Friday 18 January 2019

Andrea Corr's solo run

Five years after The Corrs went on a break,Andrea is still battling to be taken seriously as a solo artist. Tanya Sweeney asks if she can ever shake off the shadow of her family band

Tanya Sweeney

Five years after The Corrs went on a break,Andrea is still battling to be taken seriously as a solo artist. Tanya Sweeney asks if she can ever shake off the shadow of her family band.

Since they took their hiatus in 2006, it's safe to say that the various members of The Corrs have experienced mixed fortunes. Jim Corr has reinvented himself as a paranoid conspiracy theorist par excellence. Sister Sharon released a solo album that reached 27 in the Irish album charts, and 37 in the UK charts. Caroline, meanwhile, has put her percussion career out to pasture in favour of raising her three young children.

Yet, as the foursome's comely and doe-eyed frontwoman, Andrea Corr was always the one Most Likely To Succeed. And with a millionaire husband and credible acting career to her name, things finally seem to be coming up trumps for the Louth-born beauty.

But there is one burning issue. Despite her impressive run of good fortune, will Andrea ever be taken seriously as a solo musician?

It has not been for want of trying. Andrea's solo album, entitled Ten Feet High, was led by some serious A-list production talent. At the helm of the record was Nellee Hooper, who has worked with Gwen Stefani and Madonna. Bono became an executive producer on the album. At the time, Andrea was finding her stylistic feet, toying with a Goth-lite image and various electronic noodlings with hyper-modern production flourishes.

But the album was not a commercial success, and Andrea said as much on BBC Radio 2, noting how she was "gutted" at its chart performance. "After I released my solo record, I felt really disappointed. I believed in the record I made, but if you don't have the back-up of your record company investing and marketing it..."

Despite her overwhelming success as part of The Corrs -- the band have sold 60 million records to date -- it turned out that Andrea wasn't impervious to the slings and arrows of a cut-throat industry.

Speaking about the aftermath of the release of Ten Feet High, she reflected: "It was difficult because I believed -- and still believe -- it is a great album. There was a discourse between myself and the record company, and they'd have preferred it if I'd gone much more Karen Carpenter than something that was a little bit more risky. That struggle throughout was wearing. It wore me."

Bloodied but unbowed, Andrea has gone back into the recording studio, this time to create a covers album, entitled Lifelines. For the album, Andrea has covered songs by artists as credible as Donna Summer, The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Ron Sexsmith and The Blue Nile. It's an interesting about-face for the girl who once intoned: "I could never dream of being cool."

The album, released on May 27, is available in a number of different formats including a Super Deluxe box that includes a T-shirt, DVD and a lithograph designed, signed and numbered by Andrea herself. What's more, production stalwarts Brian Eno and John Reynolds are on board, proving that Andrea can command the industry's biggest names if needs be.

"Last year, I decided I'm not doing music until I'm excited again, then this came along," says Andrea. "It's just being mastered, it's a lovely album. I didn't write this one, this is old songs and I have to sort out my situation -- I don't want the same problem as before."

Opines one music industry source: "The Corrs could never have been described as a 'cool' band, not in the way that Villagers, Damien Dempsey or The Frames have been. Andrea is definitely an impassioned artist, and she knows her music, but when she tries to do something edgy and experimental, which is what happened with the last album, people weren't into it.

"I think she'll be a victim of The Corrs' success for a while; people will always want those sturdy, trad-influenced, crowd-pleasing hits from her. To many people, she will probably always be the wholesome, lilting baby of The Corrs family. It's a shame, as she probably has a lot more to give as an artist."

Another insider argues that credibility may not come so easily to Andrea. "The Corrs were seen as an entertainment project, and it can be difficult to make the crossover into 'musical artist' territory. I guess the success of the record depends on how passionate she can be about the music. But when she did the cover with Bono [of Lee Hazlewood's 'Summer Wine'] I think she threw away the opportunity to make a passionate recording."

