This is an evening celebrating 35 years since the release of the iconic film, Breaking Glass, the Story of a new wave (post punk) band in the early Eighties, from their humble beginnings to their fifteen minutes of fame, to tragedy, break ups and inevitable break downs. Hazel O’Connor starred in the film, as Kate, and was nominated for a BAFTA award and wrote/sang the soundtrack album. The evening will feature the film in its entirety (I wasn’t expecting that!) followed by a short question and answer session (or that!) and then the show: the whole of the breaking Glass album, in its entirety. (I was expecting that. The title of the tour sort of gave it away.)
1980. I remember the buzz around the film and its attendant singles when I was at school. Am I really that old? Let's move on...
Hazel comes out to introduce the film; she's now sixty and looking good... I know this because I put on my glasses to get a glimpse of her in focus. Short blonde hair, her most familiar look, but softer and more feminine than many of her early photographs.
The film also stars cheeky chappie, Phil Daniels, so young he's virtually a foetus. It's also literally peppered with soon-to-be-famous faces. Everyone you see is someone. I’m surprised by how funny it is in parts, such as the snapshots of band auditions, (“This is my sixty-third audition!”) but it also presents a stark vision of Thatcherite Britain, fascist riots and violence against a backdrop of urban decay, strikes and unemployment with a recurring theme of oppression. The lyrics to the songs capture the feeling of the times and are delivered with a sneering passion and aggression.
The film reaches its climax with the shattering Eighth Day which works brilliantly and is shot in a visually stunning manner, after which it ends quietly, but not for long, as there is a roar of applause and the house lights go up. Brilliant!
After a welcome toilet stop (we’re not as young as we used to be) the evening resumes with the question and answer session. Hazel sits on the stage and comes across as very warm, approachable and funny. She reacts to the questions with humour and bares her soul. She was choked when she just watched the end of the film, she says, because it was prophetic; it later happened to her. Though the end of the film, she explains, is actually supposed to convey a glimmer of hope, which I missed. The lyrics were written mainly within a week; she was accused at the time of being nihilistic, but yes she believes the lyrics are sadly as relevant today as ever.
Then it’s time for the gig. Now, if you came here wanting the music in the gig to replicate the film then you may be disappointed. Breaking Glass is locked in stasis; it speaks of and sounds like the very early Eighties: harsh post punk sounds with fledgling and experimental electronica. What we have here tonight is something quite different: a woman with a deep and matured voice still belting out these songs but in a pared back, reinvented, jazzy way. She is accompanied not by a full male band, as you might expect, but by two female musicians, Sarah on keyboards and Claire on sax, so they essentially form a Jazz Trio.
They open, as the film does, with Writing on the Wall, a spirited performance, strong vocals with Hazel affecting an aggressive, somewhat simian, strutting dance style. Let’s call it distinctive. The other songs follow, in film order, all different, but all good. When they’re half way through the list there is an interlude while they perform a moving song not from the album, I'll Give You My Sunshine, which Hazel explains, was written for her best friend, Joyce O’Connor: her mum, who died of cancer.
Back with the programme, the remaining songs follow, and with Hazel explaining some of the lyrics (Government White Papers and the killing of Blair Peach) they have even more resonance. The last two songs from the film are the two big hit singles. Will You is a melodic and beautifully nervous love song, perfectly performed and ending with a stirring sax solo. Last of all is Eighth Day, climactic and manic; the story of the universe in four minutes. Perfect. Some pop stars get sick of the songs that made them famous; Hazel O’Connor is best remembered for these two songs, her biggest hits; they are pretty good songs to be remembered by.
An amazing evening.
Reviewed on: 30th November 2015
Reviewed by: John Wood