Talking With the Queen of HiNRG, Hazell Dean

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Hazell Dean, O2 Arena, London (2012).

I remember being exposed to all types of music through my parents. Neither Mom or Dad are particularly gifted musically, but they share a love of dancing and live music. I was exposed to this love early on in my childhood. My mother’s record collection had a huge impact on my upbringing and I have distinct memories of singing/dancing to Janet Jackson, the Bee Gees, Prince, the Beatles, Cher, and … Hazell Dean.

Hazell Dean, coined the Queen of HiNRG because of her heavy beat driven songs and energetic live performances. Dean has been a singer, songwriter, producer, and performer since the mid ‘70s. She’s also well-known friends with fellow popstars Toyah, Sinitta, and Rick Astley. I became aware of Dean’s music through her music videos and records of the ‘80s. Always Doesn’t Mean ForeverNo Fool For LoveThey Say It’s Gonna Rain, and, Turn It Into Love will always have a special place in my heart. So, imagine my surprise when Hazell’s “Co-pilot” emailed me asking for help to develop artwork for an upcoming album! Flash forward nearly two years later and here we are.

SteveThank you for taking time to speak with me Hazell. We had a great conversation not long ago and I thought this would be a great way to expand on that and share with new and long-time fans. I have quite a few friends who have been DJs thirty-plus years, all of who know and respect the body of work that is Hazell Dean’s, but I’m not sure about younger audiences, especially here in the States.

Hazell DeanInteresting you should say that, as we received an email from a fifteen year old fan this week! I toured America annually for 20 years, in both gay and straight venues. I have great memories of touring the club circuit during those days. I would always end the tour with Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West (for a break). I have a massive fan base in South Africa where, “They Say It’s Gonna Rain”, was No 1 for 18 weeks, but have only performed in the country three times!

During the ‘80s/’90s my most busy markets were in Europe, especially the Netherlands and ScandinaviaI am also very popular in Mexico, Chile, and Guatemala! And I have a niche market in Japan and Australia – I’m very international – I have ONE Spotify listener in Liechtenstein.  [laughter]

Obviously, my main fan base is “of a certain age” but the ‘80s is such a well-loved era it crosses generations, so I do have a lot of younger fans too. The majority of my fans are still in the UK, and although I will always have a gay following, my audience these days is predominantly straight, and I think that is because the British gay club and bar scene has diminished so much. 80s Festivals are very popular, and usually family friendly, so a lot of kids brought up on ‘80s music are coming along with their parents.

SI love it! Honestly, there hasn’t been an era like the ‘80s and likely never will be. Let’s rewind to a time before the 1980s, before you became known as the Queen of HiNRG. What were your musical tastes as a child? Did you always intend to become a singer?

HDYes, there was nothing else I ever wanted to do.  There is nothing else I could be, it’s in my DNA. My favourite artists growing up were The Beatles, The Hollies, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, The Seekers – I just loved pop music. As I got older, I got into Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and more jazz followed by Motown, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, etc. Then It was Carole King, Barbara Streisand, James Taylor — I still like them all today and I’ve seen most of them live (Yes, even The Beatles!). I have been the Queen of HiNRG since 1984, and I intend to reign for a while longer. [wink]

Evergreen

Evergreen (1983)

S: Long live the Queen of HiNRG! [shared laughter] Quick note, my mom loves your cover of Streisand’s, Evergreen. In ’84 your breakout hits were, Searchin’ (I Gotta Find a Man) and Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), infectious club anthems. What was the music landscape in the UK in the early ‘80s? Did that influence your career as a dance/pop artist?

HDMy first releases became hits on the UK Northern Soul scene, but I was completely unaware at the time (“Our Day Will Come” and “Gotcha Where I Want Ya babe” on Decca Records). I was then approached by Ian Anthony Stevens, who had heard the Decca tracks approached me with a song called, “Searchin'”. I was still working in big bands, writing doing demos, learning my craft in the music business. The gay scene was thriving with Boys Town artists, DIVINE, Evelyn Thomas, Earlene Bentley, Lime – the list goes on. The ‘80s was very hedonistic, as was the music. I’m really glad I had my hits in this fantastic era, as I honestly think that the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s have a longevity and mass appeal that the 90’s and 00’s just don’t have.

