I received an invite to go and watch Hazel O’ Connor live at The Green Room in Manchester courtesy of a friend. It was a good night, and an enjoyable performance at a great little venue. I will cover the show in a little more detail later, but first of all, I need to give The Green Room the glowing review it deserves.
The best things aren’t the most well known
The Green Room is a cool little theatre, with a bar and small auditorium with seating for around two hundred people. Opened in 1983, as a venue, for national and international performing artists, it is located in the west of the City under the converted Victorian railway arches, on Whitworth Street West, near Oxford Street rail station.
The bar is set on two levels, with contemporary seating and a relaxed atmosphere. There is a very extensive selection of bottled and draught beers, I spoke with the manageress and she informed me that this was a very conscious effort. There is a good selection of wines on offer and a reasonable choice of spirits, including two kinds of Havana Club rum, very cool. They do not however do mojitos or other cocktails, which is a shame considering the rum, but that’s my personal taste so it is not really an issue.
There is Guinness and Guinness Extra Cold on offer and these were certainly to my taste, especially the ice cold one. I also tried the Havana Club with soda and lime, it was pretty cool and I even excused them for the lack of mojitos. The one complaint I do have; is regarding the coffee, I ordered a double espresso and it can only be described as disappointing. Firstly it was only luke warm, it was also weak and the ‘film’ you can usually expect to see on the surface was absent. I queried it with a team member and she revealed that the grinder had broken sometime ago, and they had not had it replaced. This means they are using ground and probably freeze dried coffee instead of beans, but again unless you are an espresso coffee lover like me it is probably not such a big issue.
The staff are very friendly, helpful and happy to chat when given the opportunity, they seemed to enjoy their jobs and got along quite well. This improves the overall atmosphere of the venue, well the staff smile and seem genuinely pleased to look after you, it makes the whole evening much more fun and enjoyable.
A one woman show
We arrived early as we were due to meet Hazel before the performance, unfortunately though she was kept busy preparing for her show. It was quiet at the venue and as we had not eaten we decided to visit a nearby pizzeria for some food. On returning to The Green Room, we found it packed and a long queue had already formed prior to the performance. We had free tickets, yes I know; well cool, but seats are not reserved, so we had to take whatever seat was available, just like everybody else. This was not a problem however, the theatre is quite small and intimate and wherever we sat gave us a great view of the stage and artists. The small size of the auditorium also means that they can be easily heard throughout without the sound becoming overpowering, regardless of where you are seated. The perfect venue for the show we were about to experience.
If you are not familiar with Hazel O’ Connor, I encourage you to Google her, it certainly makes interesting reading. She was very big in the eighties, and was given many accolades including the ‘Queen of Punk’. She had several hit records in the era of vinyl and also played the starring role in a film called ‘Breaking Glass’. In fact the show is called ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’ and was first performed at the Edinburgh fringe Festival eleven years ago.
It is basically a refreshingly honest and candid biographical account supported by the songs that made her a ‘cult’ heroine and music icon to many. It is an acoustic performance; being very ably supported by the talented Cormac De Barra on the harp, which adds an immediate touch of originality and atmosphere to the whole show. Think about that for a moment, eighties punk songs accompanied by the melodious sound of a harp, try telling me that is not something a little different! Cormac is a star in his own right, with a great many musical credits to his name, including performing in front of the Emperor of Japan.
Hazel is an extremely talented singer/songwriter, who may have lost a tiny bit of the power in her voice from her earlier years, but has lost none of the vitality and energy in her live performances. Some may describe the show as a little quirky, but this is the appeal, Hazel manages to pull the whole thing off with panache and aplomb. Her narrative is filled with humour, insight and poignancy, it has the audience engaged, as well as entertained and left us all wanting more. The entire performance lasts around two hours with a short intermission, and I for one certainly found it is the perfect length.
The show is ‘littered’ with memorable songs from the days when she was a household name. ‘Eighth Day’, ‘Decadent Days’ were performed with gusto. Of course the almost achingly vulnerable ‘Will You’ is performed, which despite missing the iconic saxophone solo, I defy anybody not to cuddle up to their special someone during this!
The enthusiastic and eclectic audience were a variety of ages and backgrounds, teenagers and grandmothers, punk rockers and professionals, all totally riveted to their seats. We were all at once, appreciative, sombre when appropriate and laughing out loud when Hazel produces some of her customary humour to the situation. This is how it should be, she never allows us to feel sorry for her, as she never wallows in self pity herself, carrying us along on a positive wave of storytelling and music. It is obvious that many of the audience have seen this and other performances on many occasions and that they receive two standing ovations and calls for encores is no surprise to anyone.
Get me out of here I’m a celebrity
The feel that this is a gathering of old friends was further enhanced after the finish of the performance. Hazel and Cormac both patiently chatting with all that wished to speak with them, posing for photographs, signing autographs on various show paraphernalia and generally making everybody feel just a little special. They did this for probably two hours, until every last well wisher had been and had their moment with their ‘heroes’. A far cry from the usual rushed signings which are only given to one or two lucky individuals at the majority of concerts these days.
The Green Room is one of those rare great places that every local knows, but not that many have actually visited. This however has been its downfall as unfortunately the manageress informed me that it is about to close due to insufficient revenue. In fact it will close at the end of May this year. If you are in the Manchester this month check it out before it is too late!
In summary it was a great experience, and a great performance which I can thoroughly recommend. If you get the chance, go and see the ‘Beyond Breaking Glass’ show, even better if you can manage to see it in a small, intimate venue like this one!