By Michael Gray
Ten years of hard work are finally paying handsome dividends for the Corrs. This year’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities found the four pop siblings on the celebrity A-list this side of the Atlantic, with an invite to the White House to meet President Bush and his family. Their Washington visit coincides with the launch of their new VH1 album, “Live In Dublin,” which they showcased on the “Today Show” with a live outdoor performance on Friday, followed by a slot on the cable music channel on Sunday.
The band spent the week in New York to promote the album. “Live In Dublin” features a stellar lineup of guests, including Ron Wood, who plays guitar on the Jagger/Richards classic “Ruby Tuesday,” and Bono in a duet with Corrs’ lead singer Andrea. Guitarist Jim Corr and drummer Caroline spoke recently about their rise from Dundalk schoolkids to global fame, bringing the instruments of Irish traditional music to an international pop audience.
Jim acknowledged that keeping the Irish folk element in their music meant a learning curve for sound engineers unfamiliar with the traditional instruments. “There was indeed, but you know it’s not exactly rocket science,” he said. “You’re dealing with a couple of Celtic traditional Irish instruments and they have to be played in a certain way. Once you have those ingredients, the players, and the instruments, then its just a question of recording them in a way that is appropriate and making sure they don’t get in the way of the lead vocals. It’s not that difficult a thing to do, and I think they would usually leave those sonic ingredients up to us.”
His sister Caroline, nine years younger, was still in school when the band started touring and had the unenviable task of learning her instrument in public.
“I had done piano for years, so when we did our first few gigs, I was playing piano and keyboards, and then when I started to learn drums it just became part of what we did,” she said. “People ask, ‘How do you like being the drummer?’ like it’s some disease, but it was a very natural thing for me. It was deep-end stuff, and I did have to learn on the road. I had very little time to rehearse, I was suddenly doing tours with ‘Forgiven, Not Forgotten,’ the first record.”
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Caroline had few role models to emulate when she took up percussion. “There are so few female drummers, but there’s Sheila E in Prince’s band,” she said. “She’s just so sexy with it as well. Now I look at Lenny Kravitz’s drummer, Cindy, who’s amazing, but there was no one really that I was looking at and going ‘wow’ all the time, I was just doing my thing, really.”
The purists who guard Irish traditional music against crossovers into the pop market can find fault with the Corrs’ pop-trad. Hybrid, but neither Jim nor Caroline is troubled by their criticisms.
“We experienced very little of that,” said Jim, “but we did experience some.
“It’s kind of ridiculous in a way, because it’s highly debatable what you would classify as a traditional instrument. We’re very much aware that music is constantly evolving, and nobody should be allowed put music in a vacuum and let it stagnate. We were of a mind that we wanted to create something unique, and our influences were pop music, rock music and traditional Irish music. So it was very natural for us to create a sound that was a marriage of those three elements. There’s always going to be some people who don’t like what you do, and that’s fine.”
Caroline said she felt the argument was settled when Paddy Moloney invited the Corrs to play with the Chieftains on an album of songs devoted to Celtic romance from the female perspective.
“That was great validation for us, when they asked us to play with them,” Caroline said. “They’re not in any way snobbish about Irish music. The Chieftains are wonderful, you know, and Paddy works with so many people. He’s not in any way afraid, and I think the root of not liking what other people are doing or putting it down is generally fear. But I think the Chieftains want to work with other people, they want to do a record that sounds different for them, instead of doing the same record over and over.”
Their success allows the Corrs to take a stand on more serious issues. In November ’98 they raised funds for the victims of the Omagh bombing by doing a special concert on “The Late Late Show” on Irish television. Dundalk was the base from which the alleged bombers planned the carnage that killed 29 people, and Jim got involved in the fund-raising both out of concern for the victims, and to counter the negative publicity for their hometown.
“Dundalk has come in for a lot of flak in recent years, and once again the spotlight was turned on the town in a negative way,” Jim said. “The perpetrators of this crime were alleged to have been from Dundalk, and one of them who has been convicted was from there. So there was that part, but we wanted first and foremost to do something for the victims that had been left behind, the people who had been maimed and blinded by this horrendous atrocity.”
Jim bristles visibly when Dundalk is referred to as El Paso, a sobriquet earned by its status as an alleged haven for IRA gunslingers on the run from the authorities in the North.
“It was the BBC who first called it ‘El Paso.’ ” he said. “The thing is, Dundalk welcomed with open arms the people who were fleeing the north of Ireland during the Troubles, from 1969 onward. This is the thing people forget about Dundalk; it was a very positive thing, and 99 percent of the people who live in Dundalk are very decent people, so it was unjustified.”
All four of the Corrs remain close to their hometown, where their dad still lives. The four siblings live in Ireland still and as soon as they finish their promo tour, they plan to return to home to begin work on their next studio album. But eager fans will have to wait, as the release date is not likely to before early next year. In the meantime, they can catch “Live In Dublin” on VH1.