Country music star Nathan Carter tours nationally across the UK from 24 February after two years of uncertainty in the music industry. Here, he speaks to The Irish Post about lockdowns, getting back on stage and his admiration for Garth Brooks.
When you reach the stage in a music career that you perform 150 shows a year, it is no wonder that the pandemic brought with it a sense of loss.
For Ireland's hottest country music singer Nathan Carter, who is preparing for a UK tour kicking off in February, it was no different.
"A lot of my lads would have been full time with me and that's how they earned their money whether they were musicians, or sound men or lighting men," Nathan said. "They all then had to just go and get new jobs."
His fiddle player Niall set up a coffee van in Newry, while his drummer started selling building material. Others took up positions as delivery drivers with DPD and delivery companies.
"It hasn't been an easy ride for any musician or anyone involved in live music."
For Carter, the lockdowns brought months of quiet which led him to take up various activities that he previously didn't have time for.
He spent that period of time in his home in Fermanagh, which he had only just moved into towards the end of 2019.
"I built a man cave in the house and that kept me busy for a few months!" he said. "I was out trying to exercise as well, because the lockdown really hit me bad after about six months into it. I didn't really know what I was doing with myself because it was such a change from being on the road all the time.
"There's quite a bit of land with the house so I was busy looking after that. For once I was actually there to cut the grass and hedges that I'm never normally there to do! I bought a little tractor. I wouldn't call myself a farmer but maybe an apprentice farmer is how I'd describe it."
Having moved to Ireland in at the age of 18, he says the pandemic forced him to take a break after twelve years of solid work.
"I look at the music industry a bit different now as well," he explains. "I realise now how fickle it can be. You plan ahead for maybe 30 or 40 shows, and income and wages and what will pay for the truck, website, PR or whatever.
"And then within a day of announcements it was all gone. It's taught me to appreciate it, and maybe not take it as seriously as I did and to enjoy it a bit more."
While he took up other activities during the pandemic, music never truly left his mind with the release of his twelfth studio album 'Little Old Town', which went to number one in Ireland upon its release in November 2021.
He calls it his "lockdown project" which required a new way of creating an album.
"On previous albums we would have brought four or five musicians into the studio to record, but for this one we ended up sending audio files across the world and people would perform their own bits and send them back," Nathan said.
"My vocals went to Nashville to a drummer, then to a bass player, then a fiddle player in Co Down and he'd then send it on to the next person and it was all mixed in the studio. It was a totally different way of doing it, and probably not as enjoyable either because you bounce off each other when you do it in person, but we were delighted to get the no.1 in Ireland.
Nathan and his band recently took to the stage again to perform two nights in the Waterfront in Belfast, and he believes crowds are looking forward to getting back to live entertainment.
"If what we witnessed last week is anything to go by, people and audiences are dying to get out and enjoy themselves.
"To be able to sing and be in a room with that many people again - there's nothing really like it. I had so many tickets to go and see acts and they all got cancelled; Queen and Adam Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Lionel Ritchie, Elton John. I love going to all that so I'm in the same boat looking to get out and enjoy live music on a bigger scale again."
The UK tour sees him play the London Palladium on 26 February, a venue that he has performed at four times before.
"The Palladium is just the pinnacle of stages in the UK," he said. "It never gets old. It's mental when you go back stage and see all the people who have played on the walls: Rolling Stones, Queen, Elton John to the Beatles and Adele just recorded a show there. Performing there isn't taken lightly.
"I never really dreamt when I was playing in Seamus Moore's pub in London when I was younger that I'd one day be in the Palladium!"
Once the UK tour is complete, Nathan and the band hope the summer Irish dates will quickly fill up.
"Thankfully since the restrictions lifted a few days ago the phone in the office hasn't stopped ringing. People are planning festivals again and trying to get funding for them to get them off the ground, so hopefully we'll be busy over the summer again."
He won't be the only country star hoping for a positive reaction from audiences in Ireland, with none other than Garth Brooks playing five nights in Croke Park in September.
Carter had been booked to support the legendary singer for two of his planned five nights in Croke Park in 2014 before the plug was pulled on all dates.
So will be be joining Brooks on stage this time around?
"I haven't heard about supporting him!" he laughs.
"I know one thing though; between myself, the band and my family I have purchased 40 tickets for the Saturday night, so we're all going to see him no matter what this time.
"I've never seen him live and I've been listening to him since I was a kid, watching a VHS of him singing with his head mic. I can't wait to get to see him."
Having a global champion of country music is important for the genre, Nathan says.
"It's good to see country is still huge as Garth demonstrates. His selling power is unbelievable.
"We're lucky in Ireland that country is considered one of the most popular genres, and I don't really know if that's the case in England.
"You tune in to any local or regional radio station in Ireland on any night and there will be a country music show. It's still in young kids and gets passed down from generation to generation."
Tickets for Nathan Carter's UK tour are available from ticketline.co.uk or venue box offices.