Christmas for Andrea Corr is a time to celebrate – but also to remember. The Corrs frontwoman enjoys the seasonal traditions with all the trimmings: Christmas morning mass with her husband and their two children, a big turkey dinner to follow. However, she thinks, too, of those she has lost: her mother, Jean, who died suddenly at the height of The Corrs success in 1999 aged 57, and when Andrea was just 25, and her father, Gerry, who died in 2015.
“After mum died my dad used to call Christmas a time of ‘absences’. That resonates very much with me now. And sadly with a lot of people. That is life. There are those empty chairs on Christmas Day. There is an importance to that “stillness” – to recognising it and giving thanks. The spiritual side is what is important to me. And now I have children, the magic [of Christmas] is back.”
That mix of melancholy and joy is front and centre of her new seasonal record The Christmas Album. Assembled over the two years of the pandemic and with contributions from Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and trad icon Dónal Lunny it is an LP full of sparkle and shade. It features her take on classics such as Let It Snow and It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas. There is also an original composition, Begin Again, where she lays out her very human and complicated emotions about December 25th.
“Begin Again, which I’ve arranged with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, is about grief and starting again,” she says. “And, I suppose, rebirth.”
Accepting that you have known loss in your life and making it part of your Christmas is important, feels Corr, who lives in Dublin with her husband, Brett Desmond, and daughter Jean (10) and son Brett Jr (eight).
“It’s much better, for me anyway, to acknowledge it. And if you’ve got something like that to express [ie grief for a loved-one’s passing] then surely you had a good time with that person. There’s lots to give thanks for.”
Corr’s childhood in Dundalk was foremost in her thoughts during the recording of the album. It was a boisterous household, full of love and mischief and with music always in the air.
“My mother was amazing at Christmas. The smell of baking around the house. Such nostalgia – lovely memories. We used to always have to sing for our relations. They were our very early performances. ”
Before she puts her feet up for Christmas, The Corrs are due in Australia for a concert at the 25,000-capacity Hope Estate in New South Wales, with support from Wet Wet Wet. That they can still play to huge crowds on the other side of the world is a testament to their popularity – and to the enduring power of hits such as Breathless and Runaway.
The Corrs – siblings Andrea, Caroline, Jim and Sharon – are today widely regarded as one of the brightest points in Irish pop music in the 1990s. In their hit-making prime, however, they were often looked down on by critics. Rolling Stone described them as a “cutesy girl band ... who sing about love-lost and love-renewed in every song ... think Abba with a violin”. “Aglow with Celtic chic and featuring multiple pretty sisters,” said the NME in a baffling review of their 2000 album In Blue. “The Corrs run the gamut of contemporary celebrity appeal from A to Sleaze”.
That perception of The Corrs as trafficking in Celtic fluff has been turned on its head in recent years. The Corrs have been rehabilitated with hipster-beloved pop star Caroline Polachek covering Breathless and Japanese-British chart-topper Rina Sawayama heralding Andrea and family as an influence.
“I’ve spend a lot of my life doing this. More than half my life. It’s great that side of our lives is appreciated and welcomed,” says Corr, who, like all Irish people, becomes awkward when presented with a compliment. “And people still love the songs and want to hear them and see us. It’s wonderful. It’s always very flattering that people are influenced. I was influenced myself by other artists. I know what that means. I’m delighted to be that for others.”
Criticisms of the band never bothered her she says. The Corrs were so successful – so many people were saying nice things – that she wasn’t distracted by the negative. Or at least not to the point of it keeping her awake at night.
“Listen, we got so much support. Sometimes, when something is negative our ears are more receptive to it than the positive. The positives outweigh the negatives. Sometimes, with the positive and the negative [you have to ignore both]. What is it someone said, if you’re going to get high on the good press, you have to get low on the bad.”
This album was very much a labour of love
The Corrs became very successful very quickly. They were all in their early 20s when their debut album, Forgiven Not Forgotten, went to number two in Ireland and the UK and number one in Australia. As the singer, and thus, de facto, “face” of the band, much of the scrutiny falls on Andrea. Today she has a daughter of her own and wonders about the emphasis that was placed on her own appearance when The Corrs were starting out.
“Times have changed. You look back and I think if my children were going into it – if my daughter – felt that kind of attention ... I’d worry. But we were very protected with our manager and the people around us. At the same time, you do feel that stuff as a young person. I felt very exposed and very self-conscious for a lot of it. We were constantly doing interviews. Constantly under pressure to look a certain way – a focus on that element, which does not help any young girl as far as I am concerned. It would have been great to be a grungy band that could just rock off the plane with a granny jumper – and the more wrecked you look the better.”
For now, though, she is thinking about Christmas – and the happy childhood memories she hopes to pass on to her own family.
“I loved it as a child. Christmas music was a huge part of it for me. My dad had a wicked sense of humour. He would close the curtains in July and put on the album We Wish You A Merry Christmas by Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers, which was our Christmas record. I love Christmas records. And so this album was very much a labour of love.”
The Christmas Album by Andrea Corr is released on December 2nd