The Queen of UK Soul is a title not dished out to just anybody - it's one that Beverley Knight has truly earned. With an incredible career both in the regular music industry and the West End, the singer/songwriter is back once more with a brand new album and UK tour, following her signing to East West/Warner Music.
We got the chance to have a quick chat with Beverley all about her creativity behind this new record, what she'll be giving to audiences at her tour and much more in a new and exclusive interview.
You're back with a new album this spring, what should fans expect from your sound and direction with this record?
It's very earthy, very Southern soul, as in it was inspired in Memphis. I had the pleasure of going to Memphis twice. The first time was to research the role I was playing in the musical Memphis and it's a place I've always wanted to go to, because I knew it was the home of rock and roll, but also there's a lot of great soul music that came out of Memphis. So much history is in the place.
When I went there, it blew my head off. It's about the size of Wolverhampton, but it's so packed with personality and history and if I'm honest with you, some of the scars of its Southern past, but all of that kind of comes together to give you this amazing music, which is what Memphis has given the world. I was just so touched by it and so inspired so I thought, 'I'm coming back here to write my album. That's what I'm going to do.'
When I was writing the songs, that experience of Memphis, both good history and the sad and poor and tragic history, kept coming into bearing in my writing. So, the album is very much inspired by what I saw and felt and the history of the place, but putting it in a modern context. So I tried to make the album sound fresh and not too pastiche, but still, when you hear it you're like, 'Ah yeah, she's drawing from Aretha, she's drawing from Al Green, she's drawing from these people', I wanted it to be quite obvious.
So you've had quite an exciting creative process for this record then?
I have! (laughs) It's been brilliant!
Can you tell us a little bit about a typical day in the studio? If indeed there are any 'typical' days!
Oh gosh. Well writing is probably something that doesn't sound that exciting, so I'll talk about a recording, as [on] a typical recording day, there's a lot more going on!
Well me being me, the first thing I do is put on a kettle. Come on you can't take the girl out of Wolverhampton and expect Wolverhampton to go anywhere, I'm a Wolverhamptoner! Then I spend time warming up the vocals. I think it's one of those things that if you forget, the vocal is a muscle, you've gotta spend that time warming it up.
There will invariably be people walking in and out and to and fro, when you've got live musicians in one room, everybody wants to be the audience, which is nice actually.
So, if you can imagine, there would be a room within a room, and the smaller room is where I am with my microphone and pop shield and headphones, you know? Then on the outer room there would be the drummer, the keys, bass, guitar, additional keys, and whatever else, whether it's a horn section or whatever, and sometimes background singers. So it's a very energised feeling.
We will typically do a couple of takes of one song to get us up to speed, to get everybody on the same vibe and then, after say take three or take four, that's when we actually go for a record. Sometimes you can get it in one go and I go, 'OK great, time for another cup of tea!' Other times it's like, 'OK. That went wrong, let's start again and then go again.' But one thing it is, it's a really charged atmosphere. That's what I love about the studio. You're in the middle of something which hopefully is gonna be very special and, you're in the middle of making it. It's so intense. Such an intense, fantastic feeling.
As a veteran in this industry, how have you seen attitudes towards women evolve and develop throughout your career?
Some things have changed radically, other things have stayed the same. What has changed radically - I'm seeing women who are singer/songwriters in numbers that I've never seen before. When I first started, if you were a female singer/songwriter, you were of note because you were rare. So, for example years and years ago I remember watching the BRITs on TV, before it was even called the BRITs, it was called the BPI Awards. 'And the winner is Annie Lennox', next year, 'and the winner is Annie Lennox', following year... Because, to find female singer/songwriters of note was difficult. Now, female singer/songwriters are literally smashing it. When you've got someone like Adele literally ruling the world in terms of the music, that's a powerful thing because, Adele doesn't fit the norm of what is expected for a female singer/songwriter or singer, artist full stop. She's a bigger girl, she's a curvy girl, she's gorgeous, she's still image-focused but she's still allowed to be her.
The sad thing is when I say things stayed the same in a way, is that people like Adele tend to be the exception to the rule. More than ever, the way women look is scrutinised and is examined and is so important, and sometimes vocals and integrity are just secondary. So those things have yet to change, but women taking their own careers in their own hands? That's changed massively, so that's good.
Who are some of your favourite female artists releasing music today?
Well, I love Emeli Sandé. God I love my Emeli. I'm not sure a lot of people heard Joss Stone's last record but it was a beautiful record, so I love my Joss. Emeli and Joss are my mates so I have to big up my girls!
That Jess Glynne! She's a great writer! She's just knocking out these songs, it's like 'Oh hey girl! Yes!' I love that, I really love that.
Oh gosh I'm trying to think of American artists, I feel like I'm leaving the Americans out! It's easy to name all the Brits 'cause the Brits are killing it right now! I'm kinda scratching my head for the Americans. Generally I love some of the music that Beyoncé's come out with, but that's so obvious and easy to say! Sorry America!
Where have you drawn influence and inspiration from throughout your career?
Everything that happens around me. I do my best to live in the real world. I don't wanna be one of those folk who are what we call, 'lost in showbiz'. Where you live in an ivory tower as it were, and you can't talk about real life because you're not living in real life. I definitely live in real life (laughs), I definitely live in amongst normal, everyday folk, I just have a job which is considered to be an extraordinary job.
So, my friend going through a break-up is an influence. The terrible events of what's going on with the States, with a lot of young, mostly black males being shot in dubious circumstances, that is an influence. Little catchphrases are an influence. On my album for example there's a song called 'Red Flag', and you know it's a catchphrase because All Saints' new album is called 'Red Flag'! But I didn't know that until a few weeks ago when I realised their album was coming out. So things that are catching the zeitgeist, they become an influence. Absolutely anything from anywhere can be an influence.
I wrote 'Tea & Sympathy' on one of my past albums, because there was a place in New York which is a British kind of café which sold all cups of tea, you could get cheese on toast and all that kind of stuff. It was called Tea and Sympathy and I was like, 'That is a wicked title for an album! Yes!' So yeah. I didn't call it my album, but I wrote a song called 'Tea & Sympathy'. I can get inspiration from anything and anywhere.
There's a tour in support of your new album in May and June - what should we expect from that and the setlist?
So, there will be the classic songs which everyone knows and I hope love. I'll also be giving a nice little nod to what I've been doing in the West End, which has taken up three years of my life so far, which has been wonderful, and of course I'll be playing the new material from the album as well. I'm so excited about the tour because I haven't toured in, what? Five years? So I'm ready!
As you mentioned you've had a great stage career - are there any roles you'd like to take on in the future?
I would love to play Anita in West Side Story, but I would need months of dance lessons, because Anita dances fiercely and I don't! (laughs)
Beverley Knight is back with her brand new album this spring. Check out her tour dates below and get tickets through gigsandtours and all usual outlets.
- Saturday 21 May - Ipswich Regent
- Sunday 22 May - Southend Cliffs Pavilion
- Tuesday 24 May - Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
- Wednesday 25 May - London Palladium
- Saturday 28 May - Manchester Bridgewater Hall
- Sunday 29 May - Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
- Monday 30 May - Edinburgh Queen Hall
- Wednesday 1 June - Sheffield City Hall
- Thursday 2 June - Birmingham Symphony Hall
- Friday 3 June - York Barbican
- Sunday 5 June - Gateshead Sage
- Monday 6 June - Bristol Colston Hall
- Tuesday 7 June - Brighton Dome
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