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HAZEL O’CONNOR INTERVIEW [2007]

I THINK I HAVE TO START WITH AN APOLOGY, WHEN I WAS GROWING UP I WAS A MASSIVE TOYAH FAN WHICH MEANT I WASN'T SUPPOSED TO LIKE ANYTHING YOU DID!

I really like Toyah! We always really liked each other and it's so fucked up that years ago all the fucking newspapers wrote such crap about us... it was so ridiculous but that was just the newspapers. We have the same birth sign, we sing very similarly... but Toyah is far more organised than I am, she's a very good businesswoman and I'm not. I'm a better gardener!

Actually we just saw each other at this memorabilia festival and we had such a good time - I just wanted to look at her scars but there weren't any - and she said something really, really beautiful to me too, something I love and have taken with me - I said to her how organised and together she was and I'm just the opposite - I just do everything in a really flippy-floppy way, I just hear an idea and I go for it without any plan - and she said 'But Haze, you have always, always maintained your integrity and I will always applaud you for that'. What a nice thing to say!

THERE'S LOTS OF DATES COMING UP FOR YOU, BUT IS THERE A NEW ALBUM ON THE WAY? IT'S BEEN A COUPLE OF YEARS SINCE 'HIDDEN HEART'...

I'm trying to finish off an album I started with Martin Rushent about three years ago... I was recording 'Hidden Heart', my last album, and I realised that I really needed him to put the finishing touches on it so I asked him to do that and consequently he put our other stuff on the back-burner! That material was quite edgy, quite electronic, almost R&B stuff and I've been running around for three years with all these unfinished tapes. We did do a very interesting version of 'Can't get You Out Of My head' which is very urban, very interesting... Martin's son James is in a very successful hip-hop act and then there's a beat-box guy called Killer Kela he knows and they both did stuff for the album too...

I have a kind of idea that because of all these downloads now - and I have finally done a download deal - I don't feel so pressured to feel that I have to get an album out, because we can maybe start to kind of trickle our stuff out on downloads. I've already done some dance mix work with a couple of DJs and I've asked Martin if we can include that in the work we're doing because it kind of cover the same ground - we're trying to get together some versions of 'Will You' and 'Eighth Day' and 'D Days' plus the six tracks we've got for the album and a load of other bits of music that I haven't written the words for because I don't really know what I want to write about... but we're trying to finish all that this summer!

YOU'RE DOING QUITE A FEW FESTIVALS THIS SUMMER TOO AREN'T YOU? THE ACOUSTIC FESTIVAL, THE CAMBRIDGE ROCK FESTIVAL AND SO ON... AND RETROFEST WHICH IS QUITE DIFFERENT FOR YOU ISN'T IT, YOU DON'T OFTEN GET INVOLVED IN THAT WHOLE 'NOSTALGIA' PART OF THE INDUSTRY DO YOU?

Well spotted! No I don't, but doing it this way I don't mind... generally I do the punk festival 'Wasted', but they're a little bit different and it's such an interesting audience! I remember when I did my first one, we did a full band show on the electric stage and them myself and Cormac De Barra on the harp did a show on the acoustic stage and Cormac was cracking up after it... not in a disrespectful way but he said it made him laugh to see all these beerbellied ex-punks crying - my acoustic set is fairly emotive - and I'm not laughing at them crying, just Cormac's reaction because he's about twenty years younger than me and he just wasn't expecting that!

So that's the only sort of retro-type shows I've done, but just before all the eighties nostalgia shows started going Cormac and I had gone up to the Edinburgh Festival with a show called 'Beyond Breaking Glass', which was a way of being able to tell my story - it has bits of acting in it and we do all the favourite 'Breaking Glass' songs, all the hit type songs I've had - but all in an acoustic manner with an Irish harp!

We had two weeks in Edinburgh I think, and what it did was to launch me into areas and audiences that wouldn't normally know me which was terribly interesting for me and I found that I gained a new audience on top of my old audience. That just sorted it for me really, so when those 'where are they now' tours started coming around I just felt it wasn't really for me because I was already doing my own 'where am I now' shows, but doing them in a more credible way that I feel more comfortable with, and I shocked and surprised people with that and I do really love the acoustic side of the industry... and it always seems to end up that I get a few more fans whatever I do...

IS PLAYING THE FESTIVALS SOMETHING YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOY?

In the old days festivals used to freak me out a bit to be honest, I played the first Slane Castle gig in Ireland - with U2 and Thin Lizzy - and people were chasing me everywhere; they were climbing through the caravan windows when I was trying to get changed and I just couldn't go anywhere without always having six or seven people around me, all wanting something immediately... I can remember running along the river and hiding in the long grass! But now I love festivals because I'm not afraid any more of telling someone to go away, politely, when I need that space! When that all happened in the beginning I just didn't know how to handle it all, I just thought how can they like me when they don't even know me? When I was younger it just flipped me out that people assumed they knew me and people can be very rude and insistent and scary!

