avid Essex felt uncomfortable with the parallels between his role in Stardust and his own career, and, for all anyone knows, Mick (Performance) Jagger just liked a bit of a cavort, but Hazel O’Connor in Breaking Glass provides the most poignant example of life imitating film imitating life until it’s impossible to tell where the dreamworld ends and the nightmare begins. Breaking Glass is not remembered as a high-water mark of the British ﬁlm industry, or of rock films generally. But for all its shortcomings, it was hailed upon its release as the best evocation to date of the murky atmosphere of the music business. Significantly, Brian Gibson, its writer and director, actually knew very little about that world and, having chosen O’Connor as his lead, began to take notes of her dealings as her career developed, working some of them into the film for authenticity. He wasn’t to know at the time that he was chronicling the seeds of a traumatic legal battle that was to wreck his star’s career.
For all the brutality of her introduction to the music business, O’Connor lives up to all expectations of the chirpy, dogged survivor. She’s a Chatterbox too, needing only the slightest excuse to rattle away, matey and animated — occasional hoarse croaks and squeaks betraying the strain of recent months spent touring in the United States, where she hung her hat for a while, and Ireland, where she lives now. This afternoon, she and her backing singer are hiring a car so that they can drive to the next gig without the band’s endless willy talk chafing on their nerves. In the meantime, she’s sitting up in bed covered by her War On Want overcoat, "cause we only get one blanket here’, with a bottle of Aqua Libra, telling me that, all in all, she’s happy.
Times have been tough - all her adult life, she’s lived hand to mouth, even when hits like ‘Eighth Day’ and ‘Will You’ should have been making her wealthy. The one good piece of advice she followed back then was to buy a home while the going was good, and, as for the money that’s been haggled over in the courts for nearly a decade, she supposes there’s only twenty grand or so left to bicker about. Although she says she hardly thinks about those times, the bitterness can still surface.
‘There’s only one time I ever think about it. It’s a very strange spiral of events. If me and my husband have an argument, for instance, and the argument escalates. . . . Most of the arguments me and my husband have are about money,’ she laughs, ‘and how the bills are going to be paid, really mundane shit, but that’s the thing that gets most people going, innit, most divorces are based on money problems. And when it gets really intense, ’cause I’m arguing with the person that I love, talking about divorce, then I get really pissed off with the people that made it this way — set my finances up for the next ten years by filching the money for themselves, by not being big enough to let me create in the way I wanted to create.’ .
Her rattling pace momentarily drops.
‘I mean, I lost a baby this year. I had a miscarriage, and when that happened a lot of that stuff suddenly surfaced again, because I was emotionally distraught about everything. Because of that, it’s reminded me of the bitterness that I must still have in me to be able to regurgitate it.’ '
She has repeatedly castigated her old record
company, Albion, for not knowing how to handle ,
a star, which begs the question, does she still feel like a star? Are they born, or puter at the whim of market forces?
‘The thing I had to own up to years ago about what happened to me was a recognition that stars, the star system and fame and all that, it’s just another branch of the consumer industry anyway, and I heard people, read interviews with pop stars and some profound or accurate people saying you’re like a piece of meat being sold. But I guess that’s what it is.’
One could hope for a more blinding insight from a woman whose introduction to fame was a film' which aimed to ridicule the process of making a star. Her nemesis Dai Davies from the now-defunct Albion Records has said, ‘It was remarkable actually, because you would have thought anybody with the perception to make that film and see this story about this rise and fall process would actually be aware that it might be happening to them.’ O’Connor, it seemed, cottoned on a bit too late. By her account, her ﬁrst inkling that a bullshit-free rock star was something of a contradiction didn’t come until 1982 (‘the last bit of my Breaking Glass era, as I call it’), when she would regularly step outside her body and lecture herself on her hypocrisy as she went through the motions before the proverbial adoring audience.
Naivety isn’t something you’d expect after her parents’ broken marriage left her a scarred and isolated child who, by her early twenties, had seen action in a seedy cabaret in Beirut, performed erotic dancing in Tokyo, wandered through Paris on acid and participated in soft-core porn films back in London, but she entered the world of songwriting and performing wide-eyed and enthusiastic. Now, she tempers her bitterness with the thought that without the strife she might not necessarily have been a better person, and stays clear of the heart of the rock beast, having admitted to herself that existing in any kind of rigid system like that ‘cracks me up’.
‘I’m not one of those mainstream record company artists, and I’ve learnt this, over the years, from doing the job I do and operating from without the system. Most of the things I do are in a very cowboy fashion because I’m forced to do them in that way. Apart from this tour, because I have a manager again, and I actually have agents who want to work for me to put it together.’
For years after Breaking Glass, she supplemented her musical work with acting, appearing with Julie Walters and Ian Charleson in Car Trouble, on the small screen in the series Jangles in 1982 and Fighting Back in 1986, and on stage in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the revival (after 40 dormant years) ofa musical called The Girlfriend. These days, acting jobs are sporadic.
‘The only way I’ll act is ifsomebody knows I’m perfect for the thing they want, or ifI make it my own work. Because nobody automatically thinks of me as an actress, and ifthey do I’m not the same kind of mettle as a normal actress. I find it really hard to go to auditions. I have the same fear of authority as I’ve had since I was at school, and I always feel at auditions that it’s a me-and-them situation. I just can’t get out ofthat. I don’t like competition, because I don’t feel tough enough. I get scared!’ she squeaks.
‘I’d rather do things where I know I’m on my own footing. That’s why I love going on stage with a band, because I know that that’s the only place where I’m safe.’
Even with all the willy talk? That’s the attitude.
‘Moaning Minnie over and out,’ she pipes.
Hazel O’Connorplays The Forum, Livingston on Wed 13.
The List 8—21 February 199! 11