Belfast Telegraph

Hugo Duncan: Nathan Carter has stayed grounded despite his soaring profile

By Hugo Duncan

It is perhaps appropriate that I start my very first column with someone who is at the very top of the country music tree. Since taking the first tentative steps in his singing career in the province some seven years ago, Nathan Carter has climbed to great heights.

And tomorrow I will have the privilege and pleasure of performing alongside him at a major country music spectacular at Shamrock Park, the home of Portadown Football Club.

When Liverpool-born Nathan made a few appearances as a youthful solo artiste while still in his late teens, no-one could have predicted the success he would achieve.

It was the success of his single Wagon Wheel that played a big part in bringing him to a much wider audience and right now he is not only a giant of the country music scene in Ireland but he is also hugely popular on the continent.

Tomorrow, though, with his new bright new bouncy single Give It To Me proving hugely popular and looking destined to take his career up a further notch, Nathan will be the centre of attention at Shamrock Park in an ambitious venture that is expected to attract thousands of people.

Indeed, Give It To Me looks as if it could prove one of the hits of the summer, if I am to judge from the number of requests I am receiving on a daily basis to play it on my Radio Ulster programme.

Nathan has pushed out the boundaries of country music to such an extent that major outdoor events such as tomorrow's extravaganza have replaced the more modest carnivals and concerts that formed part of our summer entertainment itinerary for many years.

Now things tend to be done on a bigger scale but, even though he has embraced super-stardom, the modest and unassuming Nathan has never lost the common touch, and that's why other artistes always feel very much at home in his company.

Tomorrow singers such as Susan McCann, Crawford Bell, Barry Doyle and Boxcar Brian among others will get the opportunity to perform alongside him.

I must say I am particularly looking forward to singing a few songs and having the craic with the crowd in Portadown.

We will endeavour to set the atmosphere, and you can be sure that Nathan will take things to the next level in his usual highly professional manner.

I always find it interesting to note how the generation gap can be overcome when it comes to shows such as this.

While Nathan continues to conquer new horizons, Susan McCann is still going strong after four decades. She is still singing as well as ever and always puts her own particular stamp on shows.

She certainly put her own stamp on my head when, during a trip to the US with the Top Rank Allstars in 1977, she gave me one of the best haircuts I've ever had - and I didn't even know that she was a qualified hairdresser!

Obviously the organisers are hoping that the weather remains favourable so that the crowds will flock to Shamrock Park and, assuming they do, you can be sure of one thing - all age groups, creeds and classes will be represented.

For me that has always been the enduring characteristic of country music - it knows no barriers of any description, it is open to all and enjoyed by all.

I have absolutely no doubt that I will see further evidence of this tomorrow when the emphasis will be very much on providing top-class entertainment.

I'll always blow  the trumpet for classy Crawford

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Dolly Parton

While Ulster people have rightly accorded the iconic stars of country music - Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley to name but a few - due reverence, they have not been slow to applaud the efforts of home-grown talent.

In this respect, Crawford Bell continues to enjoy a special place in the affections of many.

For several decades, the quietly spoken Crawford, never one to seek the limelight, has been part and parcel of the country music tapestry in this part of the world.

I am certainly looking forward to hearing his insight into the current scene when I have him as my studio guest on Radio Ulster tomorrow morning.

Crawford, of course, has a story to tell, and that's not surprising given the diverse bands with which he has played and indeed in some cases served as musical director - an indication of his towering musical prowess.

He helped the California Brakemen become hugely popular here before going on to become part of Daniel O'Donnell's band. To this day, Crawford is still very much involved with Daniel in the recording context after some 35 years.

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Johnny Cash

He also worked with Van Morrison's band for upwards of three years before transferring his talents to the Nathan Carter band.

To say that he exerted a huge influence on the bands in which he played would be something of an understatement. Not only was he a true professional but his personal qualities, ensured that he gained the respect of everyone.

In his own quiet, unfussed manner, Crawford invariably left a huge impact, and I have spoken to many musicians who have benefited from his expertise.

His feel for music, utter dedication and inherent honesty and diligence have helped to make him one of the most influential forces in country music here in Ulster.

He is still very much to the fore and continues to enhance concerts, outdoor events and dances with his musical artistry.

Long may he be spared to do so.

When Daniel talks, country music fans across globe listen

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Dedicated: Daniel O’Donnell with loving wife Majella

I had the pleasure of interviewing country legend Daniel O'Donnell on a special BBC Radio Ulster programme last Saturday morning, which was repeated again on Monday night.

When I say interview, I am probably exaggerating. No one needs to interview Daniel, simply because any verbal contact with this most affable and grounded of artistes invariably becomes a free and easy conversation in which any topic under the sun can surface - and usually does.

But obviously the Kincasslagh singer is very much at home when discussing country music, and his vast experience of global touring has given him an in-depth insight on how it is performed and viewed in many countries.

It is a measure of Daniel's popularity that when I had him in the studio we did not just get telephone calls, emails and texts from people in Northern Ireland - we actually received them from England, Scotland, the US and indeed from some far-flung places including Australia.

I could hardly believe the reaction that my conversation with Daniel generated, and it certainly emphasised to me the immense stature he quite rightly enjoys within the entertainment business.

Always polite and patient, it has been a privilege for me to know Daniel down through the years.

Today, some 30 years after launching his career, he is still a huge star and enjoys legendary status in the US in particular, where his shows in Branson, Missouri, have been must-see events for so many years now. He still performs with the same enthusiasm he displayed when he first went on the road and, for me, his professionalism always shines through.

I have been honoured to share the stage with him on numerous occasions, and I hope he is long spared to continue to bring his own special brand of entertainment to people everywhere.

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