer-wise. I’ ll work as hard as I can at it and give ev­ery­thing an op­por­tu­nity.”

One big op­por­tu­nity that came his way re­cently was play­ing for Pope Fran­cis at the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies. “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be do­ing that, I wouldn’t have be­lieved you,” he ad­mits. “I don’t think back then I was ready.

“I’ve done a lot of stuff since — TV work and singing with dif­fer­ent singers and per­form­ing on big stages, which has helped me grow in con­fi­dence and helped me get bet­ter. It would be a dream come true to have my own gig at Croke Park.”

Nathan even found him­self a lit­tle starstruck at the event. “An­drea Bo­celli was there with his wife and I was des­per­ate to get a pic­ture,” he says. “I think that he’s a fan­tas­tic singer and just a mas­sive global megas­tar. I badly wanted a pic­ture, but I didn’t have the con­fi­dence to go and ask him be­cause I know that feel­ing. I thought to my­self, ‘I’ll leave it’.”

Is re­li­gion im­por­tant to him? “I wouldn’t say I’m re­li­gious,” the star says. “I don’t know any­one my age who is. I think re­li­gion is chang­ing at a rapid pace here. The Pope’s visit caused a lot of con­tro­versy. The rea­sons be­hind that are clear to see.”

De­spite this, Nathan does have faith, and Fr Brian D’Arcy is some­one he looks to, for ex­am­ple. “I love Fa­ther Brian, in ev­ery­thing he does and says,” he says. “He’s a re­li­gious man, but he has a very broad vi­sion and a lot of re­al­ity in what he sees and says. He’s a very good per­son and he sees the best in peo­ple. He says it how he thinks it is.”

Treat­ing peo­ple well is key to sur­viv­ing the tour­ing life. “It’s good craic to me and I get on with them all,” Nathan says. “I sur­round my­self with good peo­ple. You couldn’t have an ego be­cause they’d de­stroy it. I think if you do, you just lose all re­spect. To do what I want to do, I need a team and a band and a crew. To me, ev­ery­one is as im­por­tant as the next man or woman. I need to treat them with the same re­spect as I would ex­pect”.

While he is fiercely proud of his home city of Liver­pool, Ire­land is his home now, and he loves to re­treat to the coun­try­side dur­ing breaks from the tour. “I find it a more peace­ful way of life over here. It’s a slower pace. Liver­pool is great, but Ire­land is more peace­ful. It wouldn’t be if I lived in Dublin or if I lived in Belfast. I don’t like the hus­tle and bus­tle. The road is tough enough, be­ing on tour buses and mov­ing from air­ports to ho­tels. To then live in a city with noise, I would just go off my cake. To be out in the coun­try is more peace­ful.

“I’ve been dy­ing to buy a house on the wa­ter for four years and I can’t find one. I’m too fussy I guess. I’ve looked at 40 houses. I got into a bid­ding war over one I re­ally liked. I had to back out. I like Fer­managh — I love the wa­ter.”

That love of the wa­ter sees him take his boat — a 24-foot speed cruiser — out for a spot of boat­ing and jet-ski­ing on Lough Erne when­ever he gets a chance. It’s the only time that he switches his phone off.

No in­ter­view with Nathan would be com­plete with­out ask­ing about his ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Nan. She’s also Nan to his le­gion of fans. A chap­ter in the book is ded­i­cated to her and her es­capades to get him started in the mu­sic busi­ness.

“She is a one-off char­ac­ter,” he says. “She’s been there the whole time. She was al­ways there, driv­ing me to the gigs, sell­ing the mer­chan­dise, sup­port­ing me, push­ing me, tak­ing me to lessons.

“My grandad was al­ways there too and so were my mum and dad — they were pay­ing for the most of it.” So, what does the fu­ture hold for him? Amer­ica is a huge draw, but writ­ing good songs and stay­ing in the game is what re­ally mo­ti­vates him. “I think Ed Sheeran is the mod­ern-day Bob Dy­lan/Van Mor­ri­son. I think he’s fan­tas­tic. I love the way he’s added the trad as­pect, singing Gal­way Girl and Nancy Mul­li­gan. I was brought up on that, so I re­ally re­spect that. I just re­spect peo­ple with longevity in the busi­ness,” he says. “That’s the best thing. For­get awards and get­ting prizes and all that. If you can have a long ca­reer in the busi­ness and still be sell­ing al­bums and still be sell­ing con­certs af­ter 40 or 50 years, that is the mea­sure of suc­cess. I’d love to be able to do it.” For now he feels lucky to be liv­ing the life he’s lead­ing. He says he wouldn’t change much along the way. And he jokes that hope­fully there’ ll be plenty of ma­te­rial for the next part of his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

GREAT HON­OUR: Nathan singing for Pope Fran­cis when he vis­ited Ire­land in Au­gust

MU­SIC TO OUR EARS: Nathan Carter at home and (be­low) with for­mer girl­friend and coun­try singer Lisa McHugh. Above, with his nan Ann Mc­Coy

ADOPTED SON: Nathan Carter has made his home in North­ern Ire­land. Be­low, with brother Jake in Fer­managh and with Daniel O’Don­nell

Born For The Road: My Story So Far, by Nathan Carter, is pub­lished by Pen­guin Ire­land (£20)

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