First Published December 2019
GETTING TO THE HEART OF THE CARTER
NATHAN CARTER is the kinda guy who’ll risk letting his dinner go cold just so he can finish talking to you. You can call that good manners, good ‘raising’, or just class, take your pick. The point is, it’s typical of the man. And I’m not the only one with stories like that to tell. In fact, I have a few stories like that to tell from my years of knowing Nathan and his team. Not only do such tales – that may at first seem like just little things – reflect the professional attitude that has taken Nathan to the summit of Irish entertainment, but more tellingly, they demonstrate the personal touch that is at the heart of everything Nathan does. And its those little things – countless in number – that have maintained his presence at the top of his game.
And as it happens, I’m not the worst in the world myself, either, so there was never a fear of his dinner going cold before he got to it. By the time it arrived by his side we’d already covered enough ground on our latest catch-up to lose a few questions at the end. As is the way of this business, we’ll meet again somewhere down the line. There’ll always be time to chat again. So you’ve got to let a man get his dinner into him when he gets a chance.
Nathan and I were talking on the evening of his recent sold-out Christmas concert in the Tullamore Court Hotel. And with yet another very successful year in his career to look back over, I began by asking him what moments stood out as some of his own personal highlights?
“I suppose this year we’ve done a lot of live gigging, but my latest album, for me, stands out. It’s been the longest process we’ve ever had for making an album, it’s been twelve months. But I’m very happy with it, and very proud of it. It’s only been released about two or three weeks now. I’ve done collaborations with Finbar Furey and The High Kings on it, and I’ve written a couple of songs on it myself as well. So I’m very proud of it. For me, that’s probably one of the biggest things of the year. Now of course, we’ve done some amazing gigs as well, between the London Palladium selling out, the Marque in Cork again, and a lot of really big gigs across Ireland that have been really good fun. We went to Germany as well, and we went to America. It’s been a busy year! But the album for me is probably the highlight of it, yeah.”
Irish Heartland is Nathan‘s eleventh long-player, and in many ways is pretty much what people would have referred to as a ‘concept’ album once upon a time. Nathan had just revealed that it had taken twelve months to record, but I got the feeling it was a project he’s wanted to get stuck into and bring to fruition for a long time. So how long, I wondered, had he been waiting for a chance – or perhaps just the right time – to make this album?
“Yeah, well I’ve been singing some of the songs that I’ve recorded since I was…six! Songs like ‘The Rare Ould Times’ and ‘The Mountains Of Mourne’, my grandad used to sing that one to me when I was a kid. So I’ve always wanted to do an album of that kind of stuff. I just didn’t know when was the right time to do it. It is a concept album, but I’ve never actually called it that in any of the interviews. The collaborations were great fun on it. Finbar, I didn’t think he’d record with me, so that was really cool. And we’ve just done a video for the song with The High Kings, it’s called ‘May The Road Rise’, that’s gonna be a single after Christmas. We did a video for that in Donegal last week. So yeah, looking forward to people who haven’t heard the album hearing more of it, and hopefully they’ll like it!”
Irish Heartland is also a real treat for fans in the sense that there’s a very generous eighteen tracks, so it’s almost a double-album really. But even in giving fans so many songs to enjoy, how tough was it to narrow the final selection down to those chosen?
“Well, ya know I’ve always recorded a couple of Irish songs on each album. It mightn’t always have been Irish, but they would have been folk songs, ‘Caledonia’, or Beeswing’, ‘Ned of the Hill’, stuff like that. And I’ve written a few Irish-type songs myself, ‘The Boat to Liverpool’, ‘Temple Bar’, they’re very folky. So it was hard to pick from the back-catalogue which ones to put on, cos’ I’d recorded two on nearly every album. But in the end, we said we’d put as many as we can on. And like you say, I’d like to think it’s value for money with people getting eighteen tracks. And yeah, hopefully they’ll like them!”
The song that opens Irish Heartland will be familiar to any die-hard Garth Brooks fans, Ireland, from his 1995 album, Fresh Horses. I can’t recall any Irish artist taking it on before, so how did Nathan arrive at the decision to record it?
