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© Penny Young Photography

OX meets Hazell Dean

We talk to the undisputed queen of Hi-NRG, who rocketed to fame with the release of her first Top 50 hit, the huge gay anthem Searchin’, which shot to number 1 in the summer of 1984
© Penny Young Photography

"It did become more like the ‘Hit Factory’ as the press called it"

It was Hazell Dean who gave Stock, Aitken and Waterman their first Top 10 hit with Whatever I Do (Wherever I Go), and continues to write, produce and perform music to this day.

 

OX caught up with Hazell ahead of her performance at Rewind Festival in August.

You’ve been a massive gay icon over the last few decades and you play at a lot of the Pride events. How have you seen the gay scene change over the years? What’s the atmosphere like playing at those events compared to, say, a decade ago?

I don’t think it’s particularly changed, really. It’s always great fun doing a gay venue, and although I don’t do as many as I did back in the 80s and 90s the atmosphere, in most cases, is still pretty good.


What was it like to play at clubs like Heaven back in the day?

Oh, they were fantastic. Absolutely sensational. Searchin’ was number 1 in the chart when I performed at Heaven for the first time, and the crowd were going crazy even before I’d even stepped on the stage. Once I’d stepped on, I fell in love with the whole thing.

Your first single went straight to number 1. What was it like to have such a sharp upward trajectory?

It was very exciting, although it was what I’d been aiming towards. Before Searchin’ came along, I’d been singing in bands and doing session work for a long time, but my whole thing in life was that I wanted to be successful, so in many ways it’s what I expected. When it came, it was fast and furious, but I think I rose to the occasion and I enjoyed every minute of it.

So how did it actually happen? Who put you into that spotlight?

Back in the 70s I had a record deal with Decca, and I made some records at that time that were very big on the Northern Soul scene. Ian Anthony Stephens, who wrote and produced Searchin’, was a DJ from that scene. He’d always loved my voice and he had the track ready to go, so he tracked me down. When I first heard the finished track I fell completely in love with it, because at the time it was different, very fresh and very new. A very exciting track.

Searchin’ was very much part of the Hi-NRG wave that came across America and Britain at the time. Stock, Aitken and Waterman were a huge part of that and you worked with them on a few projects. What were they like as people?

After we’d finished recording we’d always go to the pub afterwards and talk – I’ve always gotten on really well with all three. Mike [Stock] and Matt [Aitken] used to do the same sort of gigs that I was doing in and around London, so we had quite a lot in common, we knew a lot of the same people, and we always used to have great fun. Obviously as time went by and they had more artists, it did become more like the ‘Hit Factory’ as the press called it, but even in those times we used to go to the pub and have fun together.

Your newer material has a more modern, housey feel to it. Do you listen to a lot of modern dance music yourself?

Yes, I try to keep up to make sure I’ve got new ideas. I work with Peter Ware and we also work with a fantastic producer called Matt Pop, who is sensational. We’re very lucky to have those good remixes – I’d say Peter and I do the glossy, poppier mixes and then Matt provides the more modern feel on the remixes.

Do you still have the same energy in the studio as you did back in the day?

It’s different now because I’m co-producing as well, which is a whole different ball game. I like to think that I’ve always had a lot of ideas, whether in the studio or on stage, and I like to keep things interesting so that provides momentum. Nowadays it’s much easier to get my ideas down because I have that knowledge and role as co-producer. It’s great fun.

Presumably nowadays you have more time to think about what you’re producing.

Well, I have a family now so I have to balance it out, but yes I might have a day where I can just spend time looking over the tracks. What I do have is less pressure from the record labels and I do everything in my own time. I’m also not as pressured to do as many live shows, although I still love to do them.

Do your family see you as a big 80s pop star?

Oh yes!

Fantastic. You’re appearing at Rewind Festival this year alongside loads of other great names from your era. What can we expect from your set this year?

I’m going to sing Who’s Leaving Who and Searchin’.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

Well Toyah Willcox is one, and she’s great. The Real Thing, Tony Hadley, Rick Astley...

What are your plans for the future?

To carry on. As long as I can do what I’m doing in my own time, I’m quite happy. If anything special should come along then I’ll do it, but it’s nice to be able to ease back a bit – I could never work at the rate I used to anyway. It’s all about enjoying it.

- Jack Rayner

 

Hazell Dean performs at Rewind Festival South in Henley on Saturday 20th August. Tickets are available at rewindfestival. com

 

Related Articles: “The energy is in the writing”: Toyah Willcox | “Singing was my salvation”: Annabella Lwin