First Published November 2020
“I LIVE FOR THE GIGS”
If you’ve ever been to a NATHAN CARTER show then you’ll understand exactly why the man himself says, “I live for the gigs.” Sold-out and jam-packed venues, excitement all round, laughter, fans singing along with every song, and smiles everywhere you look, whether that’s from the stage looking down into the audience or from the audience looking up at Nathan and his band on stage. More than just Nathan have lived for those nights.
A Nathan show, you see – and I’ve often said this – is more than just a night-out, it’s a celebration of everything that’s great, powerful, and positive about music. And you’ll see that too at the end of each show when fans queue for as long as it takes to get a moment at Nathan’s side and have their photo taken with the biggest draw in Irish country music. What those moments at the end of every show also illustrate perfectly is exactly why Nathan has become the superstar that he is. As long as there’s someone waiting to meet him, Nathan will be there ready to meet them too. But as Nathan will tell you, that success didn’t arrive overnight. It’s been a decade in the making.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan again last weekend, with the main reason for our chat being his brand new album which celebrates the last decade in his career, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS . This anniversary collection drops tomorrow, November 12th, and is essentially a greatest hits album, a huge milestone in the career of any artist. Now if there’s one thing that 2020 has given Nathan in bucketloads, it’s time to look back over those first ten years. So, when he does, how does he feel to have reached the point in his career where he is today?
“To be honest, it’s been a great journey over the last ten years, gigging and playing and going from small pubs and clubs, to dance-halls, to theatres, and then the 3Arena, and the SSE Arena. It’s been a journey that I never imagined really, that it would be so successful. Looking back over the last ten years, which I’ve had to do picking these tracks, it’s brought back a lot of great memories of the venues I’ve played, the people I’ve met along the way, the ups and the downs of the music business and show-business! But yeah, we’ve put together twenty tracks, some of them from when I first started out to the most recent singles that I’ve released over the last couple of years, and there’s some newly recorded songs especially for this album. So it’s an album filled with the old and new, something that I’m very proud of, and it’s been nostalgic looking back over the last ten years at where I’ve got to.”
As Nathan mentioned, there are twenty tracks on the album, four of which are new songs. And one of those – Wings To Fly – was to see its video premiered later in the evening on which we spoke. Nathan had mentioned on his social media that this song was dedicated to a good friend of his who is sadly no longer with us. I asked Nathan if that might be the late Nicky James, and also if he’d tell me a little bit about writing what must be one of his most personal songs…
“It is, ya know [one of my most personal songs]. I don’t write songs that often, and I wouldn’t consider myself as a great songwriter or anything like that really, I consider myself more of a singer. But I do a bit of writing, and I’m very proud now of this song in particular. As you say, it’s written about a good friend, Nicky James, who unfortunately passed away at the start of this year. I kind of put pen to paper and came up with this song, ‘Wings To Fly.’ It was very emotional really, writing it. But I’m so glad I did. And we recorded a video there in a castle not too far from my house where I live in Fermanagh, a castle called Belle Isle Castle, we were lucky that it was empty last weekend. There were no weddings obviously, due to Covid, so we took over the Castle for the whole day and did a load of filming. That video, as you said, is being released tonight online. I’m very proud of the song, so looking forward to peoples’ reactions to it and just seeing what they think of the lyrics and the actual recording.”
I wondered if recording the video and putting himself back into that emotional space of what the song is about, was a hard thing to do? Or was Nathan able to distance himself from what the song was actually about until the recording was in the can?
“I kind of tried to distance myself from it a little bit, ya know, cos’ I’d only end up getting emotional doing it. But at the same time, I did want a bit of emotion in the video. To be honest, the guys I work with, Mick Bracken and the crew who do the filming, they’re good fun. They had me laughing hysterically most of the day, so to try and then be serious again for the song was quite tough [laughs]. But I’m very proud of the video as well, and I’m looking forward to people seeing it this evening, so hopefully people will check it out on Facebook and YouTube and let us know what they think.”
