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Live review

Hazel O'Connor 

Birmingham Ballroom

added: 18 Oct 2012 // gig date: 14 Oct 2012
reviewer: Ross Cotton

Hazel O'Connor - Birmingham Ballroom - Printable version
Having not experienced a live performance of Hazel's before, I was eagerly anticipated to hear her Breaking Glass hits in the flesh; and to discover tracks that I wasn't as familiar with across her career.

I'm immersed in the relevance of Hazel's songs surrounding unemployment, politics and economics, and I find it extremely rewarding that I'm able to relate perfectly with her lyrics thirty years on. But I also seethe in the knowledge that our society really hasn't changed since her tracks were written.

After experiencing some poor support acts, I began to wonder if Hazel's performance would be up to scratch. However, Hazel's motherly warmth soon retained my hope, as her down to Earth yet quirky visage projected outwards for fans to claim. The new wave punk had now opted for a cherishable, tender image; her hair tied in pigtails as appose to a ravished-wild-blonde frizz, and her face naturally shadowed rather than rebelliously flaunting eccentricity. Although that's not to say that this lady has lost her whimsicality, just that her image has grown respectfully prevalent with age.

Unfortunately, her voice has changed over the years for worse, and I'm not entirely sure if hits such as 'Big Brother' sound as rewarding as they used to. Hazel's vocals have shifted and matured, which is probably why her later work explores jazz styles, tending to suit her range much better live. Accompanied by two other female vocalists, Hazel can just about pull off her hits, but that's not to say the meaning behind the tracks - or the performative methods - have changed at all since the day they were written. Yes Hazel still knows exactly how to work up and engage her audience, even if she can't reach those notes anymore. Bouncing around the stage and constantly working on an impulse, this gig was coming from a lady whos precision in entertainment is faultless in almost every way.

Experiencing 'Monsters in Disguise' live was definitely the highlight of the show, as Hazel evoked political relevance far more recognisable in today's society than any other live music that I've sampled previously. “Reams of rules constructed for protection, protection for yourselves but not for me”, she sings, amplifying her impassioned perspective as though she was bellowing real time thoughts, encompassing her fans of whom retained similar ideals.

Musically, Hazel's backing band were perfect too, and Clare Hirst undeniably stole the show during her sax solos. On 'Will You', Clare beckoned the crowd with her vibrant and soulful freestyles, transfixing a whole new depth to the track as if it were her own sax-driven classic.

Hazel's final song, 'Still Breathing', assembled the crowd into her personal energetic choir. Reflecting lyrics onto fans, she delved sprightly into animation “Hey-ho I'm still breathing, hey-ho I've survived, hey-ho I'm still breathing, hey-ho I'm alive”, she exclaimed cheerfully, while the audience breathed in the celebration of Hazel O'Connor, as though her warming stage presence had been long-awaited in brightening up the dull, cold streets of Birmingham.

A brilliant, vibrant performance from Hazel, it's just a shame that her support acts were unable to prelude her with similar affection.

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4 stars

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