It was through punk that I met Sinead. My older brother and all his handsome friends, or so I thought when I was 13, were into punk big time. It was the mid to late 80s and the angry lyrics of the Sex Pistols, the Dead Kennedys and the Exploited blasted through our house every single weekend. Our poor mother.
A year or two after I started plastering my bedroom walls with posters of Sid Vicious shooting up heroin, and getting kicked out of my school’s casual-dress day for wearing a t-shirt of the same, my brother and his mates starting to listening to a singer who also happened to be a woman. This was very unusual but the fact she had a shaved head, was hot, and seemed a little angry herself, probably made her acceptable to this tribe of beer-guzzling, yet exotic to me, 18 year old troublemakers.
So it was that in about 1988, I started listening to Sinead O’Connor. It was three years before she became the number one selling artist in the world with her rendition of Nothing Compares 2 U but her first album – recorded when she was just 20 and pregnant with her first child – transfixed this skinny, short teenager who was just starting to understand that the world was more Unabomber than unicorn.
The angst in her voice in songs like Troy, Mandinka and Jerusalem were strangely comforting for me. It was like I had found a kindred, yet Irish, spirit, who wore Doc Martens like me and who was shouting to the world that it was okay to be a woman and to have a voice, it was okay to not want to wear skirts but most of all it was okay to be different.
Listening to that album today, I still know most of the songs by rote and can still remember singing them loudly, out of key, in my bedroom when I felt scared, alienated and alone – like any teenager I guess. I no longer feel that way but the memory of that sense of confusion still lingers. If I close my eyes, I can almost see the lonely girl that once I was.
A few years later, in my last year of high school, the song that shot Sinead to the top of the worldwide charts was released and with it was her iconic video. In an age of music videos that had a philosophy of more is more, including dodgy pyrotechnics and even dodgier lip-synching, the simplicity of that video struck a chord with me.
I distinctly remember telling all and sundry that the Nothing Compares 2 U video was true artistry that didn’t require over-the-top bells and whistles to be a global hit. If I wasn’t a fan of Sinead’s before I certainly was then and it was a love affair that continued for at least the next 15 years.
I remember strutting through the streets of London four years later at the tender age of 22, still in my trusty Docs but with dreadlocks and not a shaved head, listening to that album on my disc-man and dreaming about the woman that I was finally starting to become. Her music was almost like the soundtrack to my 10-year transformation.
A decade later, following the release of Faith and Courage, my relationship with Sinead was aflame once more and this time, like her it seemed, my mantra reflected one too many failed relationships:
I never wanna be no man’s woman
I only wanna be my own woman
I haven’t travelled this far to become
no man’s woman
Again, Sinead seemed to be telling me that it was okay to be different (aka single) but it was advice that I probably took a little too much to heart as I said hello to boys but goodbye to commitment for too many years. Looking back, it was also about this time that my affair with Sinead began to wane. And it was all because of a musician called John who I first saw in 1999 and who has had my heart ever since.
That’s not to say that my years with Sinead were forgotten. Far from it because on Wednesday night, 27 years on from the first time I heard her wail, I will see this famous Irish firebrand in concert for the very first time. I am nervous. I hope that she is not angry still because I am not. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, both for her and for me, in all of those years but I’ll never forget how she came into my life just when I needed. Her outspokenness, her confidence and her “don’t give a fuck” attitude made that 13-year-old girl just a little less terrified about the adulthood that still lay tantalisingly out of reach.