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Hazel O Connor - Interview

  by Dave Goodwin

published: 31 / 8 / 2013

Hazel O Connor - Interview


Dave Goodwin chats to 80's icon Hazel O'Connor about her autobiography and show 'Beyond Breaking Glass', the influence of her late mother and her dislike of poor lighting

When many of us hear the name Hazel O'Connor, it conjures up a vision of a young bleached blonde girl dressed in black, her face thick with what seemed like real 80's attitude. The truth of it was that the Coventry-born singer/actress had run away from home by the time she was sixteen, and had gone on a voyage of Europe and even made it across the Sahara. Hazel starred as Kate in the 1980 film ‘Breaking Glass’ which spawned top ten hits in the brilliant 'Will You' and ‘ Eighth Day', while its soundtrack album went double platinum reaching number five in the UK Charts. After ‘Breaking Glass’ Hazel went on to record many other albums including ‘Sons and Lovers’ (1980, which featured the hit single ‘D Days’), ‘Cover Plus’ (1981), Smile (1984), ‘Private Wars’ (1995), ‘Five in the Morning’ (1998) and ‘Hidden Heart’ (2005). Hazel has over the years has also been in various TV shows, and married in 1987 artist Kurt Bippert on a beach in California but they divorced in 2000. Having also dated Hugh Cornwall and Midge Ure, Hazel now tours with her own all girl trio the Bluja Project as well as with a regular full band and also does an autobiographical show ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’ with harpist Cormac De Barra. Recently Hazel lost the most important person in her life, her mum. She has also suffered other major setbacks over the years, but has carried on with her career and has a fresh and humorous look on life. Pennyblackmusic caught up with Hazel, who lives in both France and Ireland, in between tours and unfortunately during another sad time in her life with her dog very near to passing away. We have put down the whole interview as it happened and uncut, because we thought it would show the fun, down-to-earth and honest traits in this real woman's woman. After she had “cocked up” the previous interview by talking too long to the previous interviewer, we managed to get hold of her and had a humorous and honest chat to Hazel about lemonade, ginger beer, her dog, the loss of her mum and her dislike of poor lighting. PB: You’re a busy lady at the moment by the sound of it? HO: A bit, Yeah. I am a bit here and there at the minute. I have just got back to Ireland from two months away. I've got a bunch of bags that lead all the way to my bedroom. I did all my shopping in Holyhead before I got on the boat because it is cheaper than in England. I don't actually drink (Laughs), which is rather sad because i could otherwise marvel at wines and beers in the duty free. Unfortunately I haven't got a head for alcohol. I learnt early on in my life to keep away from it. I think it is in my family’s genes. PB: The more I drink the worse I feel, I am afraid. HO: Ah well, you've got the genes in you as well, you see? I thought as it gave me a headache and made me feel ill that then I would leave it be. I tried to make lemonade recently in France because I love lemonade, and I love the idea of how our mums used to make it. Can you remember ginger beer? PB: Yeah... HO: Did your mum ever make it? PB: I think she had a stab at it. Yes. HO: Well, my memories are that when I was young me mum or me nan made some really fizzy, lovely, fermented ginger beer or lemonade and I wanted to try to do the same, so I tried. A French friend gave me a recipe and I thought, “Ooh! That sounds like too much sugar. I am not putting that much in.” And when it came out it was really alcoholic. Only a likkle bit, you know? (Laughs). For me that hasn’t drunk like forever, I drank a big glass of it, because I was really hot from working on it, and I had to sit down afterwards because I was feeling all wobbly. I said to my friends, “I think you'd better tell me if this has got alcohol in it or not.” But I think that's what tends to happen when you ferment sugar and things. I'd never done it before. It is great fun though when you put it all together and see all those bubbles going round, and it starts to change its properties. PB: I had one of those home brew kits when I was young. It starts to fizz and bubble up all over the place.... HO: Wow, yeah! I remember going to listen to my bottles of lemonade and it was going shwizzwhoo, and I thought, “Is this when i have to bottle it?” I don't know Then you go round and tell other people that you have made some lemonade and they go, “Oh, yeah I tried that and it blew up! “ PB: You end up with about sixteen bottles of the stuff so you shove them under the stairs out of the way, and then in the middle of the night they start to explode on you all over the place. HO: (Laughs) Which I am a bit scared of now because I have just