Saturday, 3 August 2013

Punk(ish) Footnotes #4- Hazel O'Connor, burgers and Stephen


Stephen always seemed to be in trouble. I could never quite work out why the teachers found so much to object to about him. He was a bit of berk but never seemed like a bad kid. There must have been things not quite right at home. Sutton was well off enough for Stephen to standout on the first day at Senior School. He was still wearing the grey shirt and jumper we wore to Junior School. He was minus a blazer and the only piece of the new uniform he had was the blue and gold tie.

Stephen came to mind yesterday when I was browsing YouTube. I was struck by how many old bands seem be enjoying some strange afterlife. Angelic Upstarts made their one Top of the Pops appearance in I guess 1979. I had presumed they had thrown in the towel by 1984. But no, YouTube reveals a band that has put on a lot of weight but is still playing to appreciative audiences. These gigs are not just in some mate’s pub in Wallsend but locations as exotic as Sao Paulo, Bologna and Lodz. How these guys music found an audience in these places, and how they wound up playing there is profoundly odd.

But Stephen came to mind because of a more commercial New Wavish artist. The last time I gave Hazel O’Connor a thought was in Burgermeister, opposite Sutton Station, late one Tuesday night in 1985. There bouncing around behind the counter in an apron holding a big burger flipper was Stephen.

‘I don’t work here, I am hiding from somebody.’ Was his explanation. Unless he was fleeing a group of enraged vegans I could not think of a less effective hiding place. Burgermeister was a grim spot strategically located near The Whistle Stop Pub and the cab shop. A good place to be if you wanted to be involved in a fight.

We started chatting about music. ‘I still like a lot of punk stuff.’ My ears pricked up. He pointed toward s a battered cassette player. ‘I was listening to Hazel O’Connor earlier.’ I stifled the urge to make a sour remark. O’Connor appeared in that space when New Wave gave way to synth pop. I was a bit snooty about her; she broke through starring in the film ‘Breaking Glass’ which was not very 4 Real in my book.  But when I got home I dug out the cassette, and a couple of nights later enjoyed listening to ‘Will You’ with my girlfriend.

Browsing YouTube that evening came to mind and l did a search. But what appeared was not the face of a spikey haired young singer but a rather formidable looking woman in her 50’s belting out the tune. And there was more from 2010, 11, 12. Loads of footage of O’Connor performing at all manner of events. In fact it proved a struggle to find the stuff from what I imagine even she would describe as her heyday. There was stuff from a Punk festival a couple of years ago, and footage from a 30th anniversary gig. I did not realise that the film ‘Breaking Glass’ was remembered with that kind of fondness.

It is kind of appealing that below the surface of public consciousness there are a whole batch of bands long presumed dead still playing to those that love them. And what they play is sealed in amber, the songs from when the love affair began. The fans are loyal and in return the artists don’t shatter the mirror of nostalgia.