Peter then and now
Live And Let Live. Love And Be Loved
Theatrical Rock, cabaret with pathos and passion
Interview by Robert Pally
Peter Straker is a highly acclaimed musical and theatre star and a unique musician. His three passionate cabaret rock albums from the late 1970's are finally, for the first time, re-released on CD. In this interview, he speaks about his career, focusing on musical and theatres the aforementioned albums, racism, his favorite musical and theatres roles, and his friend Freddie Mercury.
PSF: What triggered the rerelease of your three albums from 1977 to 1980?
PS: It's a combination of things. My longtime producer and songwriter Michael Allison and I bought back the rights from the record company. People kept asking us for years and years to re-release them (including the interviewer). So we did.
PSF: The three CD box This Ones On Me focus on your first album This Ones On Me (1977). The other two albums, Changeling (1978) and Real Natural Man (1980) are just "bonus albums." This, although you had the most impact as a songwriter on Real Natural Man (1979).
PS: The reason has to do with Freddie Mercury. I asked him to produce This Ones On Me. He accepted and brought Roy Thomas Baker, the Queen producer, along into the studio. Freddie was also the one who encourage me to record more albums. Although he is not listed as a producer on Changeling and Real Natural Man, he had an impact on both. Freddie was very often in the studio and a we discussed about the songs and the sound. Besides that I like the title This Ones On Me. (Laughs)
PSF: Why did you not include Private Parts your first album from 1972?
PS: We are thinking about to rerelease Private Parts separately. But at the moment it's just an idea. This Ones On Me, Changeling and Real Natural Man came like together. The happened quite quickly in three to four years. Private Parts stands a bit outside of that. It's also that Private Parts is connected to my musical career.
PSF: Looking back, which songs from these three album are you most proud of and why?
PS: My first album has big and eclectic range of music on it. "Heart Be Still," a song by the American singer called Lorraine Ellison, is one of my favorite songs on it. We had just great time doing it in the studio. We tried to do it in our own way. An updated version of it, Heart Be Still 2020 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8HNhK5q6I8) is also my current single. From the second album, it's "The Black Swan," which is really lovely. There are various things I like and listen to. Four years ago I played it in Norway live with a band, which I had not done before. The people liked it and I liked it. "The Black Swan" is a kind of semibiographical- it's about people I knew.
PSF: Also on your first album is the pretty depressing song "I've Been To hell And Back." What is it about?
PS: (laughs) A little bit about my life. When you are young certain things are important. Now, looking back, they seem very odd, just a lot of crap. But it wasn't. At the time, it was very important to me. I wanted to express something, something very private. It happened but it's over now.
PSF: You started your career in 1968 in the musical Hair (Peter played the character Lafayette ‘Hud' Johnson). What memories do you have of this time?
PS: It was one of the first things I ever done. I wanted to be an actor. I happened to work with one of the great directors at that time called Tom O'Horgan. We rehearsed for nearly three month. I got to learn so much as a young person about the theatre, about what I wanted to do and what I didn't wanted to do. I am still good friends with a lot of people who were in this production, like Paul Nicholas, Elaine Page, Oliver Tobias and Sonja Kristina (Curved Air). And I was lucky enough to perform it later on, in 1970, in Bergen, Norway. They didn't have enough black people in Norway at that time (laughs).
PSF: In the 1920's in the USA, they took white people to play the roles of black people. The just painted them black. That's really weird and racist.
PS: It's not racism- it's just what happened in a lot of countries. In Africa, (there) weren't that many white people. The wonderful thing about the world today, it's much more cosmopolitan. It's integration, it's good for all cultures. A wonderful song that Jimmy Webb wrote ("Someone Is Standing Outside") has the line "Live and Let Live. Love And Be Loved." I think the world is getting like that, I am hoping. I still have that sort of dream that we all can live peacefully together. I grew up with that.
PSF: Freddie Mercury was a kind your mentor. How did you get to know him?
PS: I met him 15 years before he died. We met in a restaurant. I was there with my manager and Freddie was with his. We were introduced and became very good friends. He was very inspirational, so was his band Queen. They were part of my growing up in the record business.
PSF: From all musical and theatres you played in, which is your favorite?
PS: One of my favorite roles was Lucio in Measure For Measure (1981) at the National Theatre. I like Shakespeare. When it comes to musicals (it) is difficult. Apart from Hair, which is one of the most exciting things I ever done, it's Kenny Hills original Phantom Of Opera (1984). I played the original Phantom. This was a complete different version to the one by Andrew Lloyd Webber. That was the first time it was ever done. We toured England, Japan and the Far East. It was great to play that role of the Phantom. I also liked my role in Pete Townshend's Tommy. In 1979, I played ‘The Narrator.' Three years ago, I played in another Tommy production (in) the role of ‘the Acid Queen.' Pete Townshend wrote a new song for me.
PSF: What made you decide to focus to focus on musicals and theatres?
PS: I became disillusioned with the music industry. It's so difficult to get anything done. That has not changed. It's the way of the world. I was lucky I could sing. I grew up with music in my house. It was all so natural. I really wanted to be an actor.
PSF: In 2013, you changed your mind and released an album (Peter Straker's Brel). What happened?
PS: I have been a Jacques Brel fan for all of my life. I have been doing live shows with his songs. In 2007, I did a tribute show. I enjoy singing his songs. In 2012, Cherry Red Records approached me about an album. I loved the idea and so, we released Peter Straker's Brel in 2013. He is a great hero of mine. I am very proud of the album.
PSF: What is so special about Jacques Brel?
PS: Various people translated his songs into English. His songs get straight to the point. It's very now music. He has anti-war songs. He was a trailblazer. He had a short life (only 49). He was dynamic and passionate about music and for what he believed in. He struck a chord in me.
PSF: What are your next plans musically? Will you tour with the songs from the reissues?
PS: We are planning some live shows later this year. At the moment, I am doing a play called La Cage aux Folles at the Park Theatre. That will run until the end of March 2020. Then, we will organize a show with old and new songs and play them later on this year. We wanna do some festivals. After that, we will prepare to record a new album. Hopefully, it will come out by the end of this year.
PSF: Can you tell me more about the songs on your upcoming album?
PS: Not that much. I haven't written half of the songs yet. I will take one step after the other. After the summer, I will know more.
PSF: Will "Heart Be Still 2020" be on it?
PS: No, that's just a single. We changed it a bit, added some bass and other stuff. It's a very difficult song to sing, I can tell you. (laughs)
- Private Parts (1972)
- This One's on Me (1977)
- Changeling (1978)
- Real Natural Man (1980)
- Peter Straker's Brel (2013)
- This One On Me (3 CD-Box) 2020
See more about Peter Straker at his website
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