Iconoclastic legend Sinead O’Connor is making her first visit to Greenbelt. Whether you picture her crying genuine tears in the video for massive hit Nothing Compares 2 U, tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live television, or being ordained a priest in the Latin Tridentine church, O’Connor’s career has taken many curious turns and she remains a potent cultural presence. She’s currently finishing off her tenth studio album, due for release in August 2014, and embarking on a major tour with Greenbelt as one of her stopping-off points.
Born in Glenageary in County Dublin, O’Connor is the third of five children. Her parents married young and had a troubled relationship, separating when Sinéad was eight. In 1979, O’Connor left her mother and went to live with her father and his new wife. At the age of 15, shoplifting and truancy led to her being placed in a Magdalene Asylum run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. In some ways, she thrived there, especially in the development of her writing and music, but it also taught her to fight against conformity.
Her early music career included a stint in world music-inspired band Ton Ton Macoute, where she began to develop her voice and stage presence. On 10 February 1985, O’Connor’s mother was killed in a car accident. Despite their strained relationship, it devastated her. Soon afterwards, she left the band and moved to London.
O’Connor’s time with Ton Ton Macoute brought her to the attention of the music industry, and she was eventually signed by Ensign Records. She also acquired a manager in Fachtna O’Ceallaigh, former head of U2’s Mother Records.
Her first album, The Lion and the Cobra, was called “a sensation” when it was released in 1987. It achieved gold status and earned her a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy nomination. But it was her second album – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – that really brought her to the attention of the world.
Her shaved head, often angry outlook, and sometimes shapeless and unusual clothing were as much part of her trademark as her sound. The album contained the international breakthrough hit Nothing Compares 2 U, a song written by Prince, which reached the number one spot in several countries. She also received Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She eventually won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance, but chose to boycott the award show.
Over the coming years O’Connor’s career ebbed and flowed, including forays into reggae and “sexed-up” traditional Irish folk songs, and collaborations with artistes like Wyclef Jean of the Fugees and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics. She even announced her retirement at one point, following an illness, but this proved short-lived.
Most recently O’Connor has toured extensively in Europe, UK and in the USA to promote her album How About I Be Me. The tour included sold-out performances at New York City’s Lincoln Center Festival in what O’Connor called the Gospel Sessions.