Reviewer: Jo Beggs
For those of us old enough to remember Breaking Glass hitting the cinema screens – and there are plenty of people meeting that description in the audience at the Lowry – a gig like this is always a risk. Will it live up to our fond memories of the early 80s? Will Hazel look – and worse, sound – too old to carry off the anarchic musings of her 25-year-old self?
Nothing to worry about. Now 60, O’Connor looks and sounds great and this tour, which celebrates her 1980 film and the 35 years that have passed since she made it, offers a chance to make a direct comparison. The first half of the evening is a screening of the film. For those who haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it for 35 years, which is probably much the same thing, it’s a welcome chance to see this seminal music movie that spawned a handful of chart hits. Breaking Glass, written and directed by Brian Gibson, is very much of its time, charting the rise and fall of a punk/new wave singer guilelessly trying to make important and meaningful music and railing against society while the music industry wrings her dry. The film, viewed 35 years on, has a period charm, but still something powerful to say about a ruthless entertainment industry, the naivety of youth, and the Thatcher years in Britain. And on top of that, it has great songs.
O’Connor’s career has ticked along nicely in the meantime and, since 2010, she’s been recording and performing with Sarah Fisher (piano and vocals) and ex-Bellestar Clare Hirst (saxophone and vocals), who bring a whole new jazzy feel to things. It’s these two that join her on stage in the second half of the evening, after a short post-film Q&A, to perform the full Breaking Glass album along with a couple of more recent numbers and a cover of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars (as featured on 2010’s The Bluja Project album) the lyrics of which turn out to be rather poignant when delivered by an older woman.
O’Connor still has a great energy and her vocals are as scratchy and powerful as ever, but there’s definitely something lost in the choice of piano and saxophone accompaniment – namely the rest of the band that gave these songs their real sense of edgy danger. Jazzed up, they do feel a little dated. The electric piano is also a little overwhelming and, although the overall balance is generally good, it seems to get in the way of O’Connor’s vocals at times. Hirst is a great saxophonist, her solo breaks proving popular with the audience. She’s certainly moved on from Sign of the Times and the irritating earworm that was Iko Iko. The line-up works great for the newer songs they’ve recorded together, less so for the Breaking Glass songs. Still, it’s good to see things have moved on and O’Connor is clearly doing what she enjoys.
As O’Connor sits on a chair at the edge of the stage for the Q&A, she seems relaxed and ready to share some stories. Hinting at some parallels with the film that she experienced in her own career, it’s clear that things haven’t always been that great. Doing what you love is a great way to beat the dark side of the entertainment industry, and she must get great pleasure from the adoration of the aging crowd who still love her and her songs, and for whom tonight, as one woman told her “the film brings some very strong emotions and memories rushing back”.
Reviewed on 30 November 2015 | Image: Contributed