When she’s not jetting around the world on tour, Sharon Corr tells Barry Egan that she’s happiest at home with her husband, Belfast barrister Gavin Bonnar, and their two children.
Her kids have the vomiting bug. So Sharon Corr's mobile keeps going off with updates. “It's just one of those days,” she says over tea in a Dublin Hotel. “One has a tummy bug; the other has a high temperature. But he's cooling now. So it has been fun and games all day.”
She is flying to Australia on tour the day after we meet, and her husband, barrister Gavin Bonnar, and the kids — son Cathal Robert Gerard, born March 31, 2006, and daughter Flori Jean Elizabeth, born July 18, 2007 — are following her at the weekend.
She only recently got back from a European tour. I crack a joke to the effect of how does poor Gavin put up with her.
“I don't think you can truly love somebody if you want to strangle their dreams,” she laughs. “But it is a very important thing in life. That's actually what I believe in. I believe in dreams and following them and going for the impossible and pulling the potential out of yourself. I believe in nurturing that in somebody else as well,” she says.
Dreams aside, Sharon is as much a home bird as a rock chick. “I love staying in and cooking a Thai green curry with Gav — drinking wine and just chatting at the kitchen table about our hopes, our dreams and the kids all night,” she says of life at home. “We make all our best plans and decisions that way.”
I ask her what's her speciality when it comes to cooking. “I cook a mean hot madras at least once a week.”
The globe-circling wife — her email name is Sharon Bonnar — and mother of two has pulled off the difficult task of combining a successful career as a musician with motherhood.
“Having a husband who supports and genuinely enjoys my career goes a long way to helping me have a better work/kids balance. It ain’t easy, but if you are both open to change and prepared to roll with the many twists and turns, then it’s manageable. I think it all comes down to how much fun you make it — the kids come to gigs, get to bash on the drums in soundcheck, meet all sorts of amazing people, travel to wonderful places, watch and hear incredible performers and, most importantly for them, eat all the sweeties on the rider.”
What are their respective personalities like? “I don't ever talk about my kids, other than very general stuff like names and ages, because I feel it should be their choice and it’s one they can’t make right now and may choose not to later,” Sharon says.
When I ask if it is one of her dreams for The Corrs to get back together, she is characteristically candid: “I don't know if it will ever happen. It has to feel right. So I'm not saying never but I’m also not going to tell you a lie and say it’s happening. It’s not. Not right now anyway. And, anyway, Andrea’s pregnant, beautifully pregnant.”
But she is the not the first musician in the history of the music business to have a baby ...
“But you’re asking about The Corrs,” Sharon exclaims. “For me, I can only tell you what I want to do. I want to do music and have my babies and do all that sort of stuff. But I can’t speak for any of the other members of the band.”
Sharon does not belong to The Corrs body and soul. She is proud of the achievements of the band but she has moved on.
You get the impression with her that she is compelled to write music, and, without it, she’d be lost. Music was always pretty much everything to Sharon Corr. This is never likely to change.
“I didn’t end with The Corrs,” she says. “I’m learning and stretching myself all the time. It is very relevant what I’m doing now.”
Sharon is not one to sit still as a musician. “I’m not capable of that,” she says. “There is no reason for me not to be the songwriter/singer that I am just because The Corrs aren’t working. This is what I do. This is what I love. This is what I have ambitions for. I feel so good when I’m writing and performing and singing.”
The new album, which she has just finished writing, is likely to be called Catch The Moon. It is about the idea, she says dreamily, “of when somebody comes into your life and they utterly change yours, that you would go to any lengths for them ... so you would catch the moon.”
It’s clearly about Gavin. On July 7, 2001, she and Gavin were married in St John’s Church in Cratloe, Co Clare.
“Yeah, it is,” she virtually gurns. “You would go to any length for that other person because you love them and every day with them you are so lucky to have them to battle through life with.”
Gavin feels the same sense of luck at having Sharon. “She is a brilliant wife and mum, a wonderful songwriter, great singer and multi-instrumentalist,” he tells me. “She’s performed all over the world yet is so grounded. She’s brave and driven and artistic ... a perfectionist. ‘No Short Cuts Sharon’ is what we call her! And being a solo artist gives her the chance to show all her talents.”
Sharon’s big brother Jim is equally effusive in his praise. “My multi-talented sister, whom I’m very proud of, has a variety of traits,” he says, “characteristically a combination of having sincere empathy and compassion for others along with a piercing intellect.”
When The Corrs stopped six years ago, stunning Shazza didn’t vanish from music altogether to become a domestic goddess and yummy mummy with gorgeous Gav. She recorded a solo album, Dream Of You, and will soon record the second record, which is due out in October.
The as yet unfinished new album includes a track called Christmas Night, which is essentially about missing her mother Jean who died on November 24, 1999, in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
where she was being treated for cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis, a chronic lung disease.
“You’re going to get me crying again!” she shrieks. When I interviewed her in 2010 she cried her eyes out, mostly talking about Jean.
