One of my vivid childhood memories is of stomping around my parents’ garden as a twelve year old singing Hazel O’Connor’s smash hit Eighth Day while the family cat roamed around and looked at me bemused. Not being averse to seeing artists I admired in my youth, I was delighted to discover recently that O’Connor was going to be playing a mile or so from my front door.
O’Connor’s Breaking Glass and Greatest Hits tour has been doing the rounds for about two years now. Some of my friends had seen her perform last year in London but I did not hear any details about the show from them so I was unsure what to expect.
The support act for last night’s gig was Tensheds. With a handle like that I was expecting a large band to appear on stage but instead just one man, a tall, thin, gothic figure reminiscent of a character from Mervin Peake’s Gormenghast, wearing a black shirt, black glittering waistcoats and a long black multi-button tailcoat entertained us. His Tom Waits style vocal, Dylanesque guitar and harmonica numbers were toe-tappingly good while his dramatic Rachmaninov-like and then terrifically fast blues keyboard tunes were impressive enough to almost make you believe he had sold his soul to the devil.
Just after nine o’clock Hazel and her band walked on stage, gender equality seemingly playing a part as they were comprised of three women and three men. My first impressions of O’Connor were of a post-punk, new wave Bet Lynch; personable, determined, frank and funny. Opening with the catchy Give Me An Inch, the band continued alternating one-off hits including D-Days and Cover Plus with Breaking Glass songs, and here and there throwing in cover versions of Hazel’s favourite songs including Jimmy Webb’s Do What You Gotta Do, The Stranglers’ Hanging Around, Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.
The songs’ arrangements varied, sometimes jazzy, sometimes with a reggae beat, but all were performed with O’Connor’s trademark theatricality. The aggressive songs describing a chilling robot-run future from Breaking Glass gave way to optimistic and sometimes incredibly moving pop ballads such as the classic Will You and the more recent I Give You My Sunshine which was written during a visit to O’Connor’s dying mother in a hospice a few years ago. O’Connor has lived all over the world and towards the end of the show we hear a song obviously influenced by her Irish roots and County Wicklow where she now resides. Acoustically Yours is drummed and sang by O’Connor, Clare Hirst and Sarah Fisher in a traditional Irish jig style. Fisher, here on keyboard, and the incredible Hirst on saxophone and clarinet also perform with O’Connor as part of The Bluja Project.
Throughout the show songs were introduced with interesting, hilarious and heartfelt anecdotes. O’Connor’s openness is refreshing and comic by turn. This was demonstrated by her unabashed telling of the embarrassing incident when she stood up to a standing ovation at Cannes film festival sans pantaloon and her memories of briefly dating Hugh Cornwell, the duration of their relationship cut short due to Cornwell’s prison sentence. The overt anti-Thatcherite stance which motivated O’Connor’s songwriting in her youth was recaptured when she explained that Monsters In Disguise was written after seeing a news item about the government proposal to bring back capital punishment.
At the end of the show, the band lined up and bowed to their appreciative audience and O’Connor appeared off stage to sign the fans’ merchandise. She chatted individually to all who crowded round to meet her. I bought her recently published autobiography for a friend who could not be there, and knowing Hazel would be around after the gig, I had brought my vinyl copy of Breaking Glass. Meeting one of my heroines was not a daunting affair. Hazel was so genuine and down to earth I felt I had known her for years. It was like meeting an old friend.