Anne Hailes: The art of performing

Musician Conal Montgomery at the Corner Stone that gave the title to his latest album.

SHOWBIZ is on the up these days - small companies, established theatres, concerts, gigs - but where does it all start?

One place is a theatre school and we have a few but Centre Stage sounds to me like the place to be next month.

For over 35 years Roma Tomelty and her husband Colin Carnegie wrote and performed in plays all over Ireland and Britain but central to their thinking was how to introduce children to the art form which is acting, and one of the most popular and successful ways was to bring young people together for a week of theatrical activity.

"Performing in all its forms has all the ingredients of giving children a knowledge of how to behave in both the social and business world," she said.

"At our summer school for instance, teenagers from all backgrounds and many parts of Ireland, the UK and Europe come together on a summer weekend and six days later putting on an end of term show.

"That means team building, getting individual ideas across to other pupils and tutors, developing eye to eye contact, memory skills, learning confidence and enjoying the sheer delight of entertaining an audience.

"All of this helps a young person develop character and aids them when confronted by bullying, approaching adults and in job interviews in the future."


Roma died in April 2020 and it was more than difficult keeping the company going during such sad times and with the pandemic making its presence felt but Roma's belief that the show much go on has been handed down to her children.

Daughter Hannah had taken on the responsibility, not only of the company but also of the summer school which this year will be held on the slopes of Slemish Mountain, a 40 minute drive from Belfast.

She recognises that children have had enough hardship over the last couple of years and this is a chance to get out into a world of fun and creativity.

"It's not a holiday camp - it's in class for 10 o'clock and bed by 11pm. Between times they will learn the benefits of theatre, music and dance with professionals taking the 8 to 18-year-olds through the disciplines and the challenges but also the joy of theatre life, whether professional or amateur.

"The camaraderie, sharing thoughts, gaining self-esteem and the hard work of being one of a stage crew and the magic of stage craft... every day is different whether in the classroom or out enjoying the countryside."

Pupils will work with dance teacher Jazzmin McClure, St Peter's Cathedral, Belfast director of music James McConnell, and the acting staff Eoghan Lamb, Mark Claney and Rachael herself.

All week there will be the underlying intention of building towards the 'end of the show show' when parents and friends can enjoy the fruits of their young people's happy labours.

There are two Summer Drama Holiday weeks: from Sunday July 24 to the following Saturday, and from Sunday July 31. More details at or email


Where does a love of performing begin? As far as singer-songwriter Conal Montgomery is concerned, he grew up in a house filled with music and Barry, his older brother, was an Elvis fanatic.

"When I was about 12 it was Elvis and rock and roll and then in my early teens I discovered my own sound, with AC/DC and Metallica, and then I began to appreciate John Lennon as well and that led me onto a career singing with rock bands - I didn't need an instrument, I was the front man and my voice was my instrument," he says.

Conal has proved that the stage can support an entertainer and now in his 50s he has charted his life in two albums, both conceived during lockdown.

With Happy Being Free he talks of his struggle against addiction to drugs and alcohol and gently about his daughter's mental health. In 2016 he conquered his devils and for this he thanks Jodie, who had voices in her head: "They were telling her to kill herself, that she shouldn't be here and I knew I must help her and that was the turning point."

His second album, which will be launched on June 16, also tells stories of his life now that he is free of addiction and his daughter is more settled.

The Corner Stone tells mostly of his life experiences in his hometown Killyleagh on the shores of Strangford Lough.

"Every town has a corner stone that hold the memories of the past to look back with fondness, reminds of people gone but never forgotten," he says.

"My wife is a chef and she makes a dish called Soupy Stew, some people like soup, some people like stew, and this album is that sort of mix and I think it works."

Having listened to it, so do I. Whereas with the first album lockdown meant no launch or tour, so Conal used Facebook as his platform, making eight videos a day and requests from fans just came piling in.

With Corner Stone there is now the freedom to take this album, recorded and produced by his school friend Gerard Dornan in Hillside Studio in Loughinisland, and bring it to his public.


"I'm a grandfather now to four girls, I'm surrounded by beautiful women," says Conal.

"I have reinvented myself in the last few years and I find peace on the shores of Killyleagh.

"Now I walk with my Dad three or four times a week, I got my driving licence, I write and I sing and at the moment I'm helping Jodie move into her new house - my only struggle is with wallpaper. These are the important things in life."

It's interesting that Conal is involved in music therapy for children and runs a drum circle, proving that the rhythm of life begins at an early age and is a lifelong pleasure.

:: The Corner Stone can be purchased through Conal Montgomery Music on Facebook.

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