SAbsolutely! But in the ‘80s particularly, the look was just as much of a statement as the music. How important is image for a successful popstar? How much of “Hazell Dean” is glitz, glam, and attitude for the stage and how much is the real you?

HDThere are two personas, for sure. Friends have often commented on the tangible change just before I go on stage. It’s a performance, Hazell Dean is a performer.At home I am much quieter and not into the whole “showbiz” partying scene. The only place I have to prove myself is on stage, not by being the center of attention in my everyday life. I talk about “Hazell Dean” in third party as that person isn’t really me, but a character. It’s my job. And I love it and the music I create. I like, Hazell Dean.

My job does not include – dancing on ice, eating bugs in the jungle, or whirling around the Strictly dancefloor, so don’t expect to see “Hazell Dean” on a reality show anytime soon, as Hazell the Mama would rather be at home watching with family. I love spending time with my family at home. There, we have a great social life, but I am very choosy about who I spend time with. I still have friends from my childhood and teenage years, and these people remain my true, trusted friends. I am a very private person, and although I have may “acquaintances” and casual friends, I trust very few people.

HD-Heavenly

HEAVENLY Double Single artwork by SWart Studio (2019).

SWhere did the idea of presenting yourself as a superhero come from for your current project, HEAVENLY/Because the Night?

HD:  The inspiration of which came from photos and a review of my performance at the 2012 Hit Factory Live show at The O2 Arena, London. A “critic” posted that, in his opinion, Hazell Dean “Looked mumsy”, and this was, “at odds with the HiNRG Thunder”. At the time I responded to his misogynistic comments, saying being “mumsy” is not an insult, and I am very proud to be someone’s mother! (Plus I was wearing Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, and a T-shirt with DIVINE on it – it’s hardly Laura Ashley florals, darling!) I also responded saying that I am not, “At odds with the HiNRG thunder” – I AM THE THUNDER! Co-pilot put these comments away – revenge is always a dish best served cold – and his negativity became a positive creative force.

The superhero imagery is Co-pilot’s concept, which started two whole years ago, after seeing the drawings on your Facebook profile after you posted and commented on my page. A transatlantic dialogue started between you two, and the Queen of HiNRG superhero started to take shape.

SBefore the release of HEAVENLY/Because the Night, in recent years, you’ve released three albums plus a long list of singles, greatest hits, and remixes. What makes a great song for Hazell Dean?

HD:  A great melody with a good hook – it’s more about feeling and can we put the “Hazell Dean” stamp on it. I’m getting fussier as I get older, but I know what I like, and what is right for me. People often make suggestions, and sometimes I think, “You have to be joking!”  A good song just feels right.

SFrom your last few albums and the clips of your new music coming out in a few weeks, it sounds (and feels) like you 100% know what works best for Hazell Dean and what her fans expect. Finally, Hazell, you’re a fixture of the PRIDE circuit, what made you such a revered gay icon?

HDTiming, and obviously the lyrical content of “Searchin’” was very appealing to the gay male audience of the early ‘80s. This was just before the AIDS epidemic, and during a period of freedom and increased visibility, and of course promiscuity [wink]. My audience was predominantly gay (and male) back then. I performed at my first Pride in 1984, at London Jubilee Gardens, and have been appearing at Prides all over the world for the last thirty-five years.

I limit that to three Prides a year now, for two reasons – the scene has changed, and the audience need artists more relevant to the demographic, and secondly, I’m semi-retired so I don’t want to do everything that is offered to me. Also, Prides tend to be during the summer, and as I have a family, spending time with them comes first. I think I have done my bit over thirty-five years. It does sometimes make me sad that thirty-five years of loyalty is ignored by today’s gay media, but my gay fans have remained loyal, and my talent has given my career a longevity beyond my expectations – I seem to be getting busier when I should be slowing down!

