First Published June 2022
NATHAN’S TULLAMORE RETURN
If you’ve ever been to a NATHAN CARTER show, then you’ll already know that you won’t find a happier place within at least a fifty-mile radius of there. The vibe at one of the Fermanagh based singer’s concerts is always marked by an air of ultra-professionalism from start to finish. But, and this is central to his success over the last decade and more, we’re talking about professionalism in the warmest sense of the word here.
The existence of that attitude, and the insistence that its how people are treated and made to feel, undoubtedly comes from the man himself and is present in everyone who plays any role in Nathan’s set-up, from Nathan and his manager John Farry to road-manager Ger Butler right through to guys in the band and anyone else on the team. And if anyone forgets this, there’s always Nathan’s gran Anne McCoy to quickly put them back in line!
In fact, this is one of the surest ways to tell when someone who is ranting on about Nathan in any negative or derogatory way – be it online, in print, or in real-life – has never actually met the man or been to one of his shows. If you’ve done either, then it’s nigh on impossible – unless you’re somewhat of a natural grinch who is seldom happy about anything anyway! – to have anything but admiration and respect for who Nathan is, what he has achieved, and how he and his team take care of and entertain his fans.
With everything that’s happened over the last couple of years, it’s already been too long since we’ve had the chance to see Nathan on stage here in Tullamore. But thankfully, that will all be put right in a matter of weeks when he returns to the Tullamore Court Hotel on Sunday, July 3rd. And ahead of that return, I had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan as he waited to soundcheck at one of his recent sold-out shows in Bandon.
Sadly, the news about the sudden passing of a Cork and Irish country music stalwart Sean Donnellan had only broken a short while before Nathan and I spoke. I relayed that sorrowful news to him, unsure if he’d already heard it or not…
“Aaaw, no way! Today? I’m so sorry to hear that, I really am. My sympathy to all of his family and friends. What sad news that is.”
For more than thirty years, Sean had presented his hugely popular country and Irish shows on C103 in Cork. When writing about Sean’s passing last Saturday, the station noted on their website that, “His easy listening style made him a huge attraction to his listeners and he was also a great friend and mentor to his colleagues on the radio and in the wider music entertainment industry”.
OTRT joins with Nathan in sending our condolences to Sean’s family, friends, and former colleagues at C103.
Now that Nathan is back on the road again, I got the rest of our chat underway by asking him if he’d realised there was anything about his musician’s lifestyle that he’d been really missing over the last couple of years. But I didn’t mean anything obvious such as the moment when he walks out on stage and the crowd inevitably goes wild. I was talking about smaller moments, perhaps even ones which might have seemed insignificant when they were simply part of his usual day-to-day routine for so long. Until, that his, they were suddenly removed – without his having any say in the matter whatsoever – from his life. Maybe moments like sitting down with his band for their pre-show meal, perhaps? Or that moment when he’d pull out of the driveway at his Fermanagh home knowing he was on the way to a show?
“Yeah, do ya know what? I used to give out constantly about having to drive, to travel for all these gigs! But since we’ve been back, I actually don’t mind it. I think we took just gigging in general for granted before. We always looked at the negatives rather than the positives, and the negative is definitely the travel. But I can honestly say now, I don’t mind travelling at all [laughs]. Because if that means that we can get out and gig, sure that’s a little sacrifice that we have to make, ya know.”
Now usually when Nathan brings out a new album, it garners a huge amount of attention, and rightly so. But it’s also true that the world is usually a little bit calmer when that happens, not in the shadow of a pandemic and with war in Europe on the horizon, as things were when his latest long-player – Little Old Town – dropped last November. Given those circumstances, I wondered if Nathan felt that this collection had perhaps gone under the radar just a little bit?
“Maybe so, yeah. I mean, we released it in a time where I thought people were looking for new music anyway. But we didn’t really get a chance to promote the album at all, cos’ we couldn’t gig. And as you know, when you release an album you need to be doing a lot of dates and tours to sell the album, and promote it, and sing those new songs. So I’m only really now getting the chance to do some of that material from that album, six months or so on now.”
It takes a long time to put any album together, even in a ‘normal’ world. But how different than normal was the task and the process of working on Little Old Town this time around, given the challenges of the pandemic?
“We [the musicians involved] ended up recording separately, which I hate doin’, to be honest. I’d rather get all the lads in the studio and we all kind of bounce off each other with ideas, and come up with the best way of performing the songs that we’ll record. Whereas this time, I’d have to sit at home and record vocals, then send it to the fiddle player in his house and he’d record at home, then send it to the bass player and he’d do his bit. So it was a bit stagnant and separated in that way, cos’ we couldn’t be in the studio all together. But ya know what, I was happy with the way it turned out in the end anyway. But I did miss the camaraderie of all being in the recording studio together and coming up with ideas.”
