INTERVIEW: Tony Glynn chats to Eighties pop icon Hazel O'Connor
Tony Glynn chats to Eighties pop icon Hazel O'Connor.
THE EIGHTIES was all about big hair, big gadgets and big business. A sassy, cocky and eye-catching young woman knew this only too well and burst onto the scene at the start of the decade and led the way for a new generation of pop stars. But the girl in question, namely Hazel O'Connor, was no flash in the pan. The 1980 film Breaking Glass, which showcased an entire soundtrack of songs written solely by her, revealed a talent that would not fade away with the big hair.
The film, which included hits Will You and Eighth Day, was a fictional account of a young singer's rise to fame by "selling out" and ditching her principles in return for stardom.
Hazel summarises the film in her own words: "It's a new wave version of A Star Is Born," she says. "It's about selling out – how your original ideals can be lost when you choose success over saying what you really want to say, and how the greedy can manipulate you.
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"The film was perfect for me because it gave me a chance to air my own views. I'm lucky, because it fitted the time and launched my career. It gave me a scope I hadn't previously had."
Hazel found herself acting in a film that could very well have mirrored her own life as a pop star. But, 30 years later, we see a strong individual who is as far as you can get from selling out. Did the fate of Kate, her character in the film, serve as a warning?
"I don't think I could ever have been a sell-out," says Hazel, "because I've always had things I wanted to say and that's more important than fame.
"But if you look at the endless talent shows around nowadays, you see plenty of people who want to be famous for the sake of being famous. But this isn't new, I think it happens in every generation.
"There's also too many middlemen taking their cut, and making the gap between performer and audience bigger. What artists really want to say is clouded by all the marketing."
Among her musical influences Hazel lists strong female icons Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Marianne Faithfull and Nico. Of the men, David Bowie is her hero. Once, she had the honour of cutting his hair – and the subject of meddling middlemen crops up again.
"He was just the nicest person, so cool and gentle. Mild-mannered.
"But actually it was his assistant that kept ordering me around, and got angry at me whenever I spoke to David. I felt like the last in a long line of under-pressure hairdressers who had got the chop!"
Most influential both musically and personally, however, is her brother Neil who was in punk band The Flys. He taught her how to write songs, including the advice to "try and say something that can be interpreted in more than one way". But more important to Hazel than anything, including music, is the relationships she has with family, friends and people in general. First and foremost, she is a human being who wants to make the world a better place.
"I am not just a singer," says Hazel. "My job is to make people feel better and that isn't just through music. I can do that by getting up on a table and dancing if I have to!
"But I also want my songs to be accessible to anybody – not just those who grew up with them in the Eighties."
Although someone associated with the Eighties and New Wave, Hazel is always keen to demonstrate that she is first and foremost a writer of songs, and those who see her perform can expect to hear Will You, Eighth Day and the rest played in a variety of styles that keep her free from being bound to one genre. Over the last 15 years she has toured with Cormac De Barra, a renowned harpist who has given her shows a more Celtic feel. At The George, Hazel will be accompanied by Clare Hirst (Communards, Bowie) on sax and Sarah Fisher (Eurythmics) on piano.
"The girls and I get on so well together, we're great mates," says Hazel. "They understand exactly what I want with the songs and give it easily. They really have breathed new life into my show, and given it their own stamp."
It's not just her songs that have stood the test of time, but her voice also. So what's her secret?
"Well I suppose I'm blessed to be given a good enough voice," says Hazel, "but I do live a healthy lifestyle and do yoga and karate, and try not to drink too much alcohol.
"There is a simple recipe I once got from Cormac De Barra's mother though, and I have it daily. It's just cider vinegar, manuka honey and cayenne pepper. Yum!"
Hazel O'Connor with Clare Hirst and Sarah Fisher is at The George Hotel, South Molton on Saturday, September 28, 8.30pm. Support by Jenna Witts. The gig is sold out.