- 01 Sep 20
As part of our ongoing celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday, Kaz Hawkins shares her reflections on Van's music and legacy.
Belfast-born singer-songwriter Kaz Hawkins has crafted a unique soul and blues-influenced sound over the course of her career – wowing audiences around the world with her deeply emotional, honest performances.
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I don't remember a "first time" that I connected with Van Morrison’s music – Van just always seemed to be a part of Belfast. He was Belfast, and he still is. I came after the whole Maritime Blues-era but I listened to amazing stories of people who got to enjoy Van in the early days of Them.
Everyone knew ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. Every pub group, singer-songwriter and busker sang it, including me. It seemed to be the theme of our city. I was too poor to buy records so we would record the Sunday charts on tape or we watched Top of the Pops. That was the only real access to music I had. I remember seeing Van with Cliff Richard on Top of the Pops in my last year of high school. I actually found the video on YouTube, and I smiled watching Van dancing and singing about the Lord, and that's the way it should be. I don't think I appreciated him in 1989, I was more interested in being a rebel and boys of course, but I sure do now.
For 20 years I performed on the cover band scene, and in wedding bands. If you didn't get the crowd, you pulled a Van Morrison song out of the bag – and low and behold people got involved. When all else was lost, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ won me the crowd every time!
He's a wonderful storyteller, and has captured moments in time that have become iconic. That’s why his fans are so fierce. I've watched Vanatics at his shows and it's as if time stands still for them watching. They go back to their own memories – a first kiss or a wedding dance etc. You see it in their faces and they just smile silently while he conducts an evening of rediscovery. That to me is what a songwriting legacy is, being a part of someone's life. To capture a heart through music is what any musician strives for and Van is one of the best in the world at doing that.
Anyone who doesn't feel a connection to his legacy isn't honoring his contribution to the music world. An island so small yet has produced the most authentic Irish artistry. I have so much to be thankful to him for. Nobody knew who I was until I got the chance to be on the lineup for his return home concert in Belfast in 2012. I was called Mama Kaz then and had a blues band while trying to push my original music. East Side Arts picked eight or nine acts to open for Van in a big top tent in East Belfast, a mile from Cyprus Avenue where I lived streets away from. It was the biggest opportunity in my career at that point. After that concert, I was shot into the limelight and my original music began to get noticed. Over the years I've always been available to celebrate him and I always will because I don't think I would have this career had I not performed that day.
I identify with the message of ‘Full Force Gale’, we've all been tempted down the wrong roads but fight to get back home. I left Belfast last year for a new life in France so it was the perfect song to pay tribute to him and Belfast. When I sang the lyric "I'll always find my way home" I got a little emotional thinking of everyone back there. I'll always be a Belfast Girl no matter where I am. Therefore I wanted my band and I to bring some fun to Van's 75th birthday party – just some good ole Belfast craic as best we could during a pandemic. It's all about the music, his music! I am only an interpreter, a watcher of the man's wonderment.
Kaz Hawkins' performance of 'Full Force Gale' for 'Rave On, Van Morrison' premieres on Sunday, September 6, on the Hot Press YouTube channel.
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The Hot Press 'Rave On, Van Morrison' Special Issue is out now. Pick up your copy in shops now – or order online below:
Our celebrations for Van Morrison's 75th birthday also include a special YouTube event, 'Rave On Van Morrison', with renditions of Van's songs from some of the most iconic names in the country – with upcoming performances from President Michael D. Higgins with Bill Whelan, Hozier, Sinéad O'Connor, Bob Geldof, and Glen Hansard, to name just a few.
You can find all the 'Rave On, Van Morrison' performances on the Hot Press YouTube channel.