Another of the new tracks on the album is Sarah Jane, and as it so happens, OTRT will be talking to Sarah Jane herself – the wonderful Sal Heneghan – in the next few weeks. I asked Nathan to tell me how he and Sal came to link up for that project…
“Basically I wrote that song at the start of this year, and we were shooting a video in Dublin. So we needed a fiddle player who was preferably good looking! [laughs]. A friend of mine, Peter Maher, who owns a studio in Tipperary, he knows Sal from through the years. He sent me a picture of Sal, and a video of her playin’ fiddle, and I said that’s our one! [laughs]. She looks great, and she sounds great, so we got in contact with her and asked if she’d mind playing a role in a music video. And she said she’d love to. So Sal Heneghan ends up being ‘Sarah Jane’ for the day, and it turned out really well. She’s a great girl, and very talented as well.”
Nathan said in a recent interview that back at the beginning of lockdown, when he didn’t really know what to be doing with himself, some people told him to just go and use the time to write some songs. Nathan, however, replied that he just had no interest at all in music there for a while around that period. I wondered if he’d rediscovered that spark since the, and if putting this album together had helped him to do that?
“Yeah, I definitely had kind of just lost interest in music for a while when lockdown did kick-in. I just had no want really to do anything. I kind of live for the gigs, to be honest. The gigs are the thing, being on stage and with a live audience, interacting, that’s what I do it for really. When that was taken away, it kind of just felt like a big hole was there. But no, definitely, when I started picking tracks for the album, and I’ve been doing a bit more writing there recently, that’s definitely helped, a lot! Just in getting inspiration again for music, and wanting to be involved in the whole music business side of things.”
One of the things that a new album always usually means – at least in normal times – is a new tour as well. That, of course, is impossible right now. But Nathan, his manager John Farry, and their team, have been working hard to try and put a show together for Nathan’s fans in Crumlin Gaol. Having already had to be rescheduled a couple of times, it’s now set for January 16th. Is that really looking like being the next time Nathan actually gets to perform?
“Unfortunately, it is. I’m actually recording a TV special for BBC at my home, myself and Jake, my brother, in the coming weeks which is going to be shown at Christmas. I haven’t actually told anybody that yet, you’re the first guy I’ve mentioned it to. But when it comes to actually performing in front of an audience, I think, yeah, that really is going to be the next time I’ll be lucky enough to perform in front of people, next year in January. If we’re lucky! Keep everything crossed, fingers, toes, legs and everything [laughs]. To be honest, until we get a vaccine and get this thing [Covid] kicked into shape, I don’t think ‘live’ music is possible until we get that sorted, ya know.”
While it’s very difficult to look too far forward at the moment, in terms of looking back, could Nathan remember the last show he played before all of this began, back in the ‘good old days’? And on that occasion, did he have any idea at all that it might have been his last show for at least a while?
“The last professional gig I did was on a cruise ship in February, myself and the band, and a lot of other different artists were on the ship as well. Mike Denver, and Daniel O’ Donnell, and The High Kings. That was our last gig. And looking back now, we definitely didn’t imagine this! And even if we did, when we first heard about it we thought it was going to be three or four months, and then, ah sure we’ll be back in May or June, ya know. That’s what we were sayin’. We’ll get the festivals in, and then we’ll be back doing a Christmas concert tour. But obviously all that went out the window! We are where we are, and all we can do is hope and pray that this time next year it will all be a distant memory and a thing of the past, and we’ll be back to normal.”
When we do get back to normal, and Nathan gets back out on the road again, and back up on stage around Ireland and around the world, will 2020 have changed him as far as how he approaches and enjoys his music career?
“Definitely, yeah. Yeah. I will definitely appreciate it a lot more, I think. I’ve had a lot of time to spend at home the last nine months and I don’t know if I’d go back gigging as much as I had done previously, because I’ve kind of enjoyed just being able to do other stuff, other than music, and airports, and tour buses, and travelling. There is more to life. And I’ve kind of realized that over the last year. So I will appreciate the gigs I do a lot more, and I probably will do slightly less of them than what I had been doing.”
