Kaz Hawkins: Why Ulster musician has every right to sing the blues

Singer songwriter Kaz Hawkins
Singer songwriter Kaz Hawkins
  • Sexually abused as a child, left for dead by a violent partner, multiple suicide attempts and mired for years in the oblivion of drug addiction, Kaz Hawkins’s life is a harrowing catalogue of nightmares, but the acclaimed singer tells Helen McGurk how she was saved by music

Abused from the age of four by a family member, sectioned, addicted to cocaine and alcohol, her throat slit by a former partner, it seems amazing to me that Kaz Hawkins is not dead. How can one person survive such manipulation, betrayal and depravity?

She did almost die, sometimes from the violence of the abuse in the six-year relationship, but also from the compulsion to end it all herself.

Kaz is multi award-winning blues and soul singer from Northern Ireland.

Kaz is multi award-winning blues and soul singer from Northern Ireland.

But somehow Kaz Hawkins survived the complicated nightmare that was her childhood and a large part of her adulthood.

Born Karen Marcella McIntyre and raised in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, Kaz was subjected to sickening abuse and rape by an uncle, who died some years ago.

WATCH: Blues singer Kaz Hawkins: ‘Lipstick and cocaine’ is ‘a thank you to doctor and policeman who saved me’

‘‘The timeline of it is all very misty,’’she says.

‘‘I remember being about four or five when the first thing happened.

‘‘My dad used to have people round for drinks, so the house would have been pretty crazy sometimes. He (her uncle) would have come upstairs to the toilet so I take it that’s how he fitted in the time to do what he did, or when he was baby-sitting us.

‘‘He groomed me - now I know that, I didn’t know it at the time.’’

She recounts all this without emotion. How she felt so dirty she would lie in bath of bleach.

She lays bare the ugly events of her childhood. My stomach churns listening to her deeply disturbing story.

‘‘He penetrated me from, I don’t know what age, I really can’t remember, but to save my sister, when it came to her turn, I said no, that I would do it. I didn’t want her going through what I went through.’’

The rape continued until Kaz reached puberty at 12.

‘‘The reason he stopped was because he could have got me pregnant,’’ she says bluntly.

I am struck simultaneously by her incredible bravery and vulnerability.

She is articulate - an achievement in itself for a woman who spent her school days ‘‘keeping secrets’’ about what was happening at home - but she seems broken too.

On numerous occasions she tried to speak out about the abuse, but was accused of telling lies.

In today’s climate, it seems incredible that a child, a little helpless girl, who had mustered the courage to speak up would be disbelieved. But that is what happened.

‘‘I hated school, I was bullied, and I was trying to tell people what was happening to me and nobody listened, so I shut down, so by the time I got to fourth year my mind blocked everything out and I became a rebel.’’

Kaz Hawkins spent years in and out of psychiatric facilities, too unwell to look after her three children.

‘‘I put them in foster care. I always intended to bring them back, but the day I put them into foster care I jumped on a plane and left Northern Ireland.’’

Years later Kaz returned home.

She was addicted to cocaine, but got clean, starting learning guitar, and got her children back when they were teenagers.

It was a difficult time, she admits.

‘‘When they came home, we were strangers, more or less. It was terrible and we all suffered .’’

Now living in Carrickfergus, Kaz is 44. Her life only really came back into focus 10 years ago.

She has a partner, David, and a family, having been reunited with the three children, Adam, Avril and April (her ‘A-Team’). She now also has three grandchildren.

Affable and affectionate she welcomes me to her home with a bear hug. She has an infectious sense of humour with a laugh as black as tar.

After photographs are taken in the room she jokingly calls ‘Kaz’s Cave’ - a music/dressing room with piano and a lot of stage clothes, she reveals how the cruelty of her dark, miserable childhood and the many years of her adulthood which were blighted by domestic abuse, nearly broke her - sometimes she says she ‘‘just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.’’

Both her arms are covered by tattoos, masking the scars she inflicted on herself through self-harm.

‘‘There’s a musical tree. All the branches are the roads and journeys that I’ve taken but they all lead to music,’’ she explains.

Today there is a steeliness about Kaz Hawkins, she is clean of all substances and happy, but earlier in her life she was gripped by years of depression and drink and alcohol abuse.

‘‘I was doing anything to numb the pain, without realising what the pain was.

‘‘I had this addictive personality. I was always in search of something to replace something I had lost, which now I know was my childhood.

‘‘My virginity was supposed to be given to someone who loves me, but it was taken from me by a monster.’’

Following repeated suicide attempts, Kaz eventually opened up about the abuse.

Her abuser was arrested and the case went to court, but she was deemed unfit to testify as she was sectioned at the time.

But she says she has forgiven the man ‘‘who stole her childhood’’.

‘‘I wanted to die because of this, but I have faced all my demons and I have forgiven him for what he has done.

He was sick and sick people like that probably don’t know what they are doing.’’