By John Fitzgerald
Wagon Wheel is one of those songs that you can’t get out of your head once you hear it, and revellers aged from nine to ninety have been dancing, singing, whistling or humming along to it since Nathan Carter breathed new life into the song back in 2012.
But he did more than that. He almost singlehandedly revived the Country and Irish music genre. His place in Ireland’s musical Hall of Fame, and in the hearts of his millions of loyal fans, is assured.
Nathan was born in Liverpool in 1990 to Ian and Noreen Carter who hailed from Newry in County Down. Though a precocious child, there’s no truth in the rumour that his first words as he lay in the cradle were Rock Me Momma! At Bishop Eton School his musical talent was spotted when he played the accordion.
Teachers were impressed by the way he drew sweet notes from the instrument after just a few quick lessons. He soon found himself regaling his first live audience in a school concert. Patrons lauded his gift. The future superstar was just four years old when he appeared on that memorable childhood stage.
Nathan enjoyed summer holidays in Ireland, the “old country” with which his parents had never lost contact, and on those trips he sang and played music.
The Irish connection was to prove significant. He participated in Fleadh Cheoils, quickly notching up successes as he developed his gift with the avid encouragement of teachers and his parents.
By the age of twelve he had scooped several All Ireland medals for traditional singing and accordion playing. Back in Liverpool he joined its acclaimed Ceili Band. By age sixteen he was playing to gatherings around the city. However small the crowds in sometimes unspacious or congested milieus, they loved the sound of his golden voice and his uncanny command of the instruments. He beguiled people of all ages with his heartfelt singing and his dexterous alternations and interweaving between piano and accordion.
In those early days, Nathan performed equally well at small packed venues or in almost empty ones, never letting the size of an audience detract from the quality of his presentation. Word spread of his phenomenal talent and Nathan was quickly swept up on a wave of popular demand. Solo performances in Liverpool and then Ireland ensued.
Nathan became attached to Ireland, as a result of both its people and scenic landscape and its musical traditions, and opted to move here when he was eighteen to pursue his career. The frequent childhood visits and early musical outings had prepared him for this pivotal transfer from Liverpool to Ireland.
He steadily established himself as a performer, playing initially at small venues around the country, and releasing his debut album, aptly titled Starting Out, in 2007. A major turning point for him came in 2009. He had arrived to play at a concert in Buncrana, County Donegal.
Among those blown away by his captivating renditions of traditional and country numbers was songwriter/manager John Farry, who offered to represent him and help develop his career on the competitive country music scene. Nathan accepted the offer and from that day onwards his star has never stopped shining.
Nathan made his now famous mega breakthrough in June 2012 with his own unrivaled adaptation of Wagon Wheel. People who hadn’t heard of him before then sat up and took notice, then started singing or dancing to the catchy and irresistible air, whether at concerts, glued to their TV sets or I pad screens, or during work breaks or in school classrooms.
Almost overnight, devoted followers of all ages fell under his spell and rolled along with the unstoppable Wagon Wheel. His song proved to be a runaway commercial success, the album making it quickly into the Top Three in the Irish Charts. The internet went crazy, with Wagon Wheel attracting millions of YouTube views worldwide and not a day passed for months without the song being played on radio.
Nathan won a Country Music Award for Live Act of the Year for it, and Wagon Wheel was hailed as Ireland’s all-time favourite country song. In 2013 it became the first country act to secure the number one spot in the Irish charts since Garth Brooks had scooped the accolade six years earlier.
Wagon Wheel hugely boosted attendances at Nathan’s live acts. Instead of singing to around three hundred people at a modestly sized dance hall or to gatherings in pubs he had to book large theatres or arenas to cater for thousands of adoring fans. They couldn’t get enough of the Liverpool lad who had taken Ireland by storm.
They’d queue for hours in all weathers for tickets that were like gold dust. Their no-holds-barred enthusiasm recalled the 1960s Beatle mania. His meteoric career blazed on, with further hits winning him fresh accolades from music critics and the public alike, including Stayin’ Up All Night (2016), Livin’ the Dream (2017) and Born for the Road (2018). He made it into the British charts also, his appeal crossing the Irish Sea with ease to the land where he first saw the light of day and sang his first song in that quiet Liverpool homestead.
He reached even wider audience s via his TV appearances on such programmes as RTE’s Late Late Show, UTV Live, and TG4’s popular Glór Tíre and Opry an Iúir, performing alongside artists like Mary Black and Finbar Fury.
In September 2017 the Nathan Carter phenomena crossed the Atlantic when a one and a half hour TV programme promoted his American tour. Classic Roots with Nathan introduced the USA to his unfathomable rhythmic charm and spellbinding mix of Irish country, pop and folk renditions.
Nathan has never let fame go to his head. He keeps sight of the bigger picture of life, making time for hobbies and helping out his favourite charities. Last December the loss of a friend, Nicky James, inspired him to pen a song called Wings to Fly. The chorus of the single was used to illuminate the front walls of the Mater Hospital as part of a fundraising drive in aid of the facility.
He keeps in close touch with his family, including sister Kiara and brother, Jake. Jake has his own singing career and sprang to national prominence two years ago when he and his dance tutor scooped the fiercely coveted Glitterball in RTE’s Dancing with the Stars.
Today, Nathan lives in Enniskillen, waiting patiently for the dreaded coronavirus pandemic to end so that the entertainment industry can get back on track. But far from letting the lockdown dampen his spirits, he has made a point of reaching out to his fans.
Conscious of how so many people miss the live performances, Nathan has joined about seventy other artists in a wonderful imitative to brighten up their lives.
He and the others phone their fans completely out of the blue for a chat. Recipients of these calls have expressed delight at hearing from their music idols, whether Nathan or any of the other household names like Mick Flavin, Robert Mizzell, Declan Nerney, Daniel O’Donnell, Mike Denver, Trudi Lawlor, Jimmy Buckley, Michael English, or Cliona Hagan. Nathan looks forward to the day, hopefully not far off, when he can take to the stage and get that old Wagon Wheel rolling again!