started mark two of my lemonade and I have left it under the stairs in France! I might get there and find that it is all gone. And there'll be a line of ants going in through the front door and you can hear them going, “Mmm. Let’s go in this house.” PB: I didn't know whether to ask, but I got an email yesterday from your manager explaining that you might have to cancel the interview because… HO: I know, about my dog dying? I came home last night, and I was in tears about it which didn’t do any good. I had to get myself together by the time I got home because animals know and they pick up on that kind of thing, but she's rallied round a little. She's definitely going and is on steroids to keep her going. The dog is really happy that she's seen me. It’s a day by day thing. I looked after my mum when she was dying of cancer and you always get that rallying with a poorly person and it is always wonderful, but you always know that it is going to the same place. PB: How was the Cambridge Folk Festival? You have just played a gig there. HO: It was really good! It was funny too. Oh, there were a few funny bits in it. I am a bit of a stickler for lighting. I don’t care really what is going on around me, but I think it important that the audience can see the faces of those people on stage. At least in a kind of artistic fashion (Laughs). PB: I was at one of your gigs at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham last year, and remember you having similar problems. HO: At festivals there is often little time to sound check, but there was one point when I was in such darkness that I had to move my mic and stand back to catch the beam of another light. I started to sing 'Will You' and the front floods came full on and I said, “This is a really intimate song so maybe we can take those front floods off.” It was the Rescue Rooms all over again, and then all of a sudden he switched them all off! I think the lighting guy might have been getting himself in a twizzle. Otherwise he was being a bastard (Laughs). I tried to be polite, but I thought, “Oh, god. I can’t believe this.” We were second from the top of the bill, and not to have the person singing the songs in some sort of focused light just seemed weird to me. PB: Just a short time ago you were not far from me at a place called Lowdham in Nottinghamshire. What was that about? HO: Ah, yes, that was a book festival! It was a little gig with me and the girls, and we were there to promote my new autobiography, ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’. We did a little Q & A before the gig and talked about the book with a girl from Radio Nottingham on the stage beforehand, which proved to be a problem because as you might have gathered I talk too much. I had done an interview on the phone beforehand with the poor girl, but if an idea suddenly comes into my head I can't help myself. If it is a good story, I will go off on one, and I could see her face going, “Oh no! How am I going to shut her up?” So, I am my own worst enemy. It kind of knackered me out because when you talk a lot and then do a gig it is hard. I usually introduce my songs during the gig as we go along, but I then thought, “I can’t do that here because I have already done that.” My head said it had been robbed of the patter (Laughs). I am off to Edinburgh next week to do the ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’ show with Cormac playing his harp and me telling my stories, but it has always seemed strange to me doing two things at once. I am simple. I am a Taurus. Just point us in the right direction and we'll work, but if there are too many things going on I get confused. PB: Do you believe in astrology then? HO: Yes, I do. I do kind of run true to form, and I notice other Taurus people I meet are of a similar ilk. Claire Hirst that plays sax with me in the Bluja Project is a Leo and a perfect Leo too, smiley and a performer. What are you? PB : I am a Capricorn. HO: Ah, God! My ex husband was a Capricorn! PB: Crikey, I do apologise. HO: Don't worry! Capricorns are actually nice people to hang around with. He was like a blooming mountain goat the way he jumped around rocks and things, which is what a Capricorn is. PB: You mentioned Cormac. In a previous interview you said that he gives you "freedom" in the sense that when he is a around you don’t have to gig with eight people and all the setting up it involves. Can you see yourself shifting more towards that way of performing in the future? HO: No! Cormac and I have continued to do really well with the ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’ tour since we first started it fifteen years ago. It was so successful that it enlightened me totally to the world of acoustic music where you can put a song across without the need to have a full overblown orchestra. If people know your songs, they will actually orchestrate it for themselves. I remember going to see Elton John