Belfast born singer-songwriter Kaz Hawkins is Northern Ireland’s very own blues and soul darling. Her high energy, original shows, combining 1950's style swing-dress-meets-Dr Martens look and an ability to closely connect with the audience, make Kaz one of the most popular blues artists in the UK.
Underground for years as a secret songwriter, Kaz is now established as one the biggest performers to come out of Northern Ireland. Locally called "a vocal force" on stage, she envelops the fighting spirit of a true powerhouse singer. Kaz is much-loved for her deep, powerful voice, original songwriting and down to earth attitude; she brings fun to every performance & is loved not only by her fans, but anyone who meets her. She has lived and sung ‘The Blues’, yet has much more to offer across differing genres - soul, rockabilly, folk & more.
Kaz hopes the new sound of her new album, Feeling good, will show a modern twist to the blues and roots she adores, alongside newly penned songs written, as ever, to inspire, excite and move. Ahead of The Kaz Hawkins Band appearance at The Met, Abertillery on June 17, Andy Howells put questions to the lady herself.
How did you get into playing music?
I sang on the cover scene for 20 years but had written lyrics in my journals, a lot of my journal writing ended up in poem format without me realising it so I bought a cheap acoustic guitar in 2007 and taught myself some chords and then ventured into open mic nights in 2010/11.
Tell us about the band, how did that all come together?
Up until 2015 there were lots of band members, some couldn't commit long term, some didn't suit and some just didn't see my vision for the future. My guitarist Nick McConkey has been with me nearly 4 years and was originally only a rhythm player but has grown organically with me since. Peter & Jan Uhrin on drums and bass joined in 2015, they are originally from Slovakia but have been performing around Northern Ireland since they moved here over 10 years ago. They have a great insight into most genres of music so that appealed to me as I wanted to experiment with a bigger more dynamic sound. I then added Deanne Jones as a backing vocalist who I had been mentoring who I met through Nick as he is her cousin, I loved how she complimented my vocal with a sweet edge.
Who are your music influences?
Everyone says Etta James, but she was and is my musical savior through so much in my life, when I first heard her sing St Louis Blues I cried, and that was the moment I wanted to sing. I love discovering old underground blues, one of my favourites is Lucille Bogan and of course the ever faithful artists like Big Mama Thornton (who I mention in PRAY from our album) Koko Taylor, Bessie Smith (our tour bus is named after her).
What’s been your best live experience?
Best live experience I can't choose as things keep going from strength to strength so much, so I get overwhelmed with it all, but just being able to do what I thought would never happen is the best experience for me. I've had amazing opportunities, like supporting Van Morrison, performing in Boston with professors and lecturers from Boston Uni & Berklee College of Music but there is nothing like being in that perfect moment on stage with my band when we are connected and having fun, that's a dream come true in itself to trust my band and them have faith in me.
Can you tell us about your new album Feelin' Good?
Feelin' Good is dedicated to those who think positive, those who will always fight the fight to survive and who come out the other end to proove that life is worth living. It's a mix of 8 original songs, most of which are about my life and 2 classic blues songs we wanted to experiment our new sound on. This album is exciting as its not just a collection of songs, it represents who we are as a unit, showcases what we are and how tight and how much fun we like to have. From blues to ballads, funky rhythms to rock and jazzy sprinkles of loveliness. We want to take people on a journey that they would want to repeat time and again.
Your also going on tour, what can fans expect from your shows?
Our Feelin' Good tour is our biggest yet with nearly 50 dates across the UK and fans should expect an explosion of sound, colour and fun. The music is serious and we mean business with our album but we also like to have fun so that our fans are seeing a show, we want them to jump up from their seats and let the music take over, most of the time I would be the one jumping off stage if I can, although management have warned me with so many dates I have to stop being so clumsy just like dislocating and breaking my shoulder at the end of a previous tour, ha ha, but when spontaneity hits I just gotta run with it.
What else have you got lined up for 2016?
Our Feelin' Good tour is our biggest yet with nearly 50 dates across the UK and fans should expect an explosion of sound, colour and fun. The music is serious and we mean business with our album but we also like to have fun so that our fans are seeing a show, we want them to jump up from their seats and let the music take over, most of the time I would be the one jumping off stage if I can, although management have warned me with so many dates I have to stop being so clumsy just like dislocating & breaking my shoulder at the end of a previous tour haha but when spontaneity hits I just gotta run with it.
We performed on BBC Northern Ireland on 3rd June for BBC Music Day so made our TV debut from the historic Stormont Parliament Buildings just before we head to Scotland for our first tour date. This is amazing exposure for us and what a way to kick off our tour across the UK. We have also been nominated to compete in the UK Blues Challenge on 12th Nov at Robin 2 in Wolverhampton and the winner will get to represent UK in Memphis & Denmark in 2017. ukblues.org. We really won't have time for much else but touring until then as we will be so jam packed and that's a great thing.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Personally, I've been listening to lots of my sisters on the blues scene as I just created Blues Sisterhood UK to help showcase women in blues from one central place so have been researching lots before I leave for tour. I love Lauren Housley who I discovered through BiGIam who is working with us on Feelin' Good. Elles Bailey too, the younger generation who is carrying the torch for blues and roots in my opinion. A lot of Beth Hart lately as her music is really transcendent, I adore her performances, she's crazy just like me and that's a great thing for the audience, the more we can give of ourselves the more the fan experience will be enjoyed. Plus I can identify with her as a performer and her history, when she gets on stage I know that look in her eye where nothing matters but the here and now. I just have to see her live soon but Northern Ireland is too far from anywhere for now lol.
- Catch The Kaz Hawkins Band at The Met, Abertillery on June 17. Visit www.ents24.com/abertillery-events/metropole-cultural-and-conference-centre/kaz-hawkins/4720943 for ticket details.
- A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus on June 10, 2016