Hazel O'Connor shot to fame in the 1980 musical drama Breaking Glass, and although this was the highpoint of her career, she continued to write and perform with success over the following decades. Her story up until that point is related in two books:
The Illustrated BREAKING GLASS, published by Chappell Music in 1980, and the dedicated autobiography Hazel O'Connor - Uncovered Plus., which was co-written with Judith Simons and published the following year. And a remarkable story it is too.
Hazel was born in the provincial English city of Coventry in May 1955, the daughter of an English mother and an Irish immigrant who had served with the British Army. Her elder brother, Neil, although not as well known as his kid sister shared her musical talent, and his song "Go West" was sung by Hazel at their father's funeral.
Their parents marriage was not made in Heaven, and her first release "Eee I Adio", was inspired by arguments between the spouses. Of her mother she wrote "Mum made sacrifices. She gave us a lot of very little".
Developing wanderlust at an early age, she left school in 1971 and set off to see the world; although she became fluent in five languages, including Japanese, she had more than her share of bad experiences, the worst of which when she was raped at knife point in Marrakesh, an ordeal that could have left her shattered or embittered - especially when she was urged not to report it. Instead, it pushed her in the other direction, and she has raised funds for rape victims among other things. (In a June 1999 interview with Voice Of The Internet, she said the rape was one of the defining moments of her life). She lived in Amsterdam, Paris and Tokyo - where she danced, modeled and taught English - and in Beirut where she was nearly bombed by the Israeli Airforce.
On returning to the UK she enrolled at Leamington Spa Art College, but didn't last long; she also studied martial arts, though music was to be the passion of her life.
She bought her first albums in Japan, one by Carole King, the other by Pink Floyd, but her first taste of the music business came when she replied to an advertisement; she ended up joining a girl singing trio called Lady Luck, the "star" of which was a somewhat older woman who was married to the group's manager. This sort of banality was clearly not for her, and she ended up playing the London pub circuit during the punk era, though in spite of her healthy anarchic outlook on life, it would be wrong to pigeonhole her as a punk rocker.
She was "discovered" at a club called the Nashville, and at the audition for Breaking Glass she faced stiff competition, including from Toyah Wilcox. If the producers had been au fait with her fly-by-night track record it is doubtful she would have got the part, and the world of music would have been all the poorer for it. The rest is history. Having been chosen for the lead, she also got the job of writing the soundtrack. And this relatively inexperienced, free-spirited young woman produced a masterpiece.
The film was a monster hit, and also transformed her life; in her own words, it "took me from sleeping bags on beaches to five-star hotels, and my first home with a proper bathroom". The film's heroine, Kate, could have been her alter ego, and the songs reflect this.
Although her musical output was far from prolific over the next two decades and more, she was hardly idle, developing her acting career, especially in the theatre.
She has produced some fine material since her film debut, but it was a difficult act to follow, and her hauntingly beautiful ballad "Will You?" will probably be judged by future musicologists to be her finest composition. (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above)