Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Beverley Knight: Houston calling

Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) in The Bodyguard
Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) in The Bodyguard Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) in The Bodyguard Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) in The Bodyguard Beverley Knight (Rachel Marron) in The Bodyguard

Having impressively last year wowed a global viewing audience of over a billion with her rendition of “I Am What I Am” at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, British soul Queen Beverly Knight is currently prestigiously enjoying her first-ever West End leading role, as Oscar-nominated singing superstar Rachel Marron in the hit musical “The Bodyguard”. A romantic thriller which - based on 1992’s Oscar-nominated, Whitney Houston-starring film of the same name and musically featuring a host of Houston’s best-known songs ranging from the upbeat “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to the all-time classic ballad “I Will Always Love You” - is currently showing at the Strand’s Adelphi Theatre, and finds Beverley co-starring with actor Tristan Gemmill (best known for playing Dr. Adam Trueman in the BBC long-running medical drama “Casualty”) who plays Rachel’s bodyguard Frank Farmer, hired to protect her from an unknown stalker.

Indeed, having first crashed onto the UK black music scene back in 1994 with the Brit-swing classic “Flavour Of The Old School”, Wolverhampton-born-and-bred Beverly has since prestigiously gone on to sell well over a million records domestically in a 19-year-career that has impressively seen her tally of 14 UK Top 40 singles and three Top 10 albums irrevocably prove that the terms “commercial longevity” and “British black music” need not be mutually-exclusive.

Interestingly, having started out on the small independent Dome Records (who released Bev’s acclaimed, R&B-flavoured 1995 debut LP “The B-Funk”), it was after she signed with EMI’s Parlophone Records in 1997 that Knight (born Beverley Anne Smith to British-Jamaican parents on March 22, 1973) captured mainstream pop audiences. As musically-diverse airplay smashes like the country-tinged ballad “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” and uptempo, rocking “Come As You Are” (both Top 10 singles) pioneered a string of Gold-selling albums like 1998’s multi-award-winning “Prodigal Sista”; 2002’s “Who I Am”; and 2004’s “Affirmation”.

Meanwhile, with her success on Parlophone peaking with the Platinum sales of the 2006 collection “Voice - The Best Of Beverley Knight” (followed in 2007 by the raw Southern soul feel of the Sliver-certified, Nashville-recorded set “Music City Soul”), 2009 found three-times BRIT-nominated Beverley returning to her independent-label roots - though now with a massive fan-base in tow - with the formation of her own new record-label Hurricane Records. Through which she has since released two Top 20 albums, “100%” (2009) and “Soul UK” (2011) - the latter of which found her paying tribute to the British soul artists that had inspired her leading up to her own arrival on the UK scene in the mid-Nineties by covering their songs

… Which brings us back to today. As an ever-articulate and chatty Ms. Knight (who in 2007 was prestigiously awarded an MBE for her services to music and charity) enthusiastically, en route to the theatre, discusses with long-time industry-acquaintance-cum-friend Pete Lewis her current West End starring role in “The Bodyguard”; her views on what her last LP “Soul UK” achieved; plus what we can expect from her upcoming eighth studio album.

Her reasons for starring in a West End musical for the first time at this stage in her career and how the role came about

“No thinking, no planning, no plotting… I just saw that people were talking - on Twitter, funnily enough! - about a cast change and the role of Rachel coming up and basically said to myself ‘That’s something I think I could DO!’. Because I knew the CHARACTER, I UNDERSTOOD the character, I knew the SONGS, I obviously understood vocally where the songs are COMING from... So I just thought ‘YEAH, I’m gonna give it a GO!’!... I mean, it certainly wasn’t CALCULATED, because the last time I did any acting I was literally a child at SCHOOL! But you know, things just have a habit of coming along at the right TIME in your life. Like I realised it was time for new album. But, while I had started to write, at the same time I didn’t wanna bring out JUST ANOTHER RECORD - I wanted something ELSE of significance to happen or to come along... And next thing you know I’m playing Rachel Marron in “The BODYGUARD”!

