Picture in bathtub:
Young Andrea Corr picture:
Brussels. Not the most rock 'n' roll of cities. But very European. A fitting location, then, to stage the IFPI Platinum Europe awards show, a record industry get-together of such genteel conservatism that it makes the Brits seem like some wild Weimar baachanalia.
Among the scintillating stars milling around at a photocall beforehand are Nana Mouskouri (now a Euro MP) and Jean-Michel Jarre, both swapping pleasantries with grand Eurocheese Jaques Santer. The only British artists to attend are Heather Small and "Shovel" out of M People and Joe Cocker.
Among the suits sipping champagne in the plush but intimate Albert Hall, there is much excited chatter about the glorious cultural diversity which these awards reflect. French singer Pascal Obispo plays a plonky Elton John-type piano ballad and tell jokes in French, while Danish pop phenomenon Aqua sing their Barbie Girl hit to polite applause. Ricky martin, the Puerto Rican singer responsible for the World Cup Euro-hit La Copa de La Vida, is here to pick up an award. Incredibly, his Spanish-language album, Vuelve, is said to be Number 1 in Norway and "massive" in Turkey of all places. "This is the new Europe," says a senior executive in corporate PR with a knowing look.
The Corrs, it has to be said, fit in perfectly here. The family foursome - Jim (24, guitar/vocals), Sharon (28, violin/vocals), Caroline (25, drums/vocals) and Andrea (24, lead vocals/tin whistle) from Dundalk in County Louth - bring a glamorous yet wholesome taste of Ireland to the upmarket, cosmopolitan gathering. Their seamless combination of sweet, melodic pop and Celtic folk roots, although distinctively their own, is broadly typical of a new wave of European MOR music which takes it's cue from Anglo-American pop traditions yet adds a strong sense of it's own regional flavouring.
After receiving two awards in recognition of a million sales in Europe for each of their albums - Forgiven Not Forgotten and Talk On Corners - The Corrs close the show with "unplugged" versions of Only When I Sleep, I never Loved You Anyway and a merry traditional air called Haste To The Wedding, a live favourite written, so far as anyone can remember, by a couple of Donegal fiddlers.
The band who travelled in from Luxembourg this morning, are clearly delighted to be here.
"It's an honour to be getting an award, let alone two," says Jim with the self-effacing manner of a man with three exceptional-looking sisters. Jim is aghast at the suggestion that some of the more fashion-conscious artists whose million-plus record sales in Europe would make them just as eligible to attend would not be seen dead at such an event.
"God, I disagree with that. Without wanting to sound egotistical about it, I think that success has got to be celebrated. It takes an enormous amount of hard work to sell a million records and the few awards that come your way are always very gratifying to get."
The Corrs emphatically do not make music for themselves and, you know, if anyone else happens to like it, man, then that's a bonus. They make music that they hope will make a lot of other people happy, and make themselves liked and successful. Nor do they feign a lack of interest in sales figures and chart positions. Their breakthrough in Britain with Talk On Corners, which finally reached the top of the charts in June after a mammoth 30-week stint in the chart, was greeted with unbridled joy.
"We've been Number 1 in Ireland, Spain, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand," Jim Says, helpfully, "But it means so much more to be top in England. We've always been avid followers of the English scene and English acts. Watching Top Of the Pops on a Thursday night was like a religious experience in our house.
RELIGIOUS OR NOT , growing up in the Corr household was certainly a musical experience. Their Catholic father, who worked for the Electricity Board, and mother, a housewife, were musicians who played in local bands at weekends.
"The passed on their love of music and taught us our instruments, but they never pressurised us, not like tennis parents or Michael Jackson's daddy," recalls Andrea who still lives in the family home. "There were some other musical families at school - Ireland's like that - and I remember some of them really being pushed to the point where they forgot they were supposed to get some pleasure out of it for themselves. It became a chore."
"Our parents were strict," Caroline says. "Not in a brutal or awful way, but there were definite rules, such as after six on a school night you didn't go out, and at weekends you were home by a certain time. It wasn't particularly sheltered, but we were well brought up."
Dundalk, 11 miles from the border with Northern Ireland, has acquired an unwelcome notoriety recently as the centre of operations for the "Real IRA," a splinter Republican terrorist group opposed to the current peace process. But although the conflict in the North is uncomfortably close to home, it has never been a big issue for the Corrs.
"To be honest, it didn't affect our lives to any great extent," Jim says. "We were aware of it, growing up, more from the TV and the newspapers than as real-life experience. I'd prefer not to get involved in my own views about the situation. We're musicians not politicians. I just wish that everyone could live together peacefully. Who cares what religion we are? You don't see borders from satellites. They're a figment of man's imagination."
"I live in hope, because I'm an eternal optimist," says Sharon, now living with her boyfriend in Belfast. "It has it's problems, but the people in Belfast are probably the most down-to-earth anywhere - very natural, very welcoming and very nice."
NICE IS A WORD that the Corrs use a lot, and one which is often used about them. While other groups may aspire to be cool, moody, feisty, funky or in some other way loaded with attitude, the Corrs are bright, polite, well adjusted, and emphatically nice people whose musical tastes were informed by their parents' love of the carpenters and Fleetwood Mac as much by their Irish heritage.
They do not moan about their recording company or bitch about other groups - although Caroline clearly has reservations about an encounter with the Spice Girls ("Two of them seemed OK," she judges pointedly). And after the Corrs have done their but at the awards there is no abrupt disappearance or sulking in corners.
