LAST month a second-generation Irishman raised in Liverpool outsold the likes of Kodaline, One Direction and Michael Bublé to shoot to the top of the Irish Album charts with his album Where I Wanna Be.
In doing so, Liverpool-born Nathan Carter became the first country act to reach number one in the Irish charts since Garth Brooks managed the same feat more than six years ago. An impressive feat in what is a perennially unpopular music genre.
However, to simply call Carter a country singer would be selling him short.
Since the multi-instrumentalist released Starting Out — his debut record — in 2007, and, more significantly, after teaming up with songwriter John Farry two years later, Carter has been credited with reviving Irish country music.
The band seamlessly blends Celtic influences into a traditionally American style of music. How did he feel when he heard he’d reached the top spot in Ireland?
“It was kind of surreal, to be honest,” says Carter, delight ringing through his strong Liverpudlian accent. “I didn’t think there was any chance of getting a country album into the pop charts,” he adds.
The 23-year-old musician, who spoke to Rí-Rá in the middle of a recent series of sell-out dates in Scotland, said the reaction from friends and family had been “unreal”. So how exactly did a lad from Liverpool first become involved in that type of music scene?
“I was brought up on it, really,” explains Carter. “I spent a lot of time in the Liverpool Irish Centre. I was involved in traditional Irish music for years, playing the accordion.”
Gaining encouragement from his Newry-born parents, Carter started singing and performing gigs around other Irish Centres across England before spending each summer with his relatives in Co. Down.
And it was shortly after moving back to Ireland five years ago — when Carter was just 18 — that he was spotted performing in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, by his future manager and songwriter, John Farry.
“Then we managed to get a band together,” adds Carter, whose seven-piece have released five albums together, music the frontman describes as “country with Celtic influences”.
Carter now resides in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, though the touring life means he’s only there two or three nights each week. He described starting out as a country band in Ireland as being a particular challenge.
“Things were very tricky for the first couple of years,” the 23-year-old explains. “We didn’t go on [stage] the first couple of nights, as not enough people had turned up.”
As for the secret to turning around empty shows to sell-out audiences? Sorry X Factor wannabees, but Carter says it’s a result of years spent on the road, touring hard.
Perhaps it should be added that classy musical influences growing up helped too — the likes of Johnny Cash, Dolores Keane, Johnny McEvoy, Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks were never far from his parents’ stereo.
Even today, the band has been “working extensively hard” at “festivals over the last couple of months as well as concerts and dances before that.”
In terms of his hopes for future British success, Carter feels that although the country scene has faded over the past 20 years in England, the popularity of artists such as Daniel O’Donnell — along with Carter’s current popularity in Scotland — shows that “it still is there to be done,” he says.
What about further afield, does he hope to crack America one day?
“America is something definitely up ahead,” agrees Carter. “But our main concern for now would be a tour of Australia which we’ve trying to get planned for the end of next year.”
Where I Wanna Be is out now. Carter begins a Scottish tour on November 6 in Galashiels before performing a one-off English date at the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool, over November 22-24.