Hazel O’Connor talks Beyond Breaking Glass

Hazel O'Connor. Pic: Comp
Hazel O'Connor. Pic: Comp
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WILL You?, Eighth Day and Decadent Days were all Top 10 hits for Hazel O’Connor back in the early 80s.

The first two came from the sound track of the seminal movie Breaking Glass, which charted the rise and fall of Kate, the darling of the emerging new wave music scene at the time.

O’Connor’s own career would go on to mirror aspects of her fictional alter-ego in the following years, causing her to write the play Beyond Breaking Glass, which premiered at the Fringe 15 years ago.

At the Pleasance Courtyard this week, the singer is reunited with long-term collaborator, virtuoso harpist Cormac De Barra as Beyond Breaking Glass returns - but it’s not the same show, O’Connor reveals.

While still a candid and emotional journey from her childhood through her life, the end has been re-written to incorporate the loss of her beloved mother, Joyce.

“The beginning of the show is unchanged but the story evolves later on. All the hits are still there, so musically it’s pretty much the same, except that we have added the Re-Joyce single, which is now pretty important to the piece.”

Re-Joyce is a song that O’Connor wrote for her mother when, in Christmas 2009, she was taken into a hospice, where she was looked after as she fought cancer, a battle she lost the following year.

The following Christmas, a host of 80’s pop stars including Toyah Willcox, Carol Decker, Pauline Black, Ranking Roger, Vince Hill, Moya Brennan, Neville Staple and Kid Creole, joined O’Connor to release Re-Joyce as a charity single to raise money for the hospice that had cared for her mother.

“When I was trying to decide what I needed to say in the show, and how I could say it in an hour (the Edinburgh Golden Hour, which is never quite enough) I knew I had to include the most important thing that has ever happened to me, my mother’s death.

“I was so awe-inspired by the work that everybody in the hospice did. When mum got the diagnosis, she was given six weeks to live and I said, ‘Well I ain’t going anywhere’.

“She lived longer than she was told she would, which is also great; you can’t ever take what the doctors say, you have to run your own course.

“I always felt guilty about running away and all the things I had done, being a bit of a wild child. Then when she was so ill... I don’t know, I just suddenly realised that all the record company troubles I’d had over the years and all that had happened to me wasn’t important. What was important was that I had made my mum proud.”

O’Connor channelled all her energy into getting Re-Joyce released in 2010.

“The proudest moment I ever had was getting those 80s singers together to record the song that I had written for her. I remember fighting to get HMV to put the record in their local shop, dealing with a young manager who didn’t know me from Adam because he was only 22.

“He refused me initially and I got really feisty and said, ‘Well see how you like it when your mum or nan is dying in the hospice...’ and the next moment he relented. Doing something for somebody else, for a charity you believe in, brings out a different kind of fight in you. That was good for me.”

O’Connor and De Barra only performed the song live for the first time last week, while rehearsing for Edinburgh. It was an emotional moment.

“It was difficult for us because my mum was like Cormac’s second mum too. There was a little poem she left for me and my brother and it’s very, very heavy going. It’s not meant to be, it’s meant to help us move on with our lives, but all the way through it Cormac and I were almost in tears.”

It’s been a decade and a half since Beyond Breaking Glass debuted in Cafe Graffiti on Mansfield Place, but O’Connor feels the show has finally come full circle.

“To be honest, I never imagined we’d still be doing it,” she says, “and it’s wonderful that we are doing it at the Pleasance because, all those years ago we used to walk past the Pleasance on the way to Cafe Graffiti and say to each other, ‘It would be nice to play there one day’. So it’s a bit like a dream come true really. Sounds soppy, but it is.”

Beyond Breaking Glass, Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 August, 5.30pm, £15-£17.50, 0131-226 0000