When it comes to songs, I’m a titles guy, always have been. That’s what always gets my attention first, and what I always check out first on an album. Of course this means that I’m also always curious about the reasoning behind album titles too. Little Old Town has several cuts which – like the actual title track – could easily have stood out as names for the whole collection: My Life With You, Glory Days, The Returning, and Hold You Now being just some examples. So what made Little Old Town the best choice for that honour in Nathan’s eyes?
“I think it’s probably cos’ I co-wrote the song with Jake my brother, and a guy called Cappy (Mark Caplice, who we’ve featured in OTRT before), who lives in Dublin. We had the most fun writing that song really. It was just a bit of a laugh. The song is actually about Enniskillen where I’ve lived for about nine or ten years now, but it could be about any ‘little old town’ in Ireland. There’s the old guy at the bar who’s always there whenever you call in, sitting up there. And it’s just about the people being so friendly, like most towns that you go to. I think 99.9% of towns that I go to in Ireland, the people have been so friendly. They’re glad to see musicians coming to the town, and glad to see gigs happening. So it could be about anywhere really, but it is about Enniskillen. And, as I say, we had the most fun writing that song so that’s why we decided to make it the title-track of the album.”
Even though Little Old Town was only released in November of last year, back in April just gone Nathan released a brand new single – The Journey – which isn’t taken from that album. Can we take it from this that there won’t be any more singles coming our way from Little Old Town, and that his thoughts have already turned firmly in the direction of its successor?
“Yeah, I’m already kind of writing for that. Well, I haven’t written much yet, but I am intending to write over the next couple of months, back in with Cappy again, and John [Farry], my manager. So yeah, we’re kind of always onto the next project. Once I’ve done an album, for me, it’s done [laughs]. We’ll perform some of the songs off it ‘live’, obviously, to promote it, but I always like to concentrate on the new thing and the next thing.”
Moving slightly away from the music side of things for a moment, Nathan’s dear friend Lisa McHugh celebrated her marriage recently, and Nathan, of course, was among the guests on her big day. He and Lisa have shared so much of their professional lives in the public-eye since both made Ireland their home, so how cool was it to also share in Lisa‘s wedding day and be there to witness such a beautiful personal moment in her life as well?
“Aah, it was really special, to be honest. We’ve been friends for over twelve years, I think it is at this stage. So to see her on her big day, so happy with her little son Milo…to be honest, it was the best wedding I was ever at. She’s meticulous when it comes to plans. And she had everything done down to a tee. It was a really fantastic couple of days, a wedding that I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”
Going back to the music side of things, I think – by my reckoning – Little Old Town is about Nathan’s eleventh album now, a substantial body of work for any artist, and certainly an achievement to be proud of. In the pop world, back in the day, it used to be that most acts would release three albums and then bring out a Greatest Hits collection on the back of those. By that measure, Nathan would be heading for a fourth such collection by now. So the question is, has putting together a Greatest Hits or a Best Of album of some kind crossed his mind? Is that something that might be on the cards?
“You’d never know what might happen up ahead! I think the reason I’ve done so many albums is because we tour so much and we always need a new product to give to the fans, because we get the same fans coming back time and time again – something I appreciate so much – and they’re always looking for new material. So that’s probably the reason for that. In the country scene, from the biggest stars to the pub singers, generally one does an album every year. So from Kenny Rogers to Merle Haggard to the lads who sing in the pubs, I think we’re just mad to get new music out there all the time. That’s kind of natural in the scene I’m in.”
With Nathan’s soundcheck for that evening’s show soon scheduled to begin, we wrapped up our catch-up with a question about being back on stage. Since getting back out on the road again, does performing feel different for Nathan after not being able to do it for so long? Not in the sense of how he looks, or how much he puts into a show, but rather in how he feels about it all these days?
“Yeah. I think I don’t take it as seriously. I mean, obviously I put everything into it. But before I used to stress about everything. I’d be worried about the lights, and the sound, just worrying about every little thing! But now, I just try to go up and enjoy myself, and I don’t take it as seriously as I probably did before. Well, I don’t worry as much, I’d say that’s more the thing. I just go out and try to enjoy myself, and make sure the crowd have a good time. Whereas before, I’d take it so seriously that I’d end up stressing so much about it that I wouldn’t enjoy myself.”
~ NATHAN CARTER plays the Tullamore Court Hotel on July 3rd, with tickets ON SALE NOW from www.ticketmaster.ie Both Nathan’s latest album, LITTLE OLD TOWN, and his new single THE JOURNEY, are OUT NOW, available on all platforms.