Nathan Carter on Gig In The Garden, risky underwear and singing for the Pope
Nathan Carter chats to Jenny Lee about preparing to sing for Pope Francis, the personal story behind his new single and getting temporarily blinded by a bra thrown by an admiring fan
HE MAY be only 28 but Nathan Carter is already firmly established as Ireland’s biggest country music star. So far this year he's had a sell-out arena tour and in the coming months he'll launch his biography, his 13th album and a tour of Ireland, Britain and America.
But before all that the Liverpool-born country star is looking forward to his "biggest gig yet" as he sings for Pope Francis and an audience of 75,000 at Dublin’s Croke Park on August 25.
A live television audience will also be watching the pontiff’s address and Nathan’s rendition of the REM hit Everybody Hurts.
"The song was chosen by the event organisers and was approved by the archbishop and I will sing accompanied by the Holy Family Deaf Choir and a huge orchestra. I will be singing it the way I hear it, rather than singing it like anyone else," says an excited Nathan, who plans to put his own stamp on the iconic hit.
The World Meeting of Families event will also feature a 1,000-strong choir, 700 dancers and fellow musicians Daniel O'Donnell, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, Moya Brennan of Clannad, and The Priests.
Nathan’s grandparents, who are from Newry, have had a huge influence on his musical career and they’ve never been prouder of their grandson.
"I grew up going to a Catholic school and singing in a Catholic boys choir. To sing for the Pope is a massive honour and when I told my nan and grandad they cried for about 10 minutes because they were so delighted."
His family passed on their love of traditional music to Nathan from an early age; he began playing the piano accordion at four and won the traditional singing competition at the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil when he was 10.
This will actually be Nathan's second time to perform for a head of the Catholic Church – he sang for Pope John Paul II in Rome as a member of Saint Francis Xavier Boys Choir. His grandparents were among the 2.5 million who saw Pope John Paul II when he visited Ireland in 1979,
Although 81 years old, Pope Francis is considered quite a modern Pope – a quality Nathan admires.
"I love that within the first few weeks of him being elected as Pope he was out visiting the homeless in the middle of the night and giving them food. I like the way his approach and values seem to be more in trend with what is happening in the world today," he says.
When I ask Nathan if religion is important to him, he confesses that he "doesn't get to mass as much as he should", though he has a good excuse.
"I’m playing most Saturday nights, and am usually sleeping on Sunday morning, but I did go last Sunday," says the singer, who worships at St Michael’s Parish, Enniskillen.
Although he's playing a string of dates in Branson, Missouri, this winter, Nathan is happily settled in Ireland and has no desire for a permanent move Stateside.
"I love Enniskillen. I’ve been trying to buy a house there, but haven’t found the right one just yet," he says.
He admits that the Fermanagh lakelands is the only place he truly can relax and escape from his admiring fans.
"I have a boat there and try to get out on Lough Erne as much as I can. I can turn the phone off and it’s the only peace I can get."
The August 25 papal performance will be Nathan’s second time to sing at Croke Park – albeit the first time on stage.
“I sang the Irish National Anthem at an Aussie Rules match a few years back,” he recalls.
Is this a taster for a full gig at Croke Park?
“Who knows?” he giggles suggestively.
This summer has been another busy one for Nathan, including a number of outdoor festivals. This weekend he plays the Shoreline Festival in Enniskillen and next Saturday he will be headlining the first ever Gig In The Garden, which will take place in the grounds of Lissan House, Cookstown.
Our chat takes place when I catch up with Nathan at the launch of the two-day event in the Co Tyrone town. He is ever the gentleman, posing for photos, inviting four-year-old Larry McGurk on stage with him to play his accordion and even comforting my own five-year-old daughter when she is stung by a wasp, with a kiss on the forehead.
Rather than natural talent, Nathan credits hard work as the key to his success and his advice to young local musicians Orlaith and Mollie and Emma Wallace, who will also be appearing at the Gig in the Garden, is to simply “believe in themselves” and put their music out there.
“Nowadays it’s not record labels or doing a deal – it’s online and social media that matters,” he says.
Nathan, whose 2012 cover of Bob Dylan's Wagon Wheel catapulted him to success, still plays the accordion within his sets, and recently got a new lightweight instrument he'd had custom made.
“Most accordion singers sit down and play, but I jump and dance and move about like an eejit,” laughs Nathan, who confesses that dancing isn’t his forte.
At a recent gig in Tullamore, he invited a child on stage with him to learn the 'floss' dance and earlier this year he joined broadcaster and Irish News columnist Lynette Fay in a dancing lesson for the video of his single Give It To Me.
Still, Nathan laughs: "I’m an awful dancer."
No stranger to underwear being thrown on stage at him when he sings, Nathan says that female fans should come with a warning.
“A bra hit me on the eye one night and I couldn’t see for about 10 minutes,” he laughs.
With an as yet untitled new album due out at the end of this summer, his new single Winnie O’Neill gives a taste of what fans can expect from it, with more original work.
"My great grandmother was called Winnie O’Neill. I was doing a bit of family history recently and discovered the story of her emigrating from Co Down to America, but she never made it to America as they got robbed of all their money and ended up staying in Liverpool. The single features a bit of traditional Irish music in it – similar to what Ed Sheeran has done recently.”
Nathan's biography Born for the Road: My Story So Far is published on September 27 and explores the twists of fate that took him to become Ireland's adopted poster boy for country music.
"It’s about three pages long – all pictures," he jokes modestly. "It’s basically the story so far –where I started off and the struggles of being on the road.”
Nathan admits that travelling is the most difficult aspect of his career. And his boredom buster?
"We play the card game 25 a lot and Nexflix is a lifesaver," he says, admitting that he's recently been hooked on US prison comedy-drama Orange Is The New Black. "And Father Ted," of course.
:: Gig In The Garden takes place at Lissan House, Cookstown on Friday August 10 – featuring More Power To Your Elbow and rock chicks Orlaith and Mollie – and Saturday August 11, when Nathan Carter takes to the stage, supported by Ritchie Remo, Hugo Duncan, Boxcar Brian, Susan McCann and Country Harmony. Tickets from Lissanhouse.com and Ticketmaster.ie