“I’d found it on that very old album of Garth Brooks’ years ago, and I remember saying at the time that I thought it would be a good opener for a concept-type Irish album. The minute I heard it, I thought that. And it’s actually one of the most streamed songs on the album at the minute, a lot of people are liking it, which is great. It’s not a fully folk song, it’s more of a country-crossover song. A lot of people know Garth from it, but a lot of people have never heard of it as well, because it’s kind of an obscure track of his. And we open the show with Ireland as well.”
Of all the songs on Irish Heartland, there must have been one one which was always going to be included, no matter what. I wondered which number held the honour of holding that place in Nathan‘s affections?
“Well from when I recorded ‘The Rare Ould Times’ with John Sheahan at the 3Arena gig we did ‘live’, I always said I wanted to record that if I did an Irish album. So that was one that was always definitely going to be on, a studio version of The Rare Ould Times. That was probably the one that I knew I was definitely gonna stick on the album.”
While the album is universally Irish in an obvious way, it’s also very personal in another, in that the songs included name so many people and places; ‘Nancy Spain’, ‘Grace’, ‘Winnie O’ Neil’l, ‘Dan O’ Hara’, ‘Ned of the Hill’, ‘Mountains of Mourne’, ‘Donnybrook Fair’, ‘Temple Bar’, ‘Belfast’, ‘The Boat To Liverpool’…Was this just a coincidence, or perhaps a subtle strategy on Nathan‘s part?
“I didn’t even think of it like that! You’re so right, yeah. definitely not a strategy, no. But do you know what? Those are the songs, and the kind of songs, that touch me more. The lads always say that whenever I write a song it’s always about a person or a place. That’s weird that you said that now. Subconsciously, maybe so, but I didn’t realise I was doing it.”
As Nathan‘s pre-show meal arrived in at his side, he laughed off any suggestion of finishing up the interview so he could get stuck into it, insisting that there was no panic and that we fire away with the rest of our chat. Another one of the little ways in which Nathan has always shown himself to be a class act, on-stage and off, something I’ve said so many times before.
Nathan was joined once again on his Christmas Tour this year by Offaly’s own country queen, Olivia Douglas from Ferbane, an artist Nathan has worked with quite a lot at this stage. So what is it about Olivia that adds to his show, or makes her so good to work with?
“Do you know what, I’ve used a lot of different support acts, and to be honest, I think the crowd have taken to Olivia the best. And the easiest, too. Not to say now that the other support acts I’ve had weren’t as good or anything like that. But the crowd really like Olivia. She’s just so unassuming. She just gets on stage and does her thing and people like for that. She’s got that country girl type thing about her, no airs or graces with her. Great musician, great accordion player, great singer. Olivia is just a very, very likeable person.”
As we spoke, we were right in the midst of the Christmas madness, and I was sure Nathan had his own list of things he’d like to find under the tree on Christmas morning. So what kind of hints had he been dropping to the likes of John (Farry, his manager), or Ger (Butler, road-manager), brother Jake, or the guys in the band?
“I’m very boring this year [laughs], cos’ I’m actually moving house! So I’m asking for a lot of boring stuff like towels, and mats for the door, just stupid house gifts really, ya know [laughs]. But that’s stuff that I’ll have to get anyway, so I might as well do it at Christmas and get a load of people to buy me a load of presents! [laughs].”
So 2020 is shaping up to be yet another big year for Nathan and his team. What’s he looking forward to along the way?
“We’ve got a cruise around the Caribbean coming up in February, with Gertrude Byrne, looking forward to that. Next year is also my ten-year anniversary, so we have a special Glasgow weekend happening in March, a Kilarney weekend in the I.N.E.C. in the Gleneagle in May, and a trip to Spain on which we’re hoping to take around six-hundred people with us for a week. So there’s a lot happening. It’s ten years, so we’re gonna celebrate it, hopefully in style! And hopefully people will come and support us and be part of the action and part of the fun!”