At the after-show drink in a nearby hotel bar, all four are much in evidence. Jim chats with poet Amy Foster, daughter of the Corrs' producer and 143 label owner David Foster. Sharon chinwags with chairman of Warner Music UK, Rob Dickins. Andrea circulates with the easy grace of a society hostess and Caroline hangs out with the group's backing musicians Patrick Duffy (bass) and Anto Drennan (guitar).
One after another, the sisters wander off to their rooms, and most of the other freeloaders gradually drift away, but Jim, fuelled by a generous intake of Belgian lager, hangs on in there until the end.
"We're not squeaky clean at all," he insists, increasingly plausibly. "We're normal human beings. We enjoy ourselves. But we're not into drugs. This business is very demanding and you have to be able to give a hundred percent of yourself to do it."
But appearances can sometimes be deceptive, as the tragic story of MOR icon and Corr family hero Karen Carpenter demonstrated. Do the Corrs not have any dark secrets of their own?
"We wear our souls on our sleeves, so what you see is pretty much what you get," declares Jim. "Who knows if, God forbid, something like that may happen in the future? At the moment we're standing up to all this pretty well, being as sensible as we can and enjoying it as much as we can, so hopefully it never will. But as regards dark secrets, we don't have any. Sorry, we're boring!"
THE MISTAKE PEOPLE regularly make about the Corrs is to assume that, because their background is so untroubled and their music so gentle on the ear, they must have courted success by taking the soft or easy option. Not so.
They first convened as a band in 1990 after auditioning for parts in the commitments, where they all met up with the film's musical director John Hughes. Andrea, then 16, landed a small role in the movie as Jimmy Rabitte's younger sister, while the others made do with cameos.
Hughes then became their manager. So far, so good; yet he maintains that the band was turned down by just about every record label in Ireland, the UK and America, usually on the grounds that they were "too folk" for labels looking for a pop act and "too pop" for specialist folk labels. When they finally did get a deal - a combined effort between fledgling American labels 143 and Lava, with distribution through Atlantic - their toured worldwide to promote their 1995 debut album, Forgiven Not Forgotten.
In Britain they had to wait until this year to realise the full extent of their ambition. A favourable reviewed St Patrick's day concert in London's Royal Albert Hall in march was followed by the release in May of a Todd Terry remix of their version of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, the first Corrs song ever to be play-listed by radio One. The impetus was sufficient finally to send their second album, Talk on Corners, released in October 1997, all the way to the top. Smart alecks who equate the Corrs to Caffrey's frothy "ale" - ie nominally Irish yet bland enough to appeal to unsophisticated foreign palates - forget how avidly consumed they are back home. No they're not bitter. Neither are they stout. But they are themselves.
"It's a mistake to think we have no conviction in what we do," bridles Caroline. "There are people who say, Three good-looking girls and their brother, nice family, write nice songs, it' not serious. But if we all had torn jeans and greasy hair and didn't look so pretty, the expectations would be different, and perhaps we would be different people. We can only be what we are. That is, after all, what integrity I all about."
The other Corrs cliché is to treat the sisters as interchangeable units with no personalities of their own. They are all of similar height and impossibly slender build and at first it is hard to fit the right name to the right face. After a while, Jim and Sharon - the older two - emerge as the serious musos. Sharon was taught violin from the age of six by a teacher who habitually sent pupils on to Vienna and Berklee, and talks with enthusiasm about her favourite composers: Satie, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Benjamin Britten ("dark and unusual").
Seperated by just 14 months, Caroline and Andrea were brought up as twins. Unlike Jim and Sharon, ho had a chance to make their own way in the world before undertaking The Corrs, they have never known anything else. Caroline recalls recording with the group when she and Andrea were still at school. The piano-playing Caroline took up drums after a boyfriend showed her a few basic beats.
There is something frisky about Caroline, who seems as if she'd be most fun on a night out with the boys. She adores Radiohead's The Bends and The Verve's Lucky Man, but wasn't very taken with the video for the Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, which she happened to see the other night on German TV ("All it seemed to be as naked women. What's the message? What urge is it catering to I wonder?")
Andrea is the dreamer, and more than any of them the one who has missed out on the chance of a "normal" life.
"I guess there's things I'm missing, but I'm gaining so much more," she says. "Success can play strange tricks on people, but I have to say that I have never felt so content and so on a level in my life as I do right now. I don't get severely uptight like I used to. Nothing phases me anymore."
Still very much single, she agrees that it must be quite hard for people outside of the group to get close to someone in such a tightly-knit unit.
"So maybe that's why nobody doe," she says, quietly. "Although they're very welcome to."
The sisters' extraordinary beauty tends to obscure some of the mundane aspects of a life spent constantly in the company of your family, and those who imagine that Jim must be one of the luckiest human beings around are, of course, forgetting that to him the other three are just his kid sisters.
"I used to feel that it was my role as the older brother to look out for them," he says. "But I think now it's the other way round and they look after me."
THE MORNING AFTER the sisters are all up bright and early for breakfast, before setting off for their next stop in Cologne. But there is no sign of Jim. Apparently, he is always the last to surface. Without their make-up on they look miraculously younger and fairer.
But there is a problem. Andrea doesn't like the nuts in her cereal and starts picking them out, prompting a series of jibes from the others about her "neurotic" behaviour.
"Who's that group who used to insist on their ride that they had to have M&M's with all the brown ones removed?" Sharon asks.
"Van Halen? Right. Well if Andrea carries on like this we'll have to start demanding muesli with all the nuts removed in the future."
Is there no end to this rock 'n' roll madness?