ARTS AND FEATURES — 26 August 2014
Sharon plays some Irish music in the Kimamba Village, Tanzania. Picture: Barry McCall/Oxfam

Sharon plays some Irish music in the Kimamba Village, Tanzania. Picture: Barry McCall/Oxfam

By David Hennessy

“They’re just people, we’re all just people, and they’re trying to do their best against all of the odds possible,” Sharon Corr is telling The Irish World of her journey to Tanzania with Oxfam last year. Sharon, who sold 45 million records as one quarter of The Corrs which also included her siblings Andrea, Caroline and Jim, is an Oxfam ambassador and travelled to the East African country to launch a campaign to change the way women are treated there.

“These women have no voice in their community, no rights to anything. They farm the land, they build everything from the ground up. They look after the children, they did all the work but they had no rights over the land so if the husband moved on, they’d lose the land and basically they would die so the extremes of the conditions are really really shocking on every level. They’re subject to non-stop violence as part of the cultural norm, they experience a lot of violence. These women were so hopeful and so active in trying to make their lives better and what we were trying to do was enable them, register their names to be owners of the land, give them access to tools, try and begin to change the cultural norms of violence towards women and just to open up the idea that actually if the women live without fear, everybody lives a better life because they’re just trying to work and nourish and make some money and feed their children.”

“While I was out there, we spent up to eight hours a day on a rickety old bus on dirt roads going between villages and I was writing down what I was seeing, the landscape, the colours of the landscape, the people… For example, on the roadside there was a little boy and he was just standing beneath a tree and he was so beautiful, he must have been six and he clearly had his own herd to look after at six years old, working. He smiled at me and he was taking shade from the sun and it was just very beautiful.”

It is this experience that Sharon writes about in The Same Sun, the title track of her forthcoming sophomore solo album:  “I didn’t decide to write a song but I was writing all of these words so I knew they were going to become lyrics. All I thought of was we’re all underneath the same sun. I’m in London right now under the sun that these women are living under in Tanzania yet life is so different. I’m actually sitting in a pub where I just recorded a TV programme but it’s the same sun, none of us are alive without this sun, the earth does not work without this sun, it does not exist without this sun and that’s what is so unifying about it.

“I wrote the song. I didn’t want to write a charity song, I didn’t want to write a judgement or a speech but I just wanted to portray the feeling and almost the emotion of being there so I wrote The Same Sun. It just felt like it was going to be the title track, I knew immediately as soon as I wrote it, that’s the name of the album.”

Although she witnessed harsh extremes, Sharon has said the experience helped her become optimistic about people again: “It was a huge experience on every level. It was a very beautiful experience, very emotional experience, very profound experience. I loved working with Oxfam, I loved seeing how they do things, I loved being as close to the point as that if you know what I mean.

“We did it to launch a campaign Ending Poverty Starts With Women summer. I met these women, I interviewed them, I interviewed some of the men as well and to hear their stories, it’s incredibly shocking. It’s an unusual thing to experience but a wonderful thing to experience.”

Sharon even got the chance to introduce her music to a new audience: “The women danced for me and I actually took my violin out and I played for them. They had never heard anything like Irish music before in their lives, they were like, ‘wow, what was this?’ And some of the guys in the village tried to play drums with me and it kind of went all wrong because we couldn’t get each other’s rhythms but it was beautiful. And then they had a good laugh at me because they got me up dancing and I was just so European and so stiff and they were just so all flowing and big beautiful hips and everything going on. I had so many contrasting emotions because their life is full of extremes.”

Sharon (right) with The Corrs celebrating their Brit Awards win in 1999

Sharon (right) with The Corrs celebrating their Brit Awards win in 1999

The Same Sun is the follow-up to Sharon Corr’s 2010 debut album, Dream of You. The latest shows a progression in Sharon as a solo artst: “It’s easier for me. I have to say coming out of The Corrs and trying to identify myself as a solo artist took me a little bit of time, not too much, but I certainly had to learn how to write for myself and not for The Corrs and I had to try and work out who I am as an artist. Who am I as a solo artist? What would I have been had I never been in The Corrs?

“I’m also very glad of the influence that all of that song writing I did with The Corrs has had on me so it’s an amazing thing to spring from. Sometimes you kind of have to un-learn things to find who you are so it’s great now because I’ve spent the last couple of years touring as a solo artist and I really know who I am and how I am as a singer and songwriter.”

Has the move to centre stage been strange for Sharon, at least at first, after more than a decade and a half as part of a quartet? “No, it would be stranger to go back now. It’s not strange at all actually. My first gig as a solo artist was the Isle of Wight Festival so I jumped in at the deep end and before I got onstage I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m doing this, I can’t believe I’m doing this’. But when I got on there, it was like a duck to water, it was like, ‘this is my place, I feel…’ None of it is about detracting from the past. I’m immensely proud of what we did as a four piece, immensely proud of the role I played in that band, but right now I just know where I’m always supposed to be. It just makes way more sense for me to be in sole control of my own music and to take it on the journey that I want and perform it as the singer of my own songs and to be out there talking to the audience through my songs about my own experiences.”

