As Beverley Knight prepares to return to the Colston Hall as part of her 2016 tour, Louise Harrold catches up with the queen of UK soul about her new album, her foray into theatre, and moving to Bristol…
So Beverley, with your tour, and your eighth album due, 2016 is shaping up to be a busy year! What can we expect from the album?
It’s a very rooted, earthy, soul record inspired by time spent in Memphis. I’ve been there twice now and it is such an amazing place – the birthplace of rock and roll, and of what we would consider to be modern music. When I went there initially it was to research my role of Felicia Farrell in in the musical Memphis and I had the opportunity to really have a good look around and feel the history of the place. It is like few other places in the United States, especially musically, so I just came away thinking I had to go back and record there – and I did. It is quite an experience to be able to go to the places and work with people in studios where you know legendary records have been made.
We’re excited! Your career has now spanned over 20 years, and you’ve formed a formidable parallel career in theatre, as well as being awarded an MBE for services to music and charity. Any goals left to achieve?
Oh yes! I really have just started. There is so much more I am determined to do with myself. I am really interested in doing more theatre, and hopefully having a little knock on the door from the States! I would love the chance to do Broadway, and if I managed that then it could lead to anywhere which is really exciting. I would also love to get the album released abroad too. There is just so much left to do.
Does the buzz that you get from performing on stage differ to the feeling you get from a gig?
It is definitely a different kind of buzz. When you are on stage by yourself there is a lot more pressure. It’s all on you, so the pay-off when people love what you are doing is huge. However when you are on stage and you are part of a show, the show is always the star. It’s that collective buzz you and the other performers all feel which I love, that ‘we are winning!’ feeling. There is nothing else like it.
For many fans, The B-Funk and Prodigal Sista were part of the soundtrack to their adolescence – who were the artists you would run home from school to listen to in your bedroom?
What a lovely question. Well my absolute hero is Prince – anything he did, I was all over it. I also loved Michael Jackson, Bowie and bands like Shalamar. Chaka Khan was such an influence, and then when Whitney came along, well. She had a huge impact on the way I sang.
You won Celebrity Mastermind with Prince your specialist subject, right?
That’s right! I’ve got pretty decent general knowledge, but I knew my Prince knowledge was on point. I thought; “OK, let’s see if you guys all know your specialist subject as well as I know mine, because I know mine.” And I was so chuffed when I won. Although sitting in that black chair, I felt so much pressure, I felt like I was five years old.
So last year was the 20th anniversary of the release of The B-Funk. Did you ever imagine when you released it that it would remain such an important soul album after all this time?
No! Let me tell you, I wrote that album while I was trying to finish my thesis at university – don’t ask me how I managed it – it was just pure madness. I suddenly had this music career that was taking off and the record label and DJs were all saying; “Where’s the follow up, where’s the next record?” and I was still at uni, I didn’t have a follow up! So I had to quickly write an album and when I released The B-Funk in 1995, I had no idea that it would even do what it did at the time, with the plaudits and the accolades. For people to still talk about it 20 years on is amazing. You can never tell, you can never see these things coming. You do what you do and you hope people enjoy it and if they do it’s just amazing.
“My husband and I have talked about where would we move to if we left London, and it would probably have to be Brizzle.”
This month we’ve also been chatting to Saffron Records – Bristol’s first all-female youth label. Can you tell us about your experience of being a female in the music industry?
That sounds fantastic. In terms of my experiences, I can say it is not easy. At all. You are often considered to be ‘fluffy’. People can think of you as being nice and sweet and that you must do what you are told which is to look beautiful and sing beautifully – and if you can sing well then great, and if you can’t then the label will do what they can in the studio but it will all be fine as long as you make sure you look good. The image is what always seems to be the most important thing. My main, and really only, interest was that I knew sonically what I wanted my records to sound like. I felt I had a vision of how I wanted to sound and the direction I wanted my career to go in, but as I was young, and as I was female, lots of questions were asked about me. My appearance was questioned several times, so many times actually – meetings were called just to discuss my appearance! I mean, there are no two ways about it, image is important, but it is interesting that for a woman it is considered so much more important. A male artist can make a record and the label will put out an image of him on his record and say; “This is it guys, go buy this!” – yet a woman in the same position will be scrutinised and examined and the underlying assumption is that somebody else must call the shots for you because you do not know your own mind.
You’re an artist that has challenged that imbalance. You seem to have never compromised yourself or your music – is that accurate?
I have never wanted to do things that were contrary to being respected and having integrity. Integrity has driven everything for me – the material I write, the way I look, interviews. That has always been the main concern for me.
You’ve been to Bristol many times; and collaborated with Roni Size. What’s your impression of Bristol and our music scene here?
I just love it. My husband and I have talked about where would we move to if we left London, and it would probably have to be Brizzle. We love the feel of the different areas, and more seem to be coming up all the time. You’ve got the Avon, the Suspension Bridge, it’s so picturesque. Musically it is such a powerful place too. The amount of stuff that has come out of Bristol, particularly during the ’90s, is incredible, and that movement happened all by itself. It was very much a Bristolian sound and scene and I loved it.
Beverley plays the Colston Hall on Monday 6 June. Tickets start from £20.96 including booking fee and are available from: www.colstonhall.org