Country music singer Nathan Carter's beautiful life
Ahead of a gig at Crusaders Football Club in Belfast tomorrow night, the country star talks to Una Brankin
Nathan Carter has just made an admission that may shock his ardent fans. On first hearing a recording of the Bob Dylan song, Wagon Wheel, the country star's reaction was not what many would expect.
"A friend of mine had the track on her phone and she said I should record it," he recalls. "I thought it was a bit annoying, but I brought it into the studio anyway and it took off, and it has become an anthem at my shows."
And - he could add - for pub bands up and down the country. There aren't many country fans who find Carter's version of Wagon Wheel "annoying". Taken from his debut album of the same name, the single became a huge hit for the 25-year-old, with more than a million hits on YouTube, constant covers and endless air-play. Even Stephen Nolan got him to sing an acoustic version of it, as a crowd-pleaser, to close his TV show last week.
"The song has been good for me, but I don't take anything for granted; I'm just glad nothing has gone wrong yet," Nathan says, on the phone from his tour bus.
He has a peculiar accent that's difficult to place. Part Scouse, part Northern Irish brogue, it's a strange cross between his Liverpool birthplace and rural Fermanagh, his home for the last two years. On top of that, he sings his famous Wagon Wheel hit Nashville-style, like a born-and-bred Yankee. Even his name sounds American.
But there's no muddle when it comes to Nathan Carter's image: clean-cut, good-looking, healthy boy next door - the perfect package for his catchy, cheery tunes and his legion of country-lovin' fans. Put him on a pair of waterskis behind his new speedboat, though, and that carefully-crafted image extends to heart-throb status for his younger admirers, some of whom throw lingerie at him on stage.
It sounds like there's a gaggle of them in the background when he calls from his tour bus, but he assures me it's just his crew.
"I don't get much bother from groupies," he laughs, confirming he's single.
"We're fairly clean living on tour. Just a couple of pints of Guinness when there's an hour or two free, and there aren't many of those."
Nathan is celebrating his third number-one album in the Irish charts. Beautiful Life sailed straight into the top slot, knocking Mumford & Sons off the top spot. His last two Irish number one albums out sold One Direction and Michael Buble, the latter of whom is a hero of Nathan's.
"I heard that Michael Buble's listening to my stuff, but I haven't heard anything from him. That would be a dream come true," he admits.
Does he reckon he'll ever be as rich as Buble?
"I wish," he deadpans. "Put it like this, I won't be retiring in the next 10 years. It's all about trying to make money from live performing these days."
His financial situation could be boosted if his record company, Decca, succeeds in their pitches with his music to Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, for their Christmas advertising soundtracks. And, more so, if he has hits with songs he has written himself; he has three on his new album, including Call You Home.
Royalties for the title track, It's A Beautiful Life, originally recorded by Kenny Rogers, go to the prolific songwriter Phil Vassar, a Nashville favourite. Nathan has written and recorded in the famous Tennessee town, and he knows how to pick a hit.
"Kenny Rogers' version is good but I did my own take on the song, with a bit of reggae," he explains.
"A lot of musicians in the States blend a bit of reggae and country. I like to mix it up a bit, I don't like to do the same thing all the time."
A good guitar and piano player, Carter began to learn to play the accordion at four and, while still at school, became a head chorister in the Liverpool boys choir, touring the world and singing for the Pope.
Trips to Ireland to compete in fleadh cheoils became a regular feature of young Carter's life during his early teens, resulting in All-Ireland medals for solo singing, and in accordion, at just 12 years of age.
"Mum's side are Wards from Warrenpoint and I was back and forth a lot to Irish festivals, from Kildare to Tyrone," he recalls. "I tried Irish dancing for 10 minutes - the teacher told me to stick to music. I'd no patience for it anyway."
In his teens, he joined the Liverpool Ceili band, playing piano accordion and piano. His star quality shone out and soon he was playing solo gigs around Liverpool and London, and occasional shows in Ireland.
Then, at a gig in Buncrana, Donegal in April 2009, Carter met the local songwriter John Farry. Hugely impressed with his performance, Farry made Carter's dream of performing with his own band become a reality within months. Since then he has played to audiences the length and breadth of Ulster, from a couple of hundred in the Millbrook Lodge in Ballynahinch to 2,000 in the Belfast's Waterfront Hall. The constant touring all across the UK and Ireland and beyond, has allowed him no time for romance.
"I've been single for the last three to four years, but I'm still looking," he says, to laughter in the background. "My parents married young and they told me to take my time and enjoy myself. Twenty-five is too young to settle down. I'm so involved with work - it comes first. I don't know how anybody would put up with me. I'd work a 15 or 16 hour day."
Instead of a love interest, his greatest confidant is his grandmother, Anne McCoy, who moved from her native Warrenpoint to Liverpool in 1975.
"Nan's a good listener. She sells CDs and merchandise for me, and goes to the gigs and keeps herself young. She's tone deaf, though. My granddad, John, was the good singer. He was a Scouser but his dad was from Cork."
Unusually for a touring performer, Carter does a lot of the driving to his own gigs.
"It can be a long night - you're generally meeting people and signing CDs for an hour and half afterwards, and standing for selfies - that's the new big thing after the gigs.
"But it's all good fun, and it's the least I can do for people who travelled to see me," he says.
"It's been non-stop for the last three months, gigging and promoting the new album," he adds. "No, I don't get fed up - it's all new to me. I was on with Lorraine Kelly on ITV the other day. She was lovely, just the same as she is on TV, very down-to-earth."
His ultimate ambition is to play Las Vegas.
"I had the holiday of my life there recently and did a little bit of gambling. A gig in Vegas would be fantastic, but I've a few to do here first," he says.
"I love living here - I've a house overlooking the lakes in Enniskillen and a speedboat. Getting out on the water-skis is great. When I get the time, that is," the singer adds.
He's suddenly called away to do a soundcheck for his latest singalong performance.
A Garth Brooks in the making? Time will tell.
- Nathan Carter plays Crusaders FC Football Grounds, Belfast, this Friday. Upcoming gigs include Craic at the Braic Festival Tyrone, July 3; the Linenfields Festival, in the grounds of the Banville House Hotel, August 22; and the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, August 27. For further details go to www.nathancartermusic.com
His fave music, movies & motto
- Male singers: Frank Sinatra and country singer Joe Nichols
- Female singers: Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse
- Albums: Don McClean's American Pie and Ed Sheeran's X
- TV shows: Top Gear and The Fall
- Food: Chocolate
- Movie: James Bond - Tomorrow New Dies
- Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Gillian Anderson
- Drink: Guinness
- Past-times: sailing and water skiing
- Motto: Always strive for the best