Sharon was a driving force in The Corrs and the frequent songwriter in the band that produced hits such as Runaway, The Right Time, Breathless and Dreams. Since going solo, has Sharon encountered issues due to being known as the violinist from ‘The Corrs’? “I think that always happens. I think you’re an absolute fool if you think it’s going to be a walk in the park after selling 45 million records with a band that people are then going to go: ‘Of course you’re a solo artist and a singer-songwriter in your own right’.

Sharon today. Picture: Barry McCall

Sharon today. Picture: Barry McCall

“When people saw The Corrs, they saw The Corrs. They didn’t see Andrea separately, Caroline separately, Jim separately, Sharon separately, they just saw this thing. We all were subject to this thing that was almost bigger than us but we made it. We were it but then it became a thing by itself so I’m really happy to spend time almost allowing people to get used to the idea that I’m a solo singer-songwriter and I go out and do concerts on my own and they are good concerts. People only ever saw me playing violin and singing backing vocals, didn’t really know I was a writer even though we were all writers. That’s understandable and it’s not a complaint, it was a hurdle.”

The Dundalk band have not played together since 2006. How often is Sharon asked about a possible Corrs reunion? “Every day, every day but I expect that people would ask. If they weren’t asking, we wouldn’t have made the impact we did. Some people get irritated by that but I kind of think it’s flattering just as long as it’s not the only thing they’re talking about.

“It would feel very strange to go back for me. My answer is there are no plans because there are no plans and I’m so focused on doing this. This is the thing that I will continue to do regardless of whether The Corrs ever do anything again so I don’t know. There are no plans, that’s the truth.”

Are Andrea, Caroline and Jim supportive of Sharon’s solo venture? “Yeah, they are. They’re really great about it. Sometimes Caroline comes out and joins me, she joined me last year in Amsterdam for a show, she joined me in Guadalajara in Spain, and Jim has joined me as well. Andrea’s been having her babies for the last few years [Andrea had her second child in January] so she’s not really been onstage. They’re very supportive.”

Another very personal song on Sharon’s album is Christmas Night as it is about missing her mother during the holiday season. Sharon has said it is very difficult to listen to. Is it also very emotional to sing? “It is. I’ve only sang it live once. It’s a deeply personal song. It was something I’ve been experiencing every year since I lost my mum and I see my dad at Christmas trying to be cheerful. It’s something people all over the world are united in, this experience, it’s a time to celebrate.

“Especially around Christmas, your past is present, it’s more present. It’s like when you get on with every other day and you go to work, you think about the people that you miss and that you love but it’s not constantly surrounding you whereas with Christmas, it is surrounding me and it’s painful and really, really heartbreaking. It just made me write this song. Even though all of this cheer is going on, the most prominent thing in my mind is missing you. And I think it’s just something that everybody else feels as well. Sometimes you’re faking it, you’re faking the cheer. I’m lucky with the kids now because I just watch the pure joy from their point of view but I see my dad struggle and I know I do myself.”

Such a personal song, were Sharon’s siblings the first to hear it? “I brought it straight to my husband actually. He just said I can’t listen to that again. It’s so emotional. I must have done a good job, you know?”

Being a mother of two, is it tough for Sharon to be away from family due to her touring schedule? “It is tough and I have to really watch the balance and make sure I’m getting it right and make sure the children don’t feel sacrificed in any way. I just did a gig in Costa Brava and the children were with me for the four days hanging out with the band, eating all the sweets on the rider and having great fun. Then when I did the states, the children came out to California in the middle of the trip. It’s a balancing act.”

Sharon Corr was a coach for the first two series of The Voice of Ireland. If she or The Corrs were starting out now, would they entertain possibly looking for a break through reality TV? “I would entertain doing The Voice, I would never put myself anywhere near The X Factor because they’re unkind and you can be overlooked because you’re good but you’re not weird enough or you’re not like a circus animal performing, so I would not ever because I have dignity go near The X Factor but The Voice, for sure, because it’s a platform. Yes, it’s a TV show but it’s a great platform for an artist, you can sell gigs after The Voice. I think any artist would be a fool not to try it.”

The UK was very quick to accept The Corrs, with their debut album Forgiven, Not Forgotten reaching number 2. The UK remains an important market for Sharon: “I think we’re very kindred spirits. I think that the UK and Ireland have an awful lot in common regardless of the ancient history. It was a giant market for The Corrs and it’s an important market for me.

“I thought the state visit was great and a huge step forward as well. It made everything less fragmented and sometimes the actuality of something is so much smaller and nicer than what is in the heads of people. They make more trouble in their heads than is actually going to occur when it happens, so I think it was wonderful. It’s time to move on.”

Sharon Corr’s album The Same Sun is out on September 8. The new single Full Circle is out soon. Sharon tours the UK throughout September. For more information, go to http://www.sharoncorr.com/.

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