Hazel O’Connor: Singing brought me through the hard times

Hazel O'Connor. Photo by Planet Earth
Hazel O'Connor. Photo by Planet Earth

Award-winning singer-songwriter and actress Hazel O’Connor is heading for Derbyshire on the third leg of her autumn tour.

Hazel and her five-piece band will be performing songs from the singer’s classic early Eighties albums Breaking Glass, Son And Lovers and Cover Plus when

they visit Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Centre on Wednesday, November 22.

I caught up with Hazel as she took a break, back home in Ireland, after the first leg of the tour. She told me about life on the road, not quite what one thinks of as a rock and roll lifestyle...

“Yes, it’s a little weird. I was driving back from France with my dogs, we’ve been for a month together in my house there, and I thought ‘Do I drive all the way back to Ireland then drive back to England for the tour? No, the dogs can become rock and roll chicks,’ which they kind of did.

“Here in Ireland I just have to open the door and out go the dogs, running around, but when you’re in a travel lodge every night, you’re going round the car park hoping the dogs will relieve themselves so you can go to bed!” she laughs. “Before you do anything for yourself, it’s back outside again, in the morning, round the car park.

“Not as glamorous as people imagine, is it?” she laughs, again. “Luckily, all the theatres we’ve just been in were all dog lovers. I said ‘I’ll leave the dogs in the car’ and they went ‘Oh, no! We love dogs! Bring them in!’ But at one of the gigs, one of my dogs is a bit of a free spirit and she just did a runner after we’d finished. We were sitting in the dressing room, it was really hot and we’d left the door open. She took off, the cheeky bitch!

“She nearly never came back, but one of my friends ran after her and found her running down the street in the town. That’s life on the road!”

The third leg of the tour sees Hazel and her band performing tracks from her first three albums. Saxophonist Clare Hirst (Belle Stars, Communards, David Bowie) and keyboard player Sarah Fisher(Eurythmics) are in the band while Hazel is particularly excited to be working again with her brother Neil who played guitar on those early works.

“Oh, I am! I haven’t seen him since our mum died seven years ago, this Christmas. For me, it’s really exciting to get to see him. Both of us as musicians, we’ve never made anything out of this industry, but we’re both still doing it. He’s a producer in Montreal and I’m in my early sixties - and on tour again! I have to continue because there is no other way of having an income. Having said that, I don’t think I could bear it if I couldn’t go out and sing.”

Hazel broke through as part of the New Wave movement in 1980 playing Kate, the lead role in the movie Breaking Glass. She wrote all the music for the film and scored a sequence of hits with Eighth Day, D-Days and Will You?, but her recording deal left her penniless and fighting the record company in the courts.

“Oh, it’s going to be funny,” she says, “interesting! I haven’t even got those records! That’s what really upsets me. I was trying to get them all together to send out to the musicians and I got really sad because I’d not even got them, not on CD, anyway. My mum used to have them but I can’t find them in her things. There was a double album of Cover Plus and Sons And Lovers and I thought ‘I’ll use that as a reference,’ but for a while I couldn’t find any

reference stuff.

“Now I’ve found it and I’ve been going through the lists. I’m choosing about seven from each album and it is very exciting. Some of the things I’d forgotten I’d written, which sounds a bit mad! There’s a song I’d written called Why Don’t You Do? on Sons And Lovers and I really like the words of that song and the idea of it, so I’m really happy to be doing that.”

Whilst her CV boasts an impressive list of acting credits, Hazel considers herself as a singer-songwriter first and foremost. It is singing that has helped her through some difficult times.

“It did, and it brought me through the latest hard times with my mother dying of cancer. It’s been really important to me, it’s my rock. My songs are my children. The one song that has always upset me was when I was sued over Will You? It was like having your parentage of a song questioned. Maybe if I had been stronger, or less battered at that time, maybe I would have stood up, but I stood up for such a long time - 13 or 14 years of trying to stand up

against the machine – and in the end I thought ‘Oh sod it, I just don’t care, have your bit of the song and good luck to you.’”

Hazel likes to keep her music fresh. “Sometimes they say necessity is the mother of invention and I think, for me, I did start off inventing because I had to, because I was being sued by Albion Records in 1982. It was impossible to work, nobody would help me, nobody would touch me. When I did tours with a full band, it cost so much and I wouldn’t get paid, I was the last person to be paid.

“Suddenly I’m just able to do something different. I started to hone stuff down at the beginning of the nineties and I thought ‘I really like that, it works!’ and then it’s very exciting again when you go back to the big band stuff. Now, I think I’ve got the best of both worlds

because, when you do things with a few people it’s like running naked down the halls – there is nothing hidden. You have to prove your worth or you’ll be laughed off the stage.

“The songs stand up, don’t they? I think a lot of people do that because, besides the production and it being a fashion of the time, electronic or punk music, new wave or pop, if the song stands up, my belief is it has to stand up under all scrutiny. I love doing it, I love the idea of taking things down to next-to- nothing, musically, but also to be able to whack it out with the band.

“When we’re doing the band tour, I’ve borne all that in mind, so I’m going to do one song that was a single, not with the whole band but just with our Neil and a guitar and vocal”

Tickets are priced £25 to see Hazel O’ Connor at Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Centre. Contact 01298 72190 or visit www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/event/hazel-oconnor