Nathan Carter interview: Liverpool-born Irish music star
Nathan Carter is a household name in Ireland with fans on both sides of the Irish Sea and beyond, but his road to success started right here in Liverpool.
Ahead of a January gig at the Philharmonic Hall, we caught up with Nathan to talk about growing up in Liverpool, navigating a challenging music business and singing for the Pope.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
You were born and raised in Liverpool but you now live in Ireland. Why did you decide to make the move?
I moved over to Ireland 10 years ago. My mum’s side originated from County Down in the north of Ireland many years ago.
I grew up in Childwall and went to primary and secondary school in Liverpool. I attended St Francis Xavier’s College (SFX) until I was 17 and then I left to go gigging.
I was offered about 20 gigs with a band in Ireland and they led to more gigs and eventually I got a house here and I’ve been here ever since.
How did you get into music, particularly this distinctive blend of Irish folk and country?
My grandad was mad into country music all his life – the likes of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton – so I’ve always been into that kind of stuff.
My nana is one of 10 and they’re very much set in the Irish ways and traditions. I was sent to Irish dancing lessons and dragged to the Liverpool Irish Centre to learn the tin whistle and the accordion.
That’s where I got the Irish music from and I started competing in Irish traditional music competitions when I was growing up. I played the accordion and I’d sing.
You had a regular slot performing at The Liffey Bar on Renshaw Street when you were just 16 years old. That must have been some experience for a young lad?
Yeah, I was gigging in lots of pubs around Liverpool and Birkenhead. It was all good experience.
I used to joke that you could buy your whole week’s shopping in the Liffey on a Sunday afternoon.
You’ve gone from playing the Liffey to singing for the Pope at Croke Park during his 2018 visit. Were you nervous performing in front of His Holiness?
Yes! It wasn’t just in front of the Pope but another 60 or 70 thousand people and everyone watching on television around the world.
It was a big, big honour. There were people like Andrea Bocelli on the bill and Riverdance – it was a massive spectacle.
The coming months will see you play famous venues like Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and the London Palladium, and in between you’ll visit the Leeds Irish Centre. Is it important for you to still play these smaller community-type places?
What I find these days is that people don’t travel as far to gigs.
The music industry has become kind of tough – even I have noticed that in the last six or seven years. To make money you’ve got to travel to the people.
I guess people have that many things to entertain them now, like Netflix, that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
I do a lot of touring and I think generally that’s something you’ll find right across the music business.
If you want to make money [touring] is the only way of doing it these days. It’s definitely not selling records anymore because of the diabolical streaming rates.
“I was sent to Irish dancing lessons and dragged to the Liverpool Irish Centre to learn the tin whistle and the accordian. That’s where I got the Irish music from.”
Do you look forward to playing Liverpool?
Yes, [Liverpool Philharmonic Hall] is one of my favourite venues to play. This will be my fifth time at the Phil – last time it was near enough sold out and it was a really good gig.
I get to see family and friends who generally don’t come to Ireland or to see me anywhere else so it’s always a special night for me.
I sang at the Phil when I was about 14 years old as part of a competition called ‘Teen Idol’ and also once with the SFX choir. It’s a special place for me.
Do you spend much time over here?
No. I get over every couple of months for a few days just to see family and I’ve got a business which I have to go over and look after every now and again.
I gig so much that I don’t get that much time off so I don’t get to Liverpool as much as I’d like to, but when I do I make the most of it.
You’ve recently played a number of US dates. Do you get a good reception from audiences across the pond?
We did some dates there in 2017 and it went very well so we planned a more extended tour this time and we played a lot of new venues.
I recorded a TV special at the 3Arena in Dublin two years ago and it has been shown on a lot of the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) channels across America which has introduced me to a whole new audience.
Your autobiography was released towards the end of 2018. What was the experience of putting that together like?
Yeah I wrote an autobiography, which was a bit strange because I was only 27 when Penguin contacted me and asked me if I would consider doing it.
It’s basically the story so far; how I got to where I am today and the struggles along the way, particularly in the music business. It’s a very strange business where you meet some nice people and some not so nice people.
Is it true your grandmother looks after all your merchandise?
She does! She’s 77 years old but she is there at every UK date I do.
She loves being on the road, meeting people and the buzz of the gigs. I think it keeps her young.