‘Performing is the greatest legal high you can get’ says esteemed tenor Peter

The multi-talented singer talks to Joanne Savage about playing Javert in Les Miserables, singing at George Best’s funeral and his new shout out to performers who would like to be part of his new project

By Joanne Savage
Saturday, 10th July 2021, 11:06 am
Singer, actor, director and producer Peter
Singer, actor, director and producer Peter

A seasoned singer, director, producer and actor, Peter Corry, grew up near Belfast’s Cregagh Road, knocking about with George Best’s brother Ian, practising his euphonium (a ‘baby tuba’) ahead of school orchestral gigs (he knows it is a deeply uncool instrument), before heading off to play frontman in rock bands with other chums, alternately named, Off The Wall, One Foot on the Floor and the Stool Pigeons, doing covers of everything from Meatloaf to Elvis, Phil Collins and Simply Red.

Corry says of performing: “It’s the most buzz you can get legally. The excitement, the adrenaline, the anticipation before a live performance. I’d imagine it’s up there with scoring a goal at a premiere league match for a professional footballer. 
“I love being lost in the music.”

Indeed he is one of the lucky ones who understands that by managing to make his passion into a successful career, he has never felt like he’s had to work a day in his life, such is his deep love for what he does.

Certainly he has serious vocal chops and has been cast in productions of everything from Cosi fan tutte, to The Marriage of Figaro, Sweeney Todd and The Beggar’s Opera. The star also memorably played Dean Martin in The Rat Pack, has graced the stages of the Royal Albert Hall and had a three-year stint playing Javert in the West End and UK tour of the tear-jerking, majestic musical about morality and the French Revolution as inspector Javert in Les Miserables, based on the novel by Victor Hugo and adapted musically by Alan Boubill and Claude-Michel Schonberg.

”I adored playing Javert. He’s a complicated character. The songs in that musical - I love them all and managed to be the first person to stage a production of it at the Odyssey with a chorus of about 1,000 people, some of whom had flown from New Zealand and Canada just to be a part of it. It was a challenge producing that, but then I always have meticulous people working with me who are far more organised than I am.”

For those unacquainted with the character of Javert, he is the officious policeman who pursues the central hero Jean Valjean, a man sent off to complete years of hard labour for stealing some bread because his child’s sister was hungry. But touched by a profound act of forgiveness, on his release from near slavery he decides upon redemption, turns to God and devotes his life to one of virtue. When he meets his nemesis Javert behind the barricades as the French guards move in from the palatial Bastille, he responds to his years of ungracious behaviour by forgiving Javert and letting him go free even while the police inspector has been exposed as an informer for the state. And in that act of mercy Javert is undone. He realises the error of his intransigent philosophy, he understands the importance of forgiveness, and takes his own life. The book and the musical have much to say about ethics, the good life, and what happens when the heart is on its knees.

”I love Javert because he is misunderstood,” says Corry, who lives in Strangford with his wife and best friend Fleur, a former dancer, choreographer and wedding celebrant. “He has to surrender his beliefs in the end and that undoes him because until Valjean shows him compassion he believes in the moral code he has fashioned for himself. When he fathoms his mistake he can no longer hold his head high, and so it ends in tragedy.

“Being a part of Les Mis was an absolute dream and a joy.”

Under lockdown, instead of resorting to neat gin or tearing his hair out, he has tried to find novel ways for Peter Corry Productions to continue to entertain in spite of Covid restrictions. Known for quirky, vaudeville productions involving ring masters, circus performers, aerial dancers and singers, he has always had a knack for thinking outside the box and during lockdown he had the frankly wondrous idea of putting singers and ballet dancers in shop windows so they could perform as people passed by. He also mooted an idea to Belfast City Council for the erection of a kind of outdoor theatre that artists of all stripes could use each night to perform so that people could get their live entertainment fix without catching the deadly virus. But sadly the idea didn’t float.

Now, as restrictions on live music lift, Corry is raring to go again and is putting out a nation-wide call for professional performers over the age of 18 to take part in some of the novel ideas he has for shows during August, as well as forthcoming concerts at Halloween and Christmas.

“We’re looking for singers, dancers, even actors, circus performers, magicians, comedians - a whole spectrum of talent. We want people to come to these auditions and let us see what they can do, whatever their particular skill or artistry is. “I love the idea of, say, putting a juggler beside someone who can sing while he paints on the ground, or somebody singing while a woman on the trapeze swings from the heights above. I love creating a spectacle, so it’s about more than just music.”

It will not be an aggressive X-Factor style ordeal and Peter promises he has no intention of behaving like a fearsome Simon Cowell during the audition process.

“We just want people to come along, show us their particular talent, and then from that we can hopefully create something magical.”

‘Why I love Meatloaf as much as Tchaikovsky’

As artistic director of the Belfast School of Performing Arts, owner of Peter Corry productions and having 11 albums under his belt as well as a strong following In the Netherlands where he loves to tour, Peter, a devoted father of three who describes himself as ‘passionate, fun, caring and humble’ (because his wife Fleur knows exactly how to puncture his ego), like many artists found lockdown a very challenging experience and has real concern about the future of the arts and entertainment industry here in Northern Ireland.

“I do think the creative industries will get back to rude health, but we need to see substantial investment from the Executive.”

Like a great many of us he misses the wonder and live charge of a gig, and still remembers his joy when he first went to one at Antrim Forum on the back of his mate’s motorbike to see Meat Loaf perform a storming set.

He still has Meatloaf on his iPod, as well as Tchaikovsky and Sammy Davis Junior.

“I can listen to Bat Out of Hell and the next moment move on to Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony ad enjoy them both equally.”

‘If I could change one thing in Northern Ireland overnight it would be prejudice’

Some lesser known facts about Peter Corry. He sang Bring Him Home and The Long and Winding Road at George Best’s star-studded funeral (“I didn’t know him personally but the pressure was on for that performance, but no, I did not pop a Valium beforehand, I don’t generally get nervous before performances as I did when I first started out”); confesses that his main vice is impatience; and often got detention for not doing homework at Harding Memorial and then at Annadale Grammar where he applied himself solely to music, was resonably good at English but largely uninterested in academic pursuits because for him words set to melody, instrumentation and performance have always come first.

His 91-year-old father had been playing in a brass band his whole life until the start of lockdown and one of Corry’s big ambitions would be “to do a show with an all over-65 cast, because the music and fun doesn’t have to stop when you get older and I think being part of something like that would really lift somebody’s spirit and self-esteem.”

If he could invite anyone from history to an ideal dinner party he would bring JFK, Mozart (who he thinks sounds like a party animal) and Oscar Wilde, at which he would serve them his favourite dish - lobster with side salad and skinny chips washed down with a fine Chablis.

His wife Fleur, who works alongside him as a producer for Peter Corry productions is his “best friend and the person who makes me laugh the most with her observational humour and quick wit. We’ve been together for 13 years and I think that’s the secret, really, being able to make each other laugh.”

For Peter love is about “making someone smile”, the meaning of life is “complicated” and if he had a magic wand and could change one thing about Northern Ireland overnight it would be to eradicate the pernicious forms of prejudice that persist in making this a divided society. His next project is a youth production of Matilda, under a gazebo at Crawfordsburn, and he’ll follow this with a Peter Corry in the Park show.

Auditions for forthcoming Peter Corry shows, will take place in Belfast on July 22 and interested professional performers should register online at petercorryproductions.com/talent.