NATHAN Carter recently fulfilled a life-long ambition to duet with a Spice Girl. The chart-topping country singer is regarded as an Irish phenomenon but grew up in Liverpool, and as a kid worshipped the Spice Girls — Scouser Mel in particular.
“I had all the posters on my walls,” he says. “I went to see Spice World. To sing with Mel C was really cool.”
Their performance of ‘When You’re Gone’, Mel C’s 1998 collaboration with Bryan Adams, will feature on the second season of The Nathan Carter Show, which begins on RTÉ One this Sunday. With the first series, Carter wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into — however, he came to enjoy the experience of hosting his own variety programme and jumped at the chance to make another run of episodes.
As before, he was determined it would be more than merely a collection of musical performances. There are interviews and even comedy skits (last year Carter went undercover and surprised fans travelling to one of his gigs). He’s a natural in front of the camera, with a gift for putting strangers at ease and a lightly-worn passion for music.
“I’ve learned a few things along the way presenting-wise,” he says. “Reading auto-cues, interviewing people. I’ve become a bit more natural as I’ve gone along. As well as singing with Mel C, I got to collaborate with Martine McCutcheon and interview people like Billy Ocean. We’ve also got the High Kings, Moya Brennan — a lot of folk, as well as pop and rock. The idea was to have something for everyone.”
Carter is just back from his biggest ever tour of North America. Not every date was a sell-out — however, the gigs that did well suggested there is huge potential for Carter’s feel good, family-friendly brand of country. One enormous help when trying to raise his American profile was the concert he performed at Dublin’s 3Arena on April 1. Persuading bookers to take a punt on you is easier when you’re a big star back in the old country.
“We recorded the show for a DVD and we’ve been putting clips on Facebook and what have you,” he says. “It definitely helps. Telling people you’ve played an arena is one thing. To be able to actually show them footage makes a big difference.”
That date went so well he’s doing it all over again, with another 3Arena performance announced for March 23, 2018. Tickets are already selling briskly and he’s looking forward to
reconnecting with his fans.
“To be coming to the capital and doing the biggest arena is great, as I don’t pay Dublin that often” he says. “I never thought I would be in arenas. I started off playing hotels and pubs and clubs. I didn’t for a moment guess where it would lead. You don’t think you’re going to wind up in an arena.”
He was nervous in the run-up to April’s 3Arena show — his jitters not helped by the backstage footage he was required to record for the accompanying DVD. Throughout the day he was obliged to project laid-back bonhomie even as he could feel anxiety taking up residency in the pit of his belly.
“There was a lot of added pressure as we were doing interviews all day and there we had to make sure we got all the camera angles right. It was very nerve-wracking. Then, after a few songs, it became just like every other gig.”
Carter’s accent is Liverpudlian with a hint of a lilt. He was born on Merseyside in 1990 to a large Liverpool-Irish family. The Carters were embedded in the local trad scene and, from childhood, music was part of his life. The singer went on stage for the first time as a four year old and, still at school, won an All Ireland singing competition. Having had success on the north of England club circuit in 2007 he took the plunge and relocated to Donegal, one of the spiritual heartlands of Irish country music.
Success wasn’t instant and he spent years playing pub-back rooms and parish halls. In 2012 he had his breakthrough when his cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Wagon Wheel’ became a hit. The song was inescapable on radio and spent weeks at the top of the singles chart. Carter had arrived and was soon spoken of as the biggest thing in Irish country since Daniel O’Donnell.
It helped that he has a squeaky clean image. Bizarrely, his personal life has become a source of widespread obsession. Rumours that he was seeing a fellow country singer, for instance, became the talk of Twitter, though he insisted she was just a good friend.
Wisely he has ignored his status as a celebrity and focused on his music. A Nathan Carter special recorded at RTÉ for the American PBS public broadcasting network has aired across the US and Canada. Earlier this year meanwhile he appeared on the popular British light entertainment series The One Show. There is a sense that he is about to break through in the UK in a large way.
“I went on to The One Show and sang a few songs. It was fantastic exposure. Five million people are watching — and the response was amazing. I has really helped brings the crowds in.”
Carter may be one of Ireland’s most beloved artists,with his last three albums going to number one (two also made the UK top 50). But he isn’t obsessive about success.
“I left school at 17 and began playing pubs around the north of England,” he says. “My ambition was to have a career in music — to sustain a proper career doing it. My dad’s a joiner — so I worked as a labourer during the week. The gigs started coming in and suddenly I could earn more in one night that I was doing joinery all week. The idea of selling out arenas was never on my radar. It has become a bit of a shock and a surprise — though I’m loving every minute of it.”
- The Nathan Carter Show begins on RTE One Sunday 9.30pm. Nathan Carter plays 3Arena Dublin Friday March 23.