Peter Corry is Home For Christmas
Singer returns to Belfast with a new album and festive variety show at the Waterfront Hall
The man behind the sixth Music Box extravaganza at the Waterfront Hall – which will entertain packed audiences from December 18 – 20 with the subtitle Home For Christmas – sounds relaxed down the line from his London abode.
As Peter Corry heads into the final days and hours of pre-show preparation, he feels like somebody 'setting sail on a ship'. Now 49, he is, nevertheless, in a 'happy place'. 'I'm not so worried about the big 5-0 as I was about turning 40,' Corry admits. 'I am just much happier in my life and with the way things are.'
In fact, Corry – who made his name as a singer, and has performed in everything from The Marriage of Figaro to The Rat Pack – is even relaxed about becoming a composer in the easy listening genre. His recent album, Here Stands A Man, contains a title song that seems to reference Lloyd Webber – 'I like his musicals, yes' – mixed with a little 90s pop.
The ballad is a paean of praise to middle age – citing emotional maturity rather than Val Doonican sweaters – and is a departure for the singer who has appeared as Javert in Les Misérables in the West End.
'Easy listening is good,' Corry argues, adding that writing a couple of numbers on his new album was quite daunting. 'I wrote two songs, one with a duo from England, the other adding lyrics to a melody written years ago by my producer in 'By The Shore'.'
Corry hails from east Belfast and divides his time these days between London and Holywood. His early musical influences included the booming metallic sound of the Salvation Army brass band; he played the cornet and progress to the French horn. From an early age, he was open to new musical experiences.
After leaving school, Corry became a civil servant but the seeds of his future musical career were sown as he gigged with local bands in local pubs. 'I was in a rock group that had various names – Off the Wall, the Stool Pigeons – and we played round Belfast, in the Linen Hall Bar and the Front Page and at the Malone rugby club.'
Sport and music go together, of course, and Corry has previously sung at the opening of a new rugby stadium and, memorably, at George Best's funeral at Stormont in 2005, where he delivered a genuinely emotional version of 'Bring Him Home'.
Although he was never lucky enough to have met the great footballer, Corry knew his younger brother, Ian, well. 'I used to play with Ian. But singing at the funeral was a huge honour and a huge responsibility. It was also very moving as obviously it was a very sad occasion, but we had to produce a fitting send-off for George.'
Asked who his musical heroes are now, Corry immediately – and perhaps surprisingly – namechecks Tom Waits, of all people, the American singer whose gravely vocal sound is the stuff of rock legend, soaked in a vat of bourbon. 'I love Tom Waits' singing, his lyrics and his songs,' Corry reveals.
Building up to the opening night of Music Box, Corry describes the production as an amalgam of dance and song, featuring celebrities like The Voice winner Andrea Begley and Game of Thrones actor Ian McElhinney, school choirs and some real Cecil B de Mille visual effects.
It is, for Corry – a jack of all trades who has presented television and radio shows, as well as sung in the most ambitious of stage productions – a return to variety. 'That's exactly right,' Corry beams. 'It is good family entertainment with West End standards and a style taken from the musicals.'
McElhinne's presence is perhaps unexpected, but Corry says that his role is vital to the production. He met the actor ten years ago, during On Eagles' Wing, an all-singing, all-dancing historical piece telling the story of Scots and Irish emigration to America in the 1600s. 'But this will be the first time he sings in a concert,' Corry reveals.
'When I asked him, Ian said yes, so I asked him how he would feel about doing a duet with me. He wondered if his voice would fit but I said, "It'll be fine". We rehearsed together a month ago, and it was. He's not like Rex Harrison – a diseur – but he's got a character type sound.'
The two men will perform 'Fairytale of New York', Shane McGowan's classic bittersweet Christmas standard, but with a clever twist. 'We're doing it as two old drunks,' says Corry, sounding distinctly amused.
This year's Music Box show will be more spectacular all round, according to its producer and star, partly because of the size of the venue, and partly because of the content. Jennifer Rush's gorgeously OTT power ballad 'The Power of Love', for example, will also feature.
'We're doing the Frankie Goes to Hollywood version,' says Corry, 'following the lovely video with 18 ballet girls, around 100 kids on stage and some aerial artists.' When I politely say that this sounds a bit camp, Corry roars with laughter.
There will also be solemn moments in a tribute to the season. The show opens, for instance, with a candlelit procession into the hall, with singers placed among audience members.
Of the Christmas songs that these days provide an incessant soundtrack to our lives at this time of year, Corry admits that he likes most seasonal sounds, from the Pogues to Mariah Carey. 'I find New Year quite difficult musically and in other ways,' he adds. 'But I love Christmas.'
He has one particular favourite Christmas song is Judy Garland's version of 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', what he describes as 'a piece of schmaltz with class'. Which is, of course, how you might sum up Music Box. It's creator would no doubt roar with laughter.
Music Box runs in the Waterfront Hall, Belfast from December 18 – 20.