- SINEAD O’Connor is having a little laugh to herself. The 45-year-old singer has just received a letter from the Manchester hotel she’s staying in, complaining about someone smoking on the premises. As controversy goes that’s small potatoes for the Irish agent provocateur, which is perhaps why she dismisses it without stopping for breath.
Sinead O’Connor has just played at Manchester Cathedral, where she received a rapturous reception for her performance, one of five on a short British tour to promote her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (and You Be You)?
She’s tired and her voice is suffering slightly after 90 minutes of exertion. “I’m always a little bit croaky afterwards,” she says. Nevertheless, the shaven-headed star is in good spirits. And why not? Her audience loves her and the reviews so far for her new album have been among the best in her long career.
“It’s nice having people focus on that and not all the other stuff — and I include myself in that,” she says, referring — at least in part — to her most recent brush with the British and Irish tabloids, concerning an attempted suicide in January and the precarious state of her Las Vegas marriage in December to Barry Herridge, a man she met through the internet.
Days after the ceremony O’Connor announced on her website that the marriage, her fourth, was off, only to retract the statement soon after. Since then she has confirmed that she and the 38-year-old drugs counsellor are no longer a couple.
“The focus is really on the music now,” she affirms, “and I’m intending to keep it that way.”
She’ll do well to succeed in that. In the 25 years that O’Connor has been singing professionally, often it hasn’t been her music that has attracted media attention.
Aside from recent developments in her personal life, there was the ripping up of a picture of pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992, her ordination as a priest of the Irish Orthodox and Apostolic Church in the late 1990s and her repeated attacks on the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse committed by clergy.
That last topic is at the heart of the final song on How About I Be Me? Titled VIP, it’s O’Connor venting her anger on other Irish artists who have chosen not to speak out on the Vatican’s action, or lack of it, with respect to the revelations of abuse. Bono and Bob Geldof, singers for whom she says she has a lot of respect, are among those in her sights.
“It seems corrupt to me, the silence,” she says. “There’s a tradition among Irish artists of being involved in the shaping of Irish society and there’s also the tradition of artists all over the world waving their Grammys around when they win them and thanking God, but not actually being there when there’s a pitched battle in the streets for the honour of God. The song asks a lot of questions about that, about where we are spiritually as artists and do we have ourselves focused all the time on what’s important.”
For the moment O’Connor is focused on promoting her new work, which she recorded with one of her former husbands, John Reynolds. Reynolds also produced O’Connor’s first album, The Lion and the Cobra, and her 1994 album Universal Mother. The result this time shows O’Connor in fine voice and as lyrically feisty as at any point in her career. With its predominantly rock vibe and contemporary topics the album is in contrast to other recent offerings, such as the scripture-inspired Theology (2007) and the traditional Irish-themed Sean-Nos Nua (2002).
The singer, in her typically direct manner, describes it as her “f . . k off” album, aimed in particular at Irish people who don’t understand her.
“It’s really about me being tired of listening to everybody’s bloody opinions about what I shouldn’t be,” she says. “I thought it was about time I just told everyone to f . . k off. That’s what it really means. Ireland’s a place full of opinions about people like me, so this is just me saying shut the f . . k up.”
That she can admit to this while laughing at the idea suggests that the O’Connor of 2012 is not quite as angry as she used to be.
“I’m 45 years of age,” she says. “I think we’re all a lot less angry at that age than when we were young.”
There is a lot of joy on How About I Be Me? The opening, reggae-tinged 4th and Vine is as potent a love song, in its own way, as the Prince-penned Nothing Compares 2U, the singer’s most successful recording and a song that is still central to her impressive setlist.
“I wanted to write love songs, romantic songs, and songs that weren’t necessarily about me,” she says.
One that is about her is I Had a Baby, an emotional and frank take on the birth of her fourth and youngest child, Yeshua, in 2006.
O’Connor’s family and relationship chronology is complicated. She married Reynolds in 1989 and they have a son, Jake, who is 24. She then had a second child, Brigidine, with journalist John Waters in 1996. She married another journalist, Nicholas Sommerlad, in 2002. She had a third child, Shane, with folk musician Donal Lunny in 2004 and married her long-time friend Steve Cooney in 2010.
The father in I Had a Baby, Frank Bonadio, to whom the album is dedicated (alongside her brother Joseph), was the husband of Irish singer Mary Coughlan at the time of Yeshua’s conception. “I had a thing with a man who wasn’t mine to be with,” she sings gently, before the song gets more graphic.
There’s potency in O’Connor’s voice at every turn, whether on the laid-back songs or the more challenging tracks, such as the confronting junkie song Reason With Me and the sole cover on the album, John Grant’s Queen of Denmark, on which she lets rip with awe-inspiring bile at a lover.
Despite her setbacks and the demons she appears to be wrestling with on an irregular basis, today O’Connor is positive about her career and her life. She says that she has been misrepresented in the media (“sometimes yes, sometimes not”), but that she is comfortable being who she is and has no regrets about any of her actions in the past.
Outside of music, one of her chief ambitions is to be a granny. Jake, her eldest child, is the leading candidate to realise her ambition, “but he’d kill me if he thought I was hoping he’d have a baby”.
“I’m afraid to get my hopes up because I shouldn’t,” she says. “I’ll give him another six years or so and then I’ll start nagging.”
Career-wise O’Connor is looking forward to a year of touring on the back of her album, which she hopes will include a visit to Australia about Christmas time.
And she’s philosophical and optimistic about the road she’s on generally.
“I just want to really enjoy life,” she says. “I figure I’ve maybe got another 45 years left in me on the earth. Obviously I can keep making music. Hopefully I can contribute something to the human race doing that and leave the planet feeling like I did something useful.”
By: Iain Shedden/The Australian