WHAT SORT OF A SET WILL WE SEE FROM YOU? IS IT ACOUSTIC?

No, it's not acoustic it's electric - it's me and a band called The Subterraneans. I first got together with them after doing all my acoustic stuff... Cormac had got a gig playing with Moya Brennan from Clannad when I was offered a gig at Glastonbury, a rock gig, and an old friend of mine - Roger Lomas who used to produce The Selecter for 2-Tone - suggested his son's band, he said his son was a great bass player and the band he played in - The Subterraneans - had got really close to making it but they had got really fed up with the industry side of things... so I went to see them and I was blown away, they were so fucking tight, the standard of their musicianship was amazing and they had a brilliant singer too. I was meant to go along and pick some players out of the band but I couldn't just pick the musicians I wanted and leave any of them languishing so I asked them all to do Glastonbury with me and it was a huge success and now we do lots of shows together!

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO RETROFEST? ARE THERE ANY OTHER ACTS YOU WANT TO CHECK OUT?

Yeah I am looking forward to it, I really am. Big time. I love doing festivals... I wish I was going to be up there to see the Human League but they're on the day before me and I've got a gig the night before down in Hampshire. I bet Hue & Cry will be good, I saw them on that programme we did, 'Hit Me Baby', and they won that particular episode we did and I remember them being great... and I love Kim Wilde... I want to get a load of gardening tips from her! I'm going to do a big list and go 'Kim? Fancy coming to Ireland?'...

IT SOUNDS LIKE A TV SHOW IN THE MAKING, KIM WILDE DOING HAZEL O'CONNOR'S GARDEN!

Wouldn't that be cool? I would love her to come and give me all her advice... I've got an acre of land here and I love my garden but you'd have to call it a wild garden, it's not too crazy or jungle-like but I only ever plant things that people give me - question is always 'so, is this a survivor?' because if it can't survive on its own then it won't! Consequently I have this wonderful garden of survivors, amazing things all blooming but I don't know what to do with them all!

AND YOU HAVE YOUR OWN DATES COMING UP LATER THIS YEAR TOO DON'T YOU?

Yeah, this year I've got a couple more shows with The Subs and then in November I'm working with Cormac and we're doing an acoustic tour... and then in the New Year some shows in Holland, and then it all becomes a blur!

I DID HEAR TALK OF YOU DOING SOME SHOWS WITH TOYAH AS WELL?

Yes! We're working out dates at the moment but yes, definitely... I think they'll be in Autumn next year...

WHAT ELSE ARE YOU UP TO AT THE MOMENT?

Well, I have just got a literary agent who has read a book I've written, a memoir, and who thinks it's marvellous. I didn't want to write a rock'n'roll book to be honest because a big part of my life just hasn't been about that, it's not the only thing I'm about, not by a long way...

HAS IT BEEN AN ENJOYABLE PROCESS, WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE?

Yes, it's been brilliant! I actually started writing it about five years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, and I started reading all these books about cancer and cancer treatments, and all that sort of thing and it turned out that there was actually a correlation between people who contracted cancer and people who kind of suppress their anger! I was thinking 'Jesus, I have got such a lot of suppressed anger!' and when I started to look at my life I really needed to deal with it...

In my life I have been in and out of psychiatrist's offices maybe six times... before fame when I was about thirteen I started seeing a psychiatrist, when I first got famous - perhaps the second year of fame - I sort of had a mini breakdown... and it's always the stuff that has never been addressed you know? Always the same stuff, because the stuff you don't address gives you the key to making the same mistakes again...

DID WRITING THE BOOK BECOME A KIND OF THERAPY FOR YOU?

Oh god yes! I mean the 'Beyond Breaking Glass' shows were the beginnings of that I think, that was my first catharsis really, but the second was putting it all into the book. Luckily both the editor and the literary agent have both said that it's a marvellous book as a memoir, not as a rock'n'roll book, and I'm so pleased that they have recognised that... obviously there's good stories like going on a jet back from a Cartier party with Elton John and being taken to meet Liza Minelli, or having a snog with Christopher Lambert on the way back from some film party... all great stories but they are not the be all and end all, and I think the other important stuff is there too...

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHEN IT MIGHT BE PUBLISHED?

Next year is the tenth anniversary of 'Beyond Breaking Glass' and after we've done the Toyah gigs Cormac and I will be doing a two-week run of the show around the arts theatres with maybe a proper week's run in London, so around that time I hope... but there's lots to do before then!

JULY 2007

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