Beverley Knight Biography
Last updated: 10/04/2010 11:00:00 AM
An awesome voice, much missed in its temporary absence. An already-great artist, yet one who has used that self-claimed time away to continue the all-important process of maturing and growing. Certainly, she's been missed, but the good news is that this three-times Mobo award-winner is here among us again. Not only that, but, as a blossoming and very centred 27 year old, she's sounding even better than ever. Why wouldn't she be? Since last we heard her, she's charmed (and been totally awed by) Nelson Mandela, sung Happy Birthday to a delighted Mohammed Ali, duetted live and on record with Jamiroquai's Jay Kay, and done a whole lot of getting to know herself too. "All of which has brought me to a very good place indeed!"
This much - and more - is evident from a fabulous new single, 'Get Up!'. The fact is that Beverley Knight has made it back again, and triumphantly so. "I¹ve been through many, many changes, and you can hear them all right here," she admits of the living-and-learning process she has undergone these past two and a half years. "I've found out lots about the industry I work in but also, and more importantly, about me-myself-and-I. Perhaps most significant in all of this was the fact that, during it all, I came out of a long-term relationship. That was a big old thing for me, believe me! So there's certainly a great deal of that in the songs on the new album, Who I Am (her third to date, follow-up to 1998/99's gold selling Prodigal Sista, and due for release on EMI/ Parlophone in early 2002)."
As the title suggests, it's a collection which deals primarily with the question of identity. "With the people and experiences that have shaped me, and with where I am headed next," she confirms. That said, it's a journey with a projected happy ending. "Because I'm pleased to say that I¹ve come out on the far side with my soul intact, with a clear sense of exactly who Beverley is, and (she laughs here, as if in gratitude) with the smile still on my face!" Good news, then, for the university graduate turned homegrown r'n'b heroine - a woman who, when looking for musical role models, turns more readily to artists like Annie Lennox, (as well as greats such as Aretha and Chaka) than to whoever it is that media opinion is electing as the latest funky diva-du-jour. "Man, that¹s not where I'm coming from at all!
"What Prodigal Sista did was break me out of that specialised, ghettoised box that all British black women artists find themselves dropped into, and which I'd been fighting for so long to escape from. Those Mobo awards, for a start (judged Best R'n'B act not only of 98 but of 99 as well -Prodigal Sista picked up Best Album also) were a start. Then there was my insistence on playing live, whenever and wherever possible, and in spite of how much it might piss off a lot of specialist promotions-type people. Yes, it costs a whole lot more to take your music to the people in that way, but that's how the women who inspired me did it. They didn't just sing and dance to backing tracks in a club. They were out there fronting a real band, holding a show together and working on captivating their audience. And that's how I intend to do it too."
If the picture that you¹re forming is of an artist more interested in developing her own talents than in following fashion, you are on the right track. Says Beverley, "Obviously, you¹ve got to be mindful of what's going on out there - no-one should be living in some isolated ivory tower. But it¹s mad to be too slavish, to feel that you've got to be working with this or that hot producer, and that no-one else will do. When I was promoting Sista, the name you'd hear again and again was Rodney Jerkins. Right now it's the Neptunes, and before very long it will be someone else again. Well, my feeling about all of that is that when something or someone is super-hot, it or they can very soon grow cold. I prefer to see myself as kind of a back-burner, quietly keeping up a steady but intense heat!"
And. true enough, on the first single, 'Get Up!', the temperature is near-enough at boiling point. Written by Beverley in conjunction with Atlanta based duo Derrick Martin and Derrick Joshua, it features a classic Knight vocal supported by her trademark supertight and self-devised harmonies. By her own estimation, the sound "is comfortably now and fresh, but without any sense of us having tried too hard." Absolutely. Bev delivers the positive and affirming lyric with effortless conviction, resulting in a track that will thrill her legions of fans at radio and in clubland alike. In doing so, it provides the perfect taster for 'Who I Am', a set that will show just how far the girl from Wolverhampton has come. It features one strong song after another - some written and recorded in collaboration with top industry names here in the UK (D-Influence, Dodge and C -Swing for example) others with the cream of the crop in the U.S.
From Nashville - Country Music Award winner Craig Wiseman with whom Beverley co-wrote the classic "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" - or Philadelphia (James Poyser who has worked with the likes of D'angelo, Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott).
"Songs are the key to it all with me," she explains. "I want people to want to play the album right through from beginning to end, and not just fast-forward to what- hopefully- will be the hits. That¹s why I've taken my time in coming back with this. Quality is appreciated by record buyers, and quality can't be rushed. If I'd've just cobbled together a follow-up to Sista and rushed it out there to capitalise on the momentum, it would have been like admitting that my career goals are just short-term. Not so! I see myself as an album artist, not just a singles one - there's a whole lot more to me than that. And because I want to be around for a long time to come, I figured the best way forward was to take my time. Hopefully, when the results are out there for everyone to hear, fans will feel that I¹ve succeeded in doing so, and that their patience has been rewarded."
Among those waiting patiently to hear Who I Am is a steadily-growing list of famous admirers. Rock heroes David Bowie, Prince and Sir Paul McCartney were already unofficial members of the Beverley fan club when she started work on the album. Now, having floored him with her intense performance at London¹s open-air Celebrate South Africa Day concert back on April 29th this, so too is R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. Jay Kay has to be more than a little smitten too. He invited Bev to guest on two of the tracks, Love Foolosophy and Main Vein, from his own current album A Funk Odyssey. All of which is great, of course. But perhaps the best measure of where the sista herself is coming from can be taken from the reaction to finding herself alongside Prime Minister Tony Blair at a private audience with the truly legendary Nelson Mandela last April.
"That day will stay etched on my mind forever," she insists. "Being on the bill for that concert was a thrill and an honour in itself but, without doubt, the experience of actually meeting him it made for one of the greatest moments of my life. It knocked me sideways that, through music, I had got to meet one of history's living legends, a man who future historians will still be writing about in 500 or more years¹ time. And how had it happened? It was because I, a woman from Wolverhampton, had dared to have a dream that was bigger than those that everyone else around me was carrying with them." By her own self-assessment, Beverley Knight has come a long, long way. And who would dare to set a limit on just how far that extraordinary talent could carry her still?