Why in particular Beverley feels she can relate to the character of Rachel Marron

“Well, right at the beginning of the show Frank Farmer (the Bodyguard) uses the line ‘one of the biggest stars on the planet’ when he’s discussing Rachel with her manager. So just from that line alone you can see she’s obviously a woman who’s on top of her game, who knows her stuff, who’s obviously worked fiercely to get to where she is and even harder to STAY there! Which is a fight and a struggle that I definitely IDENTIFY with! I mean, as someone who’s been with me for virtually the entire journey of my career you yourself know that it’s never been a straightforward THING for me. Which is why I understand so well that SIDE of her, and how difficult it is to be a female solo artist in the music industry, and to keep your dignity, keep your privacy - you know, ALL those things!... So yeah, when I sat down and thought about all that, it felt I really KNEW her! In fact the only aspect that I COULDN’T relate to directly was her being a MUM!”

How she’s actually found the whole theatre experience so far

“Well, the things that at first kind of made me the most nervous are actually the things that I’ve ENJOYED the most - which is mostly the ACTING! Because it’s just so FABULOUS! You know, you walk onstage, you’ve got the wig on, you’ve got the clothes and, particularly with it being a different accent as well, you just immediately become somebody else ENTIRELY! Which is a lotta FUN! And then the more you do it, the more you get to know who that someone else IS! I mean, it’s literally like a portal to a whole different WORLD!... So yeah, I really am genuinely surprised at just how much I’m ENJOYING it!”

What Beverly feels are the main differences between being a West End musical star and her “usual job” of being a recording-and-touring singer/songwriter

“A big plus of doing West End theatre is that you’re able to do your show and then go back to your husband, back to your own home, your own bed, your own creature comforts... You know, that really is a major, major plus - because when you’re on the road you don’t get ANY of that! But then in terms of minuses, rather than anything I do when I’m ONSTAGE at the theatre it’s more about what happens OFFSTAGE. In that while as an artist in my own right I’m used to very much being in control of my own thing - my own publicity, my own PR, running my own record-label - in theatre you’re very much part of a COMPANY that TELL you that you’re doing, which is something I’m not used to at ALL! Plus another thing about the theatre that also takes some getting used to - though it’s not necessarily a minus - is the fact that, rather than singing songs of my own creation, I’m primarily doing somebody ELSE’s songs over and over again. Whereas what I’m used to is doing my own songs with maybe just a FEW of somebody else’s... But then having said all that, I guess there are also things about the two that are very SIMILAR. Like for example you do get that exact same initial reaction of people feeling what you’re doing straightaway in the theatre that you get when you do a CONCERT, which is ALWAYS really great... So yeah, in a nutshell I guess those are the main pros-and-cons and/or similarities between the two.”

With the show being largely based around the Whitney Houston songbook, what Beverley feels about her as a trailblazing musical influence

“While we all may have had particular artists that we listened to at home on an individual or personal level, the thing about Whitney specifically, in terms of my generation, that makes her so special is that I feel we ALL grew up with her. Because that vocal of hers changed ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! You know, you couldn’t help BUT be influenced by Whitney Houston - she was a proper, honest-to-God GAME-changer! Which is quite a remarkable THING, ‘cause there’s not been MANY! I guess Aretha was one of them, Ella Fitzgerald... So yeah, in that way Whitney was quite an incredible WOMAN!”

How she feels the whole West End experience has impacted on her as an artist and whether she could now see herself having a long-term career in musicals

“Because I’m loving this one so much, the answer is yes, I’ll certainly be considering other roles. But having said that, they’ve got to be the RIGHT roles! You know, that’s primarily what’ll kind of determine where I go and what I do from this point ON. Because one thing I’ll NEVER stop doing is making music as an artist in my own RIGHT - that’s just never going to HAPPEN! But at the same time if I COULD do both - like many other kind of multi-media stars - then why NOT? I mean, you just need to look at someone like STREISAND. Who - while it may not be exactly SOUL music - is an accomplished actress, an accomplished singer, and has always flitted easily and neatly BETWEEN the two. So as I say, if the opportunity arises for me to do that too, then my feeling is why NOT?!”

Beverley currently stars alongside Tristan Gemmill in “The Bodyguard: The Musical” at Adelphi Theatre, Strand, London (online booking or box office/credit card bookings 0844 579 0094)

To read more from this interview with UK Queen of soul Beverley Knight, click on the link below to buy your own B&S hardcopy or visit your local reputable magazine seller (inc WHSMITH and JOHN MENZES) to buy your copy today.

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