“My thing about Christmas is that the past is in your present at Christmas permanently,” she explains. “Christmas is really difficult, I find. My memories are of mum stuffing the turkey and kind of being a bit ... very tired under the eyes, and knowing that she was working too hard and stuff. Christmas is your past so much. The memories are absolutely huge.
“And now at this stage of my life,” she continues, “having experienced the loss of mum, I can see it in everybody else around me too. I can see them missing the people that they love at Christmas. So it almost becomes more about that. Some of the magic of innocence is lost and it is regained in my children. But it is lost in myself. And sometimes I find it hard to get away from the memories.
“The song is about ‘I miss you’, basically. Christmas Night is about ‘No matter what I’m doing or no matter how I’m braving it through or no matter how I’m walking through Christmas or I’m experiencing the whole idea of Christmas and the jingle bells, the whole thing that is going on within is that you’re not here.’ And that’s it. That’s what the song is about.”
Sharon says there was never going to be an alternative to music in her life. “It just wasn’t instinctive to me to have a back-up plan. It was always going to be music.”
She says, in some ways, it would have been less expected for a big band to come out of Dundalk, just for reasons of snobbery or silliness about it being the sticks and not the big smoke.
“But in a way,” she continues, “sometimes that sort of negativity makes you push forward more proudly. I think our environment was so musical that no matter where we were, with the parents we had we were going to do it any way.”
I have been in the Corrs’ family home in Dundalk. I went there in 2002 with Jim and his father Gerry. I ask Sharon what was it like to grow up in that house.
“We had a lovely big back garden and all the gardens within that area backed on to each other. So we used to run between the gardens and play with all the other kids. It was a very free childhood,” she says, adding that she can “kind of remember mostly sitting on the windowsill in my brother’s room, singing, and him playing the piano.
“I was 19. In the younger days I remember me playing the piano and writing little songs, and singing and playing records. Kate Bush. China Crisis. And being in my little teenage world in my little teenage bedroom.”
Do you ever miss that world?
“I don’t ever want to go back in life. I only want to be now and move forward.”
Was there always the expectation that you and your siblings would inevitably do something together musically?
“Somehow there was. I think Jim very much had that feeling that we should,” she says. Sharon moved into Jim’s Dublin apartment when she was 18. It was a living room, three bedrooms and a tiny little corridor of a kitchen, she says. “There was another girl living there called Paula, who was a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. Jim was away a lot on tour with The Fountainhead. So when we were together we would go and watch gigs. I was broke most of the time. I used to walk into town every day because I couldn’t afford the bus. I loved it. Hanging out on Stephen’s Green. And then Jim would come home and bring me to a gig and we’d hang out with musicians and that was kind of ‘wow!’.”
Asked how she looks back on the start of The Corrs — the group finally formed in 1991, and in 1995 they released their first album, Forgiven Not Forgotten — she replies wistfully. “It was almost like being pulled along by a tide. I am quite a rational person and I could see the reasoning behind it and why it was a good idea.”
And why was it a good idea?
“Because we were all talented. And we sounded good together when we sang. It was great. We just all loved music. And for that reason, I could see that it was a good idea.
“The idea of maybe getting into a band with my family didn’t compel me as much as the rationale that we were all musicians.”
She has fond memories of it all. And why wouldn’t she? They were not far off a global phenomenon.
She is here to talk up The Voice, the new talent show on RTE, in which the famous musician is one of the coaches, alongside Bressie, Kian Egan and acclaimed Belfast singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy.
“We’re called coaches because we are not really sitting in judgment,” she says. “The whole sort of premise of the show is to respect artists and in the way that we would like to be respected ourselves within the industry; to respect how much it takes you to get on stage.
“The idea of the coach, I suppose, is that you become their coach, you become their helping hand, and, I suppose, to teach them the tricks that you’ve learned over the years.”
They used to call her Smiler at school. After two minutes in her company you can see why she earned the sobriquet. I ask Sharon if she inherited that trait from her late mother. She shakes her head forlornly.
“No,” says Sharon. “My mum lost her dad when she was 15. She didn’t have an easy time. There were 10 children in her family. She had a gap between her teeth so she didn’t smile very often because it exposed the gap.
“And even when she got the gap filled, and got her teeth done later on in life, she psychologically pulled back from smiling. She almost had to relearn how to smile, or start again.”
Do you think all your life you were making up for your mum’s inability to smile?
“Oh, I was just non-stop,” Sharon laughs. “I am glad I haven’t lost the ability to smile, I have to say.”
How do you look back on the time of your mum’s death? Does it feel like another world, almost?
“Yeah,” Sharon says, wistful again. “It actually feels like a completely different era. It really does. It feels very far away.
“You look at your phone and she is never going to ring you. You understand what forever means, I say.
“Never ever again. It still catches me, but it does seem much more distant now. Except at Christmas ...” Sharon says but, for once, doesn’t smile.