Arts

Nathan Carter and Brian Kennedy on lockdown and teaming up for charity song

From painting fences and cycling to baking sourdough bread and alphabetising their record collection, Jenny Lee discovers how musicians Nathan Carter and Brian Kennedy are coping during lockdown and finds out more about their collaborative charity single #StayAtHomeStayAlive

Nathan Carter worked with manager and co-writer John Farry to write a song, #StayAtHomeStayAlive, in response to the pandemic

INSTEAD of trekking the country singing to thousands of fans, musicians too are stuck at home during this coronavirus pandemic.

However, Enniskillen-based country star Nathan Carter has used the power of music to help both his own mental health and to remind everyone of the importance of self-isolating.

Used to a busy life on the road, Nathan has never spent so much time at home. After reading an article from Fr Brian D’Arcy, where he mentioned that someone should really write a song for this time, he worked with manager and co-writer John Farry to write a response to the pandemic.

And with the help of a few friends from the Irish music industry, the result was #StayAtHomeStayAlive, which can be downloaded to raise money to buy personal protective clothing and equipment for NHS and HSE staff.

The accompanying video features Nathan and the other artists: Brian Kennedy, Johnny Logan, Chloe Agnew, Tommy Fleming and Sean Keane, in their own homes, as well as some of the brave frontline staff working tirelessly to keep us all safe.

“We are all in awe of the work people are doing to keep us safe, so it was so important to include them in the video,” says Nathan, admitting that the project helped give him a focus and a “reason to get out of bed in the morning” again.

“To be honest, I've been pretty bored the past few weeks. I've been pottering about the house doing jobs and chores – cutting the grass, painting fences and jet washing – but to get back to doing a project like this was great for me.”

The opening lyrics say ‘I never thought I'd see the day; when I can't shake your hand’ and Nathan, who has shaken thousands of fans' hands over the years, admits: “I think we're all going to be a little bit different after all of this is over."

Clockwise from left, Tommy Fleming, Chloe Agnew, Sean Keane, Brian Kennedy and Johnny Logan sing on #StayAtHomeStayAlive

“Social distancing will probably linger on for a long time, but I’m hoping they will find a vaccine and the people in the music industry can get back to enjoying what we do and bringing music to people.”

The experience has made Nathan, who is self-isolating with his brother and fellow singer Jake, re-evaluate his own life.

“This time has made me realise I'm away too much and in the future I will alter my work-life balance,” says Nathan who has been keeping in touch with his family back home in Liverpool on FaceTime.

“I think I’ve seen and spoken to them more in the past month, than I have in the past 10 years,” he laughs.

Grateful for the sunny weather, he has been enjoying taking his daily exercise in the Fermanagh countryside. “I try to do a few miles on the bike every day.”

And he’s also used the downtime to pen some new songs. “I've written three or four songs and I've just got some new recording equipment for the house.”

For Belfast-born singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy, this time of self-isolation is strangely familiar, as in the past couples of years he has battled and recovered from rectal cancer.

“I more than most, have a deep understanding of the tremendous work doctors and nurses do. They are ordinary workers who have their own lives and families that they need to protect and get back to," he says.

“Having been through six months of chemo and stays in hospitals in both London and Dublin, I’ve seen how selfless, caring and optimistic these people are. I call them an army of angels.”

He is delighted to have been asked to sing in #StayAtHomeStayAlive and spread this important message of staying at home.

“As a musician you are taken back when people come up to you and tell you your song really got them through an illness or a death or something. During this pandemic us musicians have all been feeling a bit useless, so it was amazing to do this song together.”

He was amazed at how quick and simply the song was put together, and at the quality of the finished project.

“I recorded my voice by singing into the little built-in microphone on my phone. For once technology is on our side,” adds Brian, who recently took part in an online concert for the suicide prevention charity Pieta House.

The video features him sitting in the stunning music room in his Dublin home.

“One of the things I did after getting home from hospital was to treat myself by buying a really beautiful old piano. The music room is a space where I can come in and work on songs and write.

“I hang my guitars on the walls here and take them down when I need them. I have all kinds of memorabilia on the walls such as posters from Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, George Best things and platinum discs.”

“An upside of this pandemic is that as well as baking sourdough bread, I had time to re-alphabetise my CD collection.”

I couldn’t help but pry further into Brian's eclectic collection and ask him what the first and the last CDs in it were. “My first is an album by Engine Alley and the last one is Neil Young's Harvest.”

Brian, who also has asthma, confesses that the pandemic has been a worrying time for him.

“A few weeks ago I did have a fever and sore head for about two days, but overnight it disappeared. I didn't feel the need to go to the GP and never had a sore throat, but maybe I did have it?

“As someone who has had a cancer journey I’m conscious that my immune system has been seriously compromised and I’m taking extra care to avoid infection. I go shopping once a week, but it’s like a military exercise. I know exactly where I'm going and exactly what I'm buying and I wear protection.”

He has also been keeping in touch with his brother Stuart, who lives in Belfast, about the health of his parents, Elizabeth and Jimmy, who both reside in a west Belfast care home.

“It’s an extraordinary situation, where no-one is allowed to visit them. There was a great concern as some of the residents had succumbed to Covid-19. But my parents have been tested and don’t have it.”

Brian has also shot a new piece of video at home for Things is Going to Change, the duet he sings with Boy George on his new album.

“Once again the lyrics are so eerily pertinent to this time,” he adds.

So what is he looking forward to most when normality hopefully returns?

“Just a really delicious, slow lunch with my nearest and dearest in Dublin.”

:: Stay At Home Stay Alive is available from iTunes, where all proceeds will go to the HSE and NHS. The artists have asked that you show your support with a donation of £5 or more to #HelpourHealthHeroes (Northern Ireland) or #OurHospitalHeroes (in the Republic).

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