ROOM 40 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
The Hazel O'Connor Interview
Date of Article: 1st February 2017
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My grateful thanks to musician and actress Hazel O'Connor for the following exclusive interview.
Hazel, thank you for taking time out from your current tour “An Evening with Hazel O’Connor” to speak with The Nice Rooms Webzine. What has been the audience’s reaction to the shows so far?
It has been phenomenal. The audience have really embraced the show and understand where I'm coming from. I shall continue this formula as I feel at my best chatting and singing. A lot of my long time fans bring along their kids and they love it as well. It seems to appeal to all ages so it's lovely to feel that my work is reaching the younger generations too.
The concert is split into two separate sets isn’t it with a Meet and Greet section too?
Yes, that's right. There are so many audience favourites that it became impossible to do them all in one set. So rather than disappoint, I decided to split the show into two sets which allows me to do more songs. The first set is inspired from my autobiographical show Beyond Breaking Glass that I do with Irish harpist Cormac De Barra (pictured) That show went to the Edinburgh festival for a 7 day run three different years running and toured all over to five star reviews.
In between the songs in the first set of "An Evening With.." I chat about how they came about and relate the story behind them. There's lots of anecdotes. It's fun but at the same time very emotional. There's laughter and tears.
In the second set there is less chat and more music and then there is the Meet and Greet afterwards which I always do. Its lovely to meet the fans and hear what they think and also to hear about their lives too. A moment of sharing which I really enjoy. With two sets it also gives me the chance to get a cuppa in the interval as well!
I note that you are accompanied on stage by the brilliant saxophonist Clare Hirst and the equally brilliant Sarah Fisher on keyboards.
Oh yeah, how great is that to work with such fantastic musicians?
Lovely ladies, we have a great complicity with one another. Clare was in The Belle Stars and has worked with many great musicians: David Bowie andThe Communards to name but a few. Sarah worked with The Eurythmics. I first became friends with Clare in 1982 and have been making music with her on and off ever since. I always wanted to do more of the music that we did back then.
When my mum got diagnosed with terminal cancer, I realised that we have to make the most of our time and not to put things off 'til tomorrow. So I called Clare who was up for it and then we teamed up with Sarah to start our trio. We have recorded three albums together and will be doing the fourth this summer. We are out on the road again touring "An Evening with..." this March (2017). Happy days! We've been working together 8 years now, and are still going strong. This ain't no short lived girlie power thing this is woman staying power!
Sarah, Hazel and Clare
No Hazel O’Connor interview would be complete without reference to the iconic, award winning 1980 film “Breaking Glass" which you starred in. I read that you were the first woman in history to star in a film and to compose, write and perform the soundtrack for it.
That's true but how lucky was I to get the chance! I feel a lot of it was due to the punk movement when for a small window of time women were not judged on looks and sexiness.
Breaking Glass Trailer (Run time: 2 mins 30 seconds)
Are there any funny stories from the set of Breaking Glass that you can share?
One of the scenes was of Kate singing in a pub. They had drafted in 200 punk extras from Brixton as the audience for a really early morning start. Filming can take a very long time and for some reason we didn't start the shoot until late. The punks didn't mind sitting in a pretendy pub drinking real beer, they were enjoying themselves. So around 11 o'clock a rather middle class gentleman shouts to the punks, "Gather round, gather round everybody; first you will hear the word 'ROLLING!', and then you will hear the word 'ACTION!'. When you hear the word 'ACTION!', I want you to do something terribly punky...
...'ROLLING!'...'ACTION!' ". And they destroyed the set in 3 seconds flat. They had to rebuild the set and the poor punks got pretendy beer after that.
Would you say that Breaking Glass was a case of art imitating life for you at that time?
No, but it all became intertwined when fame came. Breaking Glass was premiered at Cannes. I was walking along the promenade sporting my new mop-head stylee hairdo, there were hundreds of paparazzi clicking away trying to get their scoop and I hear one of them say "Who is she anyway?". That's fame for you. Everyone wanted a piece of me or be my friend but nobody really knew me. It got crazy; interviews, photos, radio, television, press. Constantly. No privacy. Fame is a very lonely place and the fun just disappeared.
When I was debating whether to ask you the “What’s your favourite track that you have recorded?” question I imagined people out there reading this and screwing up their faces at my total audacity and amateurishness. So.. what is your favourite track you have recorded?”
Bring It On Home To Me that I did with record producer Martin Rushent (born 11th July 1948 died 4th June 2011) who also produced The Human League.
Martin persuaded me to sing it as a soul song. I hadn't really recorded soul before, but I discovered that my voice was really suited to it. It gave me the confidence to experiment other musical styles. Don't limit yourself to imaginary boundaries, challenge those boundaries and you achieve more.
As an aside, and talking of challenging boundaries, I read somewhere that you are a keen ballroom dancer…Perhaps Strictly Come Dancing beckons Hazel? :-)
I wish, but its not likely because I am not a high profile TV star. To be honest at one stage I'd have loved to do it. Can you picture it? The punk princess in the ballroom gown; but actually I'm over it. I like the show but I think that now Len Goodman is leaving, its all getting a bit predictable. I still love to dance though.
