It was just under two years ago when Kaz Hawkins and her Band o’Men burst into my life one September evening. I was a volunteer at the John Peel Centre and it was her first ever UK tour. None of us knew what to expect.
Back at the John Peel Centre last night – what has changed? Well, what hasn’t? The newly rebranded Kaz Hawkins Band has a new drummer and a new bass player (brothers from Slovakia) there is also a new backing vocalist… and the sound is different. It is still the same mad Kaz Hawkins mix of gospel, soul, blues and rock delivered with a punch that could flatten a horse, but more finely tuned!
Although called “The Feelin’ Good Tour” the set list is a mix of old and new songs. It was interesting to see the subtle changes that the new KHB sound has had on “Hallelujah Happy People”, “Shake” and “Drink with the Devil”. There is a new confidence in Kaz’s delivery. All this change and fine tuning has not dulled the fun, enthusiasm, banter or passion one little bit – “Soul Superstar” just dripping with emotion.
Kaz rearranged the set list to play the title track “Feelin’ Good” earlier than planned. The Bricusse & Newley composition was made a standard by Nina Simone when she recorded it in 1965. But this is no homage to a classic. This is a Hawkins interpretation because this is where she and the band are in life: “feeling good”
But what of this new sound we keep talking about? The band is incredibly tight and there is a new depth to the sound in no small measure brought about by the inclusion of Miss Dee on backing vocals. The perfect counterbalance to Kaz’s trademark raucous power. Oh and that snippet of a solo at the end… when the time is right, perhaps Miss Dee could have a wee song of her own included in the set, please?
The Slovakian brothers Jan, on bass and Pete on drums, have been making music together since they were kids and it shows. There was a twinkle in Pete’s eye has he caressed and hammered his drum kit with effortless skill. Jan looked and sounded as if his bass guitar was just an extension of his arms. Obviously relaxed and happy to be playing in this band and all the time looking the audience straight in the eye.
Dr Nick on guitar has been practicing! He just keeps getting better – the band has been doing a lot of rehearsing ahead of this tour and it shows. They are very much an example of the whole being better than the sum of the parts – the individual parts being pretty good to begin with!
For many, the highlight of the evening will have been the KHB treatment of “I Just Wanna Make Love to You”. This is an interpretation, not a cover, of the Willie Dixon song made famous by Etta James. From that thumping 60s style spy movie riff that is the intro, to the Kaz-versus-guitar battle of the high notes, it is a showcase piece highlighting all of their skills. If you only ever listen to one KHB track, make it this one. Call it co-incidence or fate or nothing of the sort, but did you know that Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins?
If you want to see the Kaz Hawkins Band live, find a venue near you and get them tickets while you can. Oh and if you get a chance, hang around and have a chat after the show, they a class act on stage and down to earth, normal, nice people off stage. We may have to go see them again at The Murderers in Norwich on 23rd June… click here for the full tour list
[box type=”note” align=”” class=”” width=””]It is hard to explain the affect John Peel had on bands from “Norn Iron” when he championed The Undertones in 1977. Back then the province was in the news constantly for terrorist shootings, bombings and tit for tat killings by loyalist and republicans alike. Suddenly Teenage Kicks was being played on Radio One and people began to believe that there was something else – hope. I have spoken to a few bands from Northern Ireland who have played the John Peel Centre, for them it is almost a pilgrimage – certainly an honour to play at a venue that has to be, even three years on from its opening, one of Suffolk’s best kept secrets. Kaz dedicating “Belfast Town” to John’s memory was a nice touch – thank you Kaz. [/box]
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