Is there anything in particular that Nathan has found himself doing in this ‘time-off’, which he’s really enjoyed and just wouldn’t have had the same time for before this?
“I took to bike-riding, and doing a lot more exercise in the gym, that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s definitely helped mentally, keeping me focused and keeping me busy. Which I need to be, because I’m the type of character that can’t be doin’ nothing, can’t have no projects or aspirations. I always have to be doing something. So all of that has helped for sure, exercise and staying busy.”
One high-point of this year for Nathan was winning the UK Male Country Singer of the Year Award. But apart from Covid, there have been several sad moments for him too, with the passing of his great friend Nicky James whom we already spoke about, but also the founder of The Irish World newspaper Paddy Cowan, and of Highland Radio presenter Pio McCann, three men who all played important roles in Nathan’s career in their own ways. I wondered if, when looking back over the last ten years that this new album celebrates, Nathan could pinpoint one high-point and one low-point that were each in their own ways very significant moments in the shaping of his career?
“Over the last ten years? Yeah, well definitely losing Nicky James has probably been the toughest thing. Just because Nicky has been involved with me since I was a kid. Music is my whole life, and he basically put me on that path. So that’s been the low-point. The highest point, I’d have to say, is probably playing the 3Arena, with that many people. And we were very lucky to have been able to do it twice. That’s something that I never, ever would have dreamt would be possible, me singing country songs and old folks songs [laughs], at a venue like that. So that’s definitely been a high-point. And for me, longevity is key, ya know. And if I can still be singing and entertaining people in ten or twenty years time to come, then I’ll be a happy man!”
Nathan had briefly touched on the subject of his mental health, and indeed, that’s one thing that everyone is trying to be especially careful about this year. But his profile as one of the biggest entertainers in Ireland seems to mean that he’s also ‘fair-game’ on social media. I see some of the stuff that’s often written about him, andit usually ranges from the utterly stupid to the utterly disgusting. I assumed that Nathan himself must see some of it as well from time to time, so I asked him how he makes sure that abuse like that doesn’t end up getting to him?
“Yeah, I mean that is one thing with social media. It’s great for advertising, and it’s great to chat to people, but it also opens a lot of floodgates and doors for people to just pull ya down straight away. As you say, that’s the problem with being in the public eye. I do see a lot of those comments. And years ago, it would have affected me a lot more. Nowadays, I still would take them on board, and I’m not gonna say it doesn’t annoy ya, it does when ya see someone having a right go at ya for no reason. And you don’t even know them, generally, the person having a go at ya. And you’re never going to meet them, because they won’t come to a gig. And the funny thing is, they would never say it to your face either. Most of these people are just keyboard-warriors, and they love to just comment on stuff. So I’ve kind of learned that during the last few years. I’d like to think that now I’m a bit more accepting of it, and just go well listen, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You’re never going to please everyone, that’s a given fact. So yeah, I’d like to think that nowadays it doesn’t affect me as much as it did.”
It’s been a while now since Nathan last had a chance to play for his fans here in the midlands of Ireland, and it might well be a little while longer yet before he gets a chance to again. So, until then, what message would he like to send to his fans…apart from please buy the new album?!
“[Laughs] Well, I’d like to say that obviously every year we would normally play Mullingar, and Tullamore, and a lot of other shows around the midlands, Ballinasloe as well, and I’m definitely missing that. And we look forward to the day when we can get back and play a good few shows, and hopefully bring a new show to all of those towns. We’ve got some new music from this album. So we want to get back on stage, entertaining, and putting smiles on peoples’ faces. I want to wish everybody a happy Christmas, and stay safe. We will all get through this, and I look forward to seeing everybody on the other side.”
~ Nathan’s brand NEW album, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS, is released TOMORROW, November 12th, available on all platforms and from all good record stores nationwide.