Sisters find healing and love in song
Meabh and Mella Carron always dreamed of making it big but a mystery illness made their musical bond even stronger
There aren't too many Irish sisters who have made a real mark in the pop world. Edele and Keavy Lynch from B*Witched spring to mind as exceptions, along with the Corr sisters, Sharon, Caroline and Andrea. Meabh and Mella Carron may not have yet achieved the same renown yet as those illustrious siblings, but their infectious pop songs and tight vocal harmonies have garnered them a huge online following and seen them described as a sort of Celtic Fleetwood Mac.
After years of performing in films and musical theatre, the softly spoken Ranelagh-based sisters are now putting all their passion into Carron, the group they formed with Meabh's boyfriend Darren McGrath.
They are already being noticed. In April 2016, they released their debut EP entitled, Roots, which quickly shot to No.4 in the Irish iTunes album charts, and was voted 'Best EP of 2016' by Pure M magazine. In the following months, they embarked on their debut Irish tour throughout Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, and Limerick, as well as a support slot in London with The Coronas.
Now they are ready to embark on a series of gigs which they hope will burnish their reputations as one of the best up-and-coming Irish groups. And, they explain to me, after a difficult few years, singing together has been their ultimate therapy.
"We were always obsessed with music," Meabh, 28, tells me over coffee at a city centre hotel. "Our dad was involved with Country FM when it started ,and when I was a little kid, I sang in Les Miserables at the Point with Colm Wilkinson. Then I played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and Annie at the Tivoli [Mella, 24, played Molly in the latter show]. Neither of us were really that into school - we both wanted to be musical stars. We both studied music in college. We dreamed of making it big."
Those dreams saw Meabh join a series of bands in which she tried to find her musical feet. In the meantime, the younger Carron tried her hand at acting - she won small roles in Brooklyn, which starred Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson, and in Lenny Abrahamson's What Richard Did.
However, in her teens, a mystery illness stymied Mella's promising career, and caused both girls to double down on their dream of performing together.
"It started when I was about 19 or 20, I just started getting very sick, I was in a lot of pain," Mella recalls. "We didn't know what it was and the doctor didn't seem to know either. It was a really frightening time for the whole family."
"She would be crying in pain on the floor, screaming, we would have to call an ambulance to get her to hospital immediately," Meabh explains.
Sometimes the episodes of pain would pass as quickly as they had come on. Their father began to refer to them as 'attacks' and both sisters began to suspect that there was a psychosomatic element to the pain. "I thing there could have been a psychological element to it," Mella tells me. "It seemed to be tied in with stress. I think I'm much better at dealing with stress now than I was then. When I was in hospital, everyone would be like 'what were you feeling bad about this time'? It was a very physical thing, too, though - I was dosed up on morphine - I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anyone. It was in my stomach and in my back. I lost so much weight."
Throughout the episodes, Meabh was there for her younger sister. "A few times it's happened when I've been on nights out and I'm sitting there in the ambulance with her with a few drinks on me! And I'd be thinking, I should not be here."
They would compose songs together while Mella was in her hospital bed. "If we had a gig, I would always end up in hospital and then discharge myself and just make it onto the stage for the performance," Mella recalls.
One song on their current EP is called Prison Ropes, with its opening lines, "we're never ready for an attack", references the distress the interludes in hospital caused. As they continued, Mella had her gallbladder removed - although they were later told that this would not solve the problem. At one point, Mella went to a specialist in London and was told she was possibly suffering from a condition called Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction - a problem with the muscular valve that controls the flow of digestive juices in the abdomen.
"We're still not totally sure if that's what it was, because the investigative surgery was itself a bit risky and so it was decided not to go ahead with that," Meabh explains. "But, touch wood, she seems to be in a much better place now."
The group was also the catalyst for romance for Meabh - she met her boyfriend Darren McGrath after he collaborated with the sisters on a number of tracks. "We met him through a former producer, Denis Kielty. (Darren) had recorded on five or six of our tracks before I even met him," Meabh explains. "Then when we saw him, I was like, 'yeah he looks good'. We really liked him, so we were like, 'yeah you can stay'."
The collaboration has paid professional as well as personal dividends. The group's last single, Battle Lines, was released in June and reached No.1 in the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts, followed by stand-out performances at Electric Picnic, Groove Festival, YouBloom, Bloom in the Park, Ruby Sessions, and a headliner in The Workman's Club in Dublin. Throughout it all, their sound has evolved, and their super-polished vocals recall Stevie Nicks and The Corrs themselves.
This coming Wednesday, Carron will play The Grand Social in Dublin city centre.
"It's going to be an amazing gig," Meabh says.
"After all we've been through the last few years, we wanted to channel that into the music. We can't wait for people to hear."
Carron play the Grand Social this coming Wednesday night. Tickets from Eventbrite. See www.carronmusic.com