when he did a tour with just his piano and a percussionist. It was at the Rainbow Theatre in London, and it was just the most amazing thing. With the songs I could fill in all the gaps that were left from not having instruments, and that's what I meant about freedom. I think a good song should be able to be performed without anything, without any instruments, and you should be able to get up and sing it that way or it can be with the biggest orchestra in the world and it should still float. That's my idea of music, and that's how it has always been for me. Now I have this wonderful ability to do so because I have this wonderful partner in Cormac. When I do stuff with Sarah Fisher and Claire in the Bluja Project, it is geared to the sound that we make, which is piano and sax and three part harmony with a jazz and blues overtone. I know people get very frightened when they come to a Cormac gig, and they see just a harp on the stage. They think, “Ooh! Have I come to the right gig?” But when it gets underway they move with it because there is an energy that good musicians put out. It is in everybody's heartbeats. I think that we are all in that way interconnected. PB: How did you get together with Claire and Sarah? HO: Claire and I did the same thing in 1982/83. At the time I was being sued by my former record company. I couldn't work and I couldn't make any record deals, and I have always had a love of old jazz songs, blues songs by people like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. My ex-boyfriend from years before had given me a song book of Gershwin and Cole Porter, and I really liked those songs and thought I'd really like to do some of them. So, Claire and I had a trio back in the 1980s doing things like the 'Man I Love' and 'Summertime', songs that had that bluesy edge to them. At that time we were playing with a piano player called Nicky Holland who used to be in the Fun Boy Three, and she then went on to join Tears for Fears. And she was just an amazing accompanist and singer herself. About five years ago my mum was diagnosed with cancer, and given six weeks to live. She was a fighter and wasn't ready to leave the planet and in fact lived for another two years. You know you say you're going to do something but you never quite do it because other things happen. When somebody is dying, you become cognisant to the fact that if you don’t do it now you may never get the opportunity again. It is random this life we live. I just thought, “Right, I am going to give Claire a ring and see if we can do that trio thing we were doing.” So we did it and got in a piano player, which was Sarah. I remember Sarah saying, “I know where we can do some rehearsals and maybe get an audience to come and see it.” And I said to her, “I don’t do rehearsals. I will only do a gig.” And she threw a wobbler. What's the point of doing a rehearsal though when you can do a gig? You've got to be better than a rehearsal. In our repertoire we always have had 'Will You', 'Eighth Day', and a swing version of 'Decadent Days'. Everybody knows those songs, so we get there in the end. Then we added things like 'God Bless the Child' and 'My Funny Valentine', and a vocal version of 'Summertime' which I used to sing years and years ago when I lived in America and which I really liked it because it suited our voices in half a capella. Everything had to fit together and have a Latin or upbeat feel to it. 'Blackman' from ‘Broken Glass’ was always written to be in the offbeat, so that worked great with piano and sax and a lot of vocals. They are both wonderful singers when Claire is not blowing her trumpet. We have found that we have got a fabulous blend. It was great because Mum didn't die for two more years, so she saw me get all this stuff together with these mates of mine. I remember being in the hospice in my mum’s last days, and she had one of the first photographs that us girls had paid a photographer to do by her bedside, and I thought that was really nice. When I do the band thing, it is just a matter of inserting three handsome young lads with us three slightly older women. I can’t be doing with divas and shit like that. I don't like it and I don't want to be that way. PB: Will you be collaborating with any other musicians in the near future? HO: It is funny you should say that. The girls and I are just recording our new album and we are getting together with a cajón player. It looks like a black box and people that can play it well can cover the whole bass end of a kit along with the high end too, but without having all the usual kit on there. We saw a band playing with a cajón at a festival last year and I thought it sounded really good, so we are going to have a go with it and it will be for the bigger version of the trio. Martin, the boy who plays it, will have to wear a dress because we are all girls (Laughs). PB: Thank you.

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