I reckon you should still go for it. Anyway, back to the music and your 2016 CD / DVD release Access All Areas. This captures you fronting your touring band at the Theatre Royal Nottingham in 1980 when you opened for The Stranglers. What are your memories of the concert and the times?
To be honest I can't remember much. Fame caught me by surprise. I was always running somewhere. A blur. There was no time to stop and reflect. Today I am in a much better place.
How easy / difficult did you find writing your autobiography Breaking Glass Barefoot (First published 2012)
It was actually easy. I decided to write it down on paper before it all got forgotten. I made a conscious decision not to write it at home though so that the ghosts didn't invade. I could probably add a couple more chapters to it now. Its been a very busy past five years!
"Hazel O'Connor has loved and been loved, but her generosity and spirit of adventure have often come back to bite her. She would not have it any other way. This is a story not just of the music business, its intense joys and spectacular lows: it is the story of a beautiful teenage runaway, a soldier's daughter who fought her own battles and those of people she cared for. Born in Coventry to English-Irish parents, Hazel's early years were a mixture of adventure and tragedy, which included performing in a dance troupe in Japan and Beirut (escaping after the first bombs fell during the war), as well as travels through Africa: A time of mixed blessings for the young Hazel who experienced both rape and abortion. By the mid seventies Hazel was back in England trying to find her way in an ever-changing musical environment, and before long was hanging out with the likes of Mick Jones of The Clash, and Glen Matlock from The Sex Pistols. As one decade segued into another Hazel was suddenly plucked from obscurity to not only star in the 1980 film Breaking Glass but to also compose all the songs, including the hits Eighth Day and Will You. Achieving instant success prompted Hazel to say, 'I was twenty-one and I felt like my whole life was behind me.' But nothing could be further from the truth. "
In an earlier answer you mentioned your mum, Joyce. She played a big part in your life didn't she?
Yes, mum was a strong woman with a black sense of humour. The sort of lady that if she got lemons thrown at her, didn't get bitter, she'd make lemonade instead. She was always very supportive and proud of my achievements. Back in the day she used to run my fan club. She became friends and agony aunt with many of my fans. Mum and the Myton Hospice in Coventry where she received respite care was the inspiration for the Re-Joyce single. It was named after my mum Joyce and was to raise much needed funds for the hospice.
Many of my musician friends signed up to volunteer their voices to the cause and the launch event. She was so proud of me and the song and, even though she was very tired, insisted to come along to the launch night at the Assembly Rooms in Leamington Spa. She had a whale of a time!
The promo video for Hazel O'Connor's track Re-Joyce (2010) in aid of Myton Hospice and Help The Hospices
The video for Re-Joyce also features Toyah Willcox, Carol Decker (T'pau), Pauline Black (The Selecter), Ranking Roger (The Beat), Vince Hill, Moya Brennan (Clannad), Neville Staple (The Specials), August Darnell (Kid Creole & The Coconuts), Neil O'Connor, Bob Brolly MBE, Cormac De Barra, Clare Hirst, Sarah Fisher, The Subterraneans, Roger Lomas, Eamonn De Barra and Simon Rogers.
I Give You My Sunshine, a song off the album of the same name - and the second cd I recorded with Sarah and Clare - is a song for my mum.
I Give You My Sunshine (Edit Run time: 1 min 3 secs)
It was Christmas, she was in the hospice and I was worrying what to get her as a present.
I just realised that what she wants, what we all want really, is not material things at all.
It's something that comes from within us; compassion, our inner sunshine.
On behalf of The Nice Rooms Webzine, Hazel, Many Thanks for the interview.
"An Evening With Hazel O'Connor" 2017 Dates
Thursday 2nd March - Astor Theatre - DEAL, UK
Friday 3rd March - Kenton Theatre - HENLEY-ON-THAMES, UK
Saturday 4th March - Belgrade Theatre - COVENTRY, UK
Sunday 5th March - Tithe Barn - BISHOP'S CLEEVE, UK
Tuesday 7th March - Stables Theatre - MILTON KEYNES, UK
Wednesday 8th March - Brookside Theatre - ROMFORD, UK
Thursday 9th March - Fisher Theatre - BUNGAY, UK
Friday 10th March - The 1865 - SOUTHAMPTON, UK
Saturday 11th March - Acapela Studios - CARDIFF, UK
Sunday 12th March - Colston Hall - BRISTOL, UK
Wednesday 15th March - Robin 2 - BILSTON, UK
Thursday 16th March - Catrin Finch Centre - WREXHAM, UK
Friday 17th March - Town Hall - WIRKSWORTH, UK
Sunday 19th March - Carnegie Hall - WORKINGTON, UK
To purchase the album "See You Again": http://www.hazeloconnor.com/shop
Listen to the track "Wakey Wakey" from the album "See You Again" at: https://soundcloud.com/earls-music-productions/wakey-wakey
Copyright of Photographs: Hazel O'Connor