Yet, perhaps most importantly for Andrea, the recording of the new album has been a positive journey for all involved. There certainly seems to be passion in the mix this time around. "This was the nicest working experience I have ever had," she adds. "It was a truly authentic experience. I was doing it behind closed doors. I stayed in the moment while we were doing it. When you sing other people's songs, something about that really allows you to be a singer and just a singer. All I had to do was interpret. There is a huge freedom in that."

Unlike many other Irish musicians, Andrea enjoys untold amounts of financial freedom. As the hiring of those big-name producers might suggest, Andrea is hardly shackled by the constraints of budget; a happy outcome of a glittering career as part of The Corrs and, one might speculate, her marriage to a billionaire's son.

Stockbroker Brett Desmond, whom Andrea married in a Miltown Malbay ceremony in August 2009, is the son of Dermot Desmond, thought to be worth around €1.45bn and ranked by the 'Sunday Independent' as the sixth richest person in Ireland.

After Andrea's relationships (with Robbie Williams and, later, actor Shaun Evans) were scrutinised for years in the media, she appears to have made a rather fine fist of keeping her marriage out of the public eye.

She has been reticent on the subject of her husband, going as far as to say in one interview: "I cannot put in an answer that's going in a newspaper what he is like. My perception of him is private. What did I think when I first met him? I have known him years, but I didn't really know him actually. He hung out with Jim.

"I'm not actually giving you any adjectives to describe him, because I'm not going to put him into one thing: 'The Funny Guy' or 'The Something Guy'. He is a lot of things."

She is also quoted as saying: "Nobody really knows me, to be honest. I stayed very, very quiet within the band. Yes, I sang and did all the, whatever, vixen stuff around the stage. But I didn't speak that much. I didn't have a particular persona. I'm not Alice Cooper, you know?"

Whatever lies in store for Andrea's musical endeavours, her acting career is very much on an even keel, and gaining traction by the day. It's rather telling that in 2009 she passed up watching the Brit Awards to go out on the town with 80-year-old playwright Brian Friel. That same month, Andrea made her first-ever professional stage appearance at the Old Vic in London, playing Chris in Friel's 'Dancing At Lughnasa'.

According to lore, the part came at a point when Andrea was considering putting her dreams of acting stardom out to dry. Andrea was reportedly getting asked to audition for films, but "the role would be pretty much Publican's Irish Feisty Daughter, when the American comes to town".

Of course, it's a role she had already completed, in 'The Boys From County Clare', with mixed results. The film fared poorly, despite earning a Best Actress IFTA nomination for Andrea.

Truth be told, since Andrea's first speaking role in 1991's 'The Commitments', things have been chequered ever since. Alan Parker lobbied to have her play Juan Peron's mistress in his 1996 movie 'Evita', yet since that promising start, Andrea's acting career has effectively stalled. A number of low-budget short films followed, as did a role in the ill-fated 'Broken Thread' (opposite Linus Roache and Saffron Burrows).

However, Andrea's fortunes saw another reversal when she took on the role of Jane Eyre at the Gate Theatre last November. The Gate's artistic director Michael Colgan said at the time: "I've been trying for some time to cast Andrea Corr in a play. It was Friel's idea for me to go and see her in 'Dancing At Lughnasa'. I was hugely impressed with her performance."

Initially, critics were sceptical that Andrea might be too pretty to play the ordinary-looking but steely governess, yet she trounced her detractors with a slew of rave reviews.

One critic enthused that she made for a "fierce and earnest" Jane, while another praised her for managing "a balance of dignity and spunk". 'Variety' magazine also described her performance as "strong" and "appropriately radiant".

Says a theatre figurehead: "I'm happy to say she radiates presence on stage. It's from the gods and she has it. This is beyond, well beyond, a famous singer getting a stage break. Her Lughnasa show in the UK was first rate."

This summer, a lengthy tour to promote 'Lifelines' beckons as the loves of her professional life, music and acting, continue their tug of war. Which will emerge triumphant? Only time -- and, to some extent, Andrea's many critics and champions -- will tell.

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