S: As a longtime fan myself, I’m so grateful you’ve continued performing and releasing such awesome music. And thank you again for taking the time to talk about your prolific career. And for including me as on your last single with Energise Records as the sleeve artist. It’s rare when one meets someone they admire and find they live up to that impossible standard that is a celebrity. You, Co-pilot, and your team have been a dream to work with. But most of all, thank you for all the music that helped compose the soundtrack of my life. I have so many wonderful memories attached to Hazell Dean!

HD: “Celebrity” is a strange word. I’m just doing a job. Consistency and hard work is a something that has always been instilled in me. “Fame” is a weird concept and I’m glad that I have a comfortable level of fame, where I can still enjoy a nice, normal life. I would not like to live my life in the spotlight, and I have never craved “celebrity” in the way some people do. I find the reality TV stars completely baffling. I like to be recognized for my talent and professionalism, and I expect to be treated with respect.  Equally, I treat people with kindness and respect, but my trust has to be earned. As a Scorpio I can be very unforgiving, and it is not advisable to cross me. Ever.

It’s been wonderful seeing your illustrations evolve, and I am very grateful for your input into this, my last single release on Energise Records. Thank YOU, Steve!

And just when I thought our conversation had wrapped, Hazell threw me a curveball and started asking me questions! (What?!) The Queen of HiNRG definitely has a cheeky side to her that may not always show up on stage.

HD: What were your initial thoughts when you received the random message from Co-pilot two years ago?

 S: I had to read and reread the message a couple of times before responding. It was a very surreal moment because I remember having your “Nightlife” album playing in the background. I had to run over to the stereo to make sure I was really listening to it or if I was just imagining. I called my boyfriend over to read the message aloud. I work some crazy hours as a teacher and independent artist, so I thought I must have been delusional from being overtired.

HD: The inspiration for “The Queen of HiNRG” came from Co-pilot, but how did you start to formulate those visuals and references she presented to you?

S: From our first discussion it seemed Co-pilot and I were in-synch. We took Hazell’s larger than life stage presence and combined elements of Hazell’s message from her music to draft our superhero. Oh my god, from the start it was a lot of fun! I remember the glamorous Hazell from her videos. “They Say It’s Gonna Rain”, in particular, and I knew I wanted to incorporate that into our character.

 HD: Which is your favourite image and why?

S: Hmm … Of all the illustrations I’ve done it has to be the cover of the HEAVENLY single. Co-pilot wanted Hazell, fist in the air, surrounded by fans, also raising their fists. It really is the true Hazell Dean, a dynamic performer who channels her magic on stage like a queen.

 HD: What would your superhero character look like and what’s your superpower?

 S: Tall and dashing, just like myself. [laughter] I want to say something flashy like super-strength or flight, but really — I would love to be able to bring instant peace or civility to an opponent. Maybe it’s the educator in me, but I’m definitely a peacemaker in and out of the classroom or studio.

HD: My fans LOVE these images and we have had an amazing response. Any plans for more comic book adventures for the Queen of HiNRG and entourage?

 S: Oh, totally! After the HEAVENLY project wraps (I’m still putting together the finishing touches on a Queen of HiNRG t-shirt graphic), I’m moving on to other projects I put on the backburner. BUT – I’ve already completed a page (or two) of pencils for an origin story of Hazell, Co-pilot, and Stevie (Ooo, and I need to incorporate Buddy, and Adam, and — ). I’m the type of artist who needs to finish, especially when I have an idea or story in mind. It’s just for fun, but I think the Dean Family will get a kick and hopefully die-hard HD fans will enjoy.

Hazell Dean’s new double single, HEAVENLY/Because the Night, will be available to pre-order February 10th from Energise Records. For more information on Hazell, her music, and upcoming events, go to hazelldean.net.

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A limited edition print sold for two charities, the Dahlia Foundation and Dogs On the Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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