INTERVIEW: Hazel O’Connor

Hazel-Oconnor

The film and accompanying soundtrack ‘Breaking Glass’ launched the career of Hazel O’Connor in 1980, and one of the songs featured in the film, ‘Will You’ remains her best known song. O’Connor has continued to make music ever since, with more recent output veering into jazz and soul territory. It’s the 35th anniversary of Breaking Glass however, that brings Hazel back to the region in December 2015 and so the film, the music and the upcoming Sage Gateshead gig were the topics for discussion when I caught up with Hazel in earlier this year.

I began by asking Hazel about the upcoming gig. “The film’s been remastered so we’re going to work the evening around that. The film will be shown then there’ll be a 15 minute break followed by a 50 minute performance and then a Q&A. The format has been used once before at the Shaftesbury Avenue Theatre/Cinema in London a few years ago so that helped us to gauge the timings. I can talk quite a lot so there might be a single question and my very long answer before we announce ‘the Q&A’s now over!’ ” she jokes.

I’ve never liked the bollocks and the bullshit that goes along with pop stardom

The Q&A is likely to centre on the film but no topic is off limits. Following the release of her autobiography in 2012 Hazel did some shows with a Q&A element and recalls them fondly, “people ask some really great questions. I think it’s a lovely format to use. There’s an intimacy to it. People can reach me through it and I like that. I’ve never liked the bollocks and the bullshit that goes along with pop stardom; I’m glad that pop stardom is finished for me and I’m back to doing music.”

Anyone who knows the film would not have forgiven me had I failed to follow that comment up by asking Hazel about the parallels between her early career and that of the fictional Kate she played in Breaking Glass. “There are loads of parallels because the script was developed from my own real life story and what was happening to me at the time in the music industry. We cobbled together a lot of my anecdotes which then went into the film, which was brilliant. There was a script but it was not ‘about us’, it had been written by Howard Schuman who wrote ‘Rock Follies’ and at the audition I let it be known that the wordings weren’t to my taste. Before the audition I had a mental wish list – taking the lead role, writing the songs – and all of those things came to pass!”

I wrote this as a totally different song to how it was used in the film

Hazel won the role despite some stiff competition. I was aware that Toyah Wilcox had been a ‘rival’ but Hazel had a surprise for me when she informed me that the role had originally been envisaged for a male. “They weren’t looking for me at all (laughs). They wanted a male lead originally but the Director, Brian Gibson thought it’d be a bigger picture with a heterosexual relationship; the original relationship was about two guys.” Hazel continued “So I was at United Artists for audition and that’s where I saw Toyah coming in and a few other well known people, so I thought ‘I might as well go home’ but anyway I did the acting audition then they asked if I’d written many songs and I lied; I’d only ever written four songs up until then in my life but I said I had loads more songs.” Intriguingly Hazel tells me that originally in the frame for the lead role was none other than Elvis Costello; that would have been a very different film!

New songs were written as the revised script came to Hazel. Her disliking of 80’s Thatcherism provided inspiration for much of her songwriting. Looking back, Hazel recognises that the film gave her a platform to air her views. “It was a great thing to rail against of course. I didn’t like how England was becoming and so this was a wonderful opportunity. I wrote ‘Monsters In Disguise’ as a reaction to Thatcher threatening to bring back capital punishment. I thought ‘no you won’t’ and thankfully, right prevailed. Then I phoned Brian saying ‘I have this great song’ and he’d say ‘right, we’ll put a scene in about that.’

The two best known songs from the film are arguably ‘Will You’ and ‘Eighth Day’ with both having very different origins.

“Eighth Day was the very very very last one I wrote for the soundtrack. I wrote the words to it on the day before I was recording it (laughs). I had no idea what it was going to be about. I knew Brian Gibson had this big vision of a futuristic / metropolis / robot scene and then I thought ‘you know we have become like we think we’re Gods’ and I picked up a Bible and read the beginning of Genesis and thought ‘Jesus we’re acting like we’re bloody living Gods all of us!’ and that’s how the lyric was born.”

‘Will You’ was the only one of Hazel’s existing four songs that ended up on the film soundtrack and it remains Hazel’s favourite. “I wrote this as a totally different song to how it was used in the film. There was a bomb that had gone of in Barclay Square and some poor guy having his lunch there was killed. I thought about how terrible it was that at that minute one guy had chosen to go out and have his sandwiches and ended up dead, but at the same time somebody else somewhere else would be making love, and that the world just keeps turning. Then of course when I gave that song to the film I rewrote it and it became a straight love song.”

Those two songs will be aired at Sage Gateshead in December. Performing with Hazel will be Sarah Fisher (piano) and Claire Hirst (Sax), long time collaborators and ladies with fine musical pedigrees, Sarah having been a touring Eurythmic and Claire having played in The Belle Stars and with The Communards, Bronski Beat and David Bowie.

Russell Poad

Russell Poad

I am 50 years old and live in Newcastle.

I started NE:MM as a magazine back in August 2013 and took it online in March 2014. I have always had a passion for music, and a desire to help popularise music of the type I loved. That led me to promote as 'The Outsider' and 'Common People' until recently and who knows, the promoter bug may bite again soon. As I age I find my own tastes developing and so my enthusiasm now extends to classical, jazz/funk and metal, whereas it used to sit squarely in the pop/indie/folk box. I hope it's infectious and through the efforts of the many volunteer contributors to NE:MM I hope it helps you find new music that you can feel passionate about too.
Russell Poad

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