The voluntary post came with board and lodge and £10 a week pocket money.
My housemates were preparing to be monks; there was no television in the gate lodge in which we lived; no radio, and only an elderly portable record player on which to play the handful of old LPs they had. Their conversation was often esoteric religious stuff; not much in it to interest a 20 year old with no religious background. The best moments were when they got their Woodstock records out and talked of times when it seemed that the world could have been a good place.
It was a frequently lonely. The pocket money didn’t go far, not that there was much to spend the money on; a pint at the local pub and occasional visits to the cinema to see things that were even half interesting. Sometimes the dark shadows of depression would close in and the whole experience would seem like an odd play in which I was no more than an onlooker.
Slowly I began to buy odd records of my own. These were greeted with scorn and derision by my housemates; I still laugh at memories of them singing their own words to Blondie’s “Atomic”. They were good blokes; just from a generation before the rough edgedness of punk.
One record got me through, Hazel O’Connor’s “Breaking Glass”. The album came from the film of the same name, a film that tracked the meteoric rise and fall of a fictional rock star. The rock star’s fall comes with deep depression, and the angst and melancholy of the music express the pain of being unable to communicate from behind a wall of darkness.
The film was shown at the cinema and I bought the album at a record shop. I played it, again and again. The lyrics still come back with little attempt at recall. “Will You”, expresses a sense of complete inability to put into words what it was you wanted to say. It was an angst-filled version of a sentiment expressed, humorously, but seriously, by Madness in “My girl’s mad at me”‘; that one might feel great love for a person and yet be completely unable to articulate one’s feelings.
Hazel O’Connor was forgotten for years. Only last night, flicking through old vinyl, did I rediscover “Breaking Glass”, and a copy of her second album “Sons and Lovers, and a copy of her third album, “Cover Plus”. I remembered travelling to Brighton on a bus with my luggage in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag to see her play at the Brighton Conference Centre, a trip that must have cost at least a week of my money.
Strange how someone can be so important and then be forgotten.
Googling her, I discovered she had played Glastonbury last summer – a festival a few miles from my Somerset home, and was touring big venues next year, but there was a surprise in the itinerary. A charity gig is taking place at the end of January, not at any of the Dublin concert venues, but at Saint Stephen’s Church, a Church of Ireland church here in Dublin; what’s more, Ms O’Connor must be living here somewhere, for she has an Irish email address.
Maybe the time has come to go and close the circle.