Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight has been a permanent figure of the British music industry since she burst onto the scene back in with her debut album with The B-Funk.

This summer sees her return with her seventh studio album Soul UK and I caught up to talk about the new record, her influences behind the recording as well as her lengthy career.

- Your new album Soul UK is set for release later this summer so what can we expect from it?

Soul UK is one of those’ does what it says on the tin’ type albums in the sense that it is a celebration and tribute of some British soul artists and British soul songs which don’t really get celebrated - well some of them don’t get celebrated or the spotlight shined on them; which is what I’m doing - and specifically songs which helped my career along and influenced me right up until I came along with my own career. It’s all things soulful and all things Brit.

- Why have you decided to make an album like this rather than recording a set of new songs?

I felt the time right because there are so many Brit artists smashing it all over the world at the moment - everything that is coming out of Britain, particularly when it goes to the States, is absolutely smashing it. 

Even before I started to work on this album you have Amy Winehouse, and long before that Joss Stone and more recently Adele, but a lot of people are going to the States and are just having these huge worldwide careers.

The spotlight at the moment seems to be on Britain and people seem to be getting behind British things so I thought well there is still an area that is in the shade and that is the wonderful work a lot of Brit soul artists pre me and certainly pre Joss, Adele, Amy etc have done that has enabled us to have the careers that we have had so lets celebrate them while we are in the mood of loving and celebrating Britain.

- Songs from the likes of Jamiroquai and George Michael are on there as well as lesser known songs from Princess and Lewis Taylor so how did you go about choosing the songs that were going to be on the record?

There are so many songs that are British in origin and are soul/urban and I thought the only way that I was going to be able to get a shortlist together is if they were songs that specifically related to me or I had stories about them - not just ‘oh yeah I love that one’.

In talking to friends and management of some of the songs that I was thinking off I was telling them ‘I remember meeting Jaki Graham in the department store in Wolverhampton and I love that song Round and Round’ so that was like ‘tick’ - there’s a personal connection there.

Rod Temperton’s Always and Forever was a global hit but very British and I ended up working with him years later so that was another ‘tick’.

 Jamiroquai’s When You Gonna Learn I remember being a broke student searching the whole of Cheltenham, when I was at university, trying to find that record - finding it and realising that it was new and not really really old, because it sounded old,  - so I thought right there is a story.

So I went like that because I thought that that was the only way that I was going to get through because there were so many songs. And the other thing was I didn’t want to touch songs that were so well established in the psych of everyone that if I messed with them it would be somehow unholy.

So I didn’t touch Soul II Soul’s Keep On Moving or Back To Life because you can’t mess with them as they are just so brilliant as they are.  So that was how I went about all of them.  

- Soul UK is produced by Martin Terefe as well as Future Cut, who has worked with Beyonce, so how did those collaborations come about?

Well Martin Terefe I happened upon because of his work with Jason Mraz and I really liked his sound. I wanted to do this album, as much as I could, in a live setting and not programme this and programme that because I didn’t want it to sound so electronic that in a few years time the sound will go out of flavour - because I will be defeating the whole reason that I am doing these songs.

I thought if I do it in live way it will have a much more classic sound and Martin Terefe, for me, had that classic last forever and a day but still cool approach to his production and we went in and recorded everything live, rums, horns, vocals everything. I just loved it.

Then with Future Cut, with them being more on a younger, very cool but still with a classic kind of vibe, I thought they would be compliment with what Martin was doing - of course they have had a lot of success with Beyonce and Lily Allen.

So once I explained the ideas to them they were really up for working with me, which I was thrilled about because in terms of a sound that radio would understand I thought that they would bring to it - and so far so good.

- You are bringing a whole new take on these great UK soul records so what do you hope that fans will take from listening to the record - for some they will be hearing these songs for the very first time.

That’s right, yeah. Some fans will already know the songs and be like ‘oh my god I know this song’ and ‘oh my god look at how she has done it, she’s done it different’. And then there will be a whole slew of people whose knowledge of British soul begins and ends with me and Adele’s new album so it will be introducing them to a world that perhaps they didn’t know existed.

So I hope that I’m entertaining and educating at the same time because certainly when I was growing up that is what great singers and great DJ’s did for me - they also opened my ears up to other things.

So I’m hoping that people will love what I’m doing and say ‘she sounds great’, ‘voice sounds great’ and all that but I really really hope that people will listen to each individual song and then go back and see what that specific artist was doing in addition to the song that I have covered - that would be amazing because I really want people to love this area of music as much as I do.

- This is a seventh studio album from a career that has so far spanned over fifteen years so how have you seen yourself develop as an artist over that time?

Musically I’m still as passionately as ever and I still have the same love - all those things have stayed the same - my voice has matured and has widened, the range of my voice, so that has changed.

In terms of me and my approach to artistry I’m prepared to try new things in a way that perhaps I was too reticent to do when I was younger - when you are younger you want people to really dig you and like you so you introduce a few new elements but not too many in case you put people off.

As you get older, with more experience, you try new things and you don’t care and jump headfirst into it - so that has definitely changed with time for me over the years.

I’m a hell of a lot more confident now than I was in the beginning, and I think that that shows in my appearance; I think that I look better, healthier and more together in my image than I did in the beginning - which is a good thing.

Women change from twenties to thirties and the neurosis disappear and you get into your stride as you get older - and that has definitely happened for me and has informed me as an artist.

- 2009 saw you go independent - releasing record through your own label Hurricane - so how has that been for you?

Initially terrifying!! But it was so liberating to have your own decisions that you can take, musically do whatever you feel like doing, financially it’s your own money - yes so it’s great risk but it makes you work even harder but it makes you feel like everything that you are doing is your baby. 

So liberating, exhilarating but my god when you know it’s you alone out there it is scary. It makes you sit up straighter and appreciate the industry that you are in. I was thrilled that the last record, which was the first one to be released independently, was so well received, it had much smaller sales than I was use to and at first I was like ‘does that mean that people don’t like it?’

But then you get to realise it just means that you don’t have the scope to reach as many people as you do on a major label but actually financially you get a bit of revenue - it’s insane that you can sell way more records and you can make less money it’s a crazy equation but the truth. It has been a real learning curve for me and I’m loving it.

- And how have you seen the industry change over the years? Has it changed for the better?

Well changed it certainly has as when I was first recording we recorded on reel to reel - which does not exist in anyway shape or form now no one uses tape. So I have seen it move from tape through to CD through to download, the internet changed things permanently.

If it wasn’t for the internet I don’t think I would have gone independent as the internet has allowed me to reach people all over the globe that I wouldn’t have been able to in the old more conventional ways of working - in fact the internet has become the convention.

To be able to download music at the touch of a button is amazing BUT, and you know what is coming, it means the leakage and people getting their music for free is growing and it’s very difficult to control that. 

The sad upshot of that is if people aren’t paying for music because it’s an intellectual property and they think ’if I can buy a magazine and get this for free why should I go out and buy a CD?’ And I understand that argument but of course if music is never paid for in any way shape or form then it becomes a decreasing industry and eventually artists just can’t make music anymore - because they can’t afford to.

It’s wonderful but there are some danger points to it and hopefully someone very clever will resolve these issues and conflicts. 

- Finally what's next for you?

This album will come out and I will be doing all the promo for that and then I will be touring in November - so I’m going to be the busiest person ever but loving every minute. Next year I will get married - just trying to plan everything now but am not doing very well, but we will get there.

Soul UK is released 27th June.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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