Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Beverley Knight: Mind, Bodyguard and Soul

Beverley Knight
Beverley Knight Beverley Knight Beverley Knight Beverley Knight

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 Beverley 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 fanbase in tow - with the formation of her own new record-label Hurricane Records, for which she would go on to release two Top 20 albums, “100%” (2009) and “Soul UK” (2011). Since which time Beverley has successfully branched out into musical theatre, taking lead in West End productions of the Whitney Houston-themed “The Bodyguard” in 2013/2014 (transferring its fortunes in the process); the award-winning “Memphis” in 2014 (for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical); and a brief run playing Grizabella in the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” in 2015.

… 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, over afternoon tea in Central London, discusses with long-time industry-acquaintance-cum-friend Pete Lewis her aforementioned brand-new album...

How the idea came about for Beverley to record her new, eighth studio album at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, once the recording home of such soul legends as Al Green, Ann Peebles and Syl Johnson

“The story is that I was in Memphis to research the role of Felicia Farrell for the musical called “Memphis”. You know, they were like ‘Oh, we need you to go to Memphis to get a feel of the place and how the people are, how they speak, the music, how it would have been back in the Fifties’… And so because I knew enough about Memphis to know it’s the home of where modern music as we know it began, I was really excited to be asked to go!… So I went there, and it was like Mecca! I mean, going to Royal Studios, where I subsequently recorded the album; going the Stax Academy, meeting the kids and then going into the museum where the Stax studios used to be; going into Sun Studios where people like Elvis and Howlin’ Wolf and Jerry Lee Lewis got their start; going to the Civil Rights Museum… I mean, it was just EXTRAORDINARY - just an absolutely amazing place! And so just being there and feeling the weight of the history, I knew I had to come back and I knew that I wanted to record there - and I wanted to specifically record at Royal because it’s still an operational studio… So yeah, in a nutshell, that’s the story of how “Soulsville” came about!”

What she wanted to achieve musically and lyrically with “Soulsville”

“Musically I wanted to create an album which was proper soulful, proper earthy and had that touchstone back to the day to where blues and R&B and soul all kind of met in its early form. You know, I didn’t want a pastiche but I did want it to have that feel to it. Plus I wanted to record everything totally live and use some of the real down-home players that were still working in Memphis, which I did!… And then lyrically what was going on in the news at the time I was in Memphis really did kind of help me in terms of my writing. You know, there was so much about the Black Lives Matter hashtag and the terrible deaths either in custody or on the streets of mostly young black males in America. And that, in addition to the rise and rise of the Far Right, made me realise that in some ways so little had changed since the fifties, which was the era when the musical “Memphis” and the character I was playing in it was set. You know, I was like ‘Fast-forward over half-a-century and we’re still having the same problems!’…Which is why some of the new songs on the album are making a kind of socio-political statement. Because I couldn’t help but be influenced by where I was and the history. I mean, Martin Luther King was shot dead in Memphis… So yeah, that whole thing - along with that feeling we have right now of mistrust - just kept coming back again and again and again in my writing. So I was like ‘I need to go with it, but I also need to write about hope as well’.”

You can read more from this enthralling interview with our UK Soul Queen, including Knight's thoughts on the duality of Memphis today as a city and how it impacted on her in a personal way, plus her joyous reaction to her recent / highly-successful move into West End musical theatre and the much publicised return to The Bodyguard in the summer - all this and more in the current issue of Blues & Soul Magazine - click the link below to order straight from our shop or read on for high street retailer details.

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The album “Soulsville” and the single “Middle Of Love” are both released June 10 on East West Records

UK TOUR: Runs from May 21 to June 7, taking in such venues as London Palladium (May 25); Manchester Bridgewater Hall (28); Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (29); Birmingham Symphony Hall (June 2); and Bristol Colston Hall (6)

WEST END: Returns to star in the musical “The Bodyguard” at London’s Dominion Theatre from July 15


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