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Beverley Knight Interview 26-5-2011 with Fitzroy & The Soul Survivors Magazine!!!

Beverley Knight

We all know your a proud Wolverhampton lass representing the Midlands with Pentecostal and deep West Indian roots.What amalgamation of music was played in your house and was it as diverse as mine and many others with the inclusion of Jim Reeves and other Country and Western influences? Oh my god Fitz you went there I love that. Definitely growing up it was gospel music mostly and we were’t allowed to listen to much else so what we got was through the radio. But what is it with West Indians country music and Jim Reeves... “I hear the sound of distant drums”? Tell me about it. When me and my siblings used to hear it we thought it was just too dry but you couldn't turn it off as my dad would kill me. I can appreciate people like Johnny Cash now but as a kid I was like nah!! What singers did you aspire to be like male and female? In my formative years my first recorded voice I recall hearing was Sam Cooke as my mother had this album "The Two Sides Of Sam Cooke". One was the pop side and the other was gospel. The latter was what we heard with songs like things like "Jesus Gave Me Water" and "Touch The Hem Of His Garment" which he did with The Soul Stirrers. So I grew up hearing full on gospel with all the harmonies.The other album was Aretha Franklin’s "Amazing Grace" recorded in her dads church. So Sam & Aretha I’m pleased to say were my first vocal teachers. How did you manage to strike a deal with Peter Robinson at Dome? It was sheer luck and I’m eternally grateful to Peter and Mark Shear at Dome Records at the time. I was just singing in a club in Wolverhampton and Mark Shear who was A&R at Dome happen to be in the club with Sinclair who had the hit "Ain’t No Casanova" which was blowing up at the time. I was the local girl on the bill and Mark showed an interest in signing me. Now I was going to do my degree and asked them if they would wait till it was done and they agreed. So I came down to London once I finished and met Peter who heard and loved what I did and signed me up I distinctively remember the impact of playing and hearing "Flavour Of The Old School". Coming out of the UK it was equal to what was coming out of the USA like TLC’s, SWV "Anything"", I’m So Into You",Aaliyah "Back & Forth" and Raj- Nee-"Turn It Up". It’s kinda ironic that that particular single almost 20 years later has come full circle as influence to your "Soul UK" CD.What was it about the old school flavour that resinated so strong to influence that mid 90’s underground anthem? With Flavour at the time not much was coming out of the UK and in the States a lot of the R&B lyrics were and the melodies were not so great as they should be and everything was a formular without integrity. So I decided to write about the old school way of how I heard music hence "Flavour Of The Old School". In todays climate I just felt having looked around at the music scene now, that there are a lot of kids doing well but they don't I think realise how deep the roots go in Britain, in regards to the people who paved the way for them whom had a struggle. The light doesn't get shone on these acts and when things were happening like when "Flavour" blew up and before that Soul To Soul and Loose Ends and Imagination, it was a little closed community who saw a little bit of sun then it would disappear again. It just felt that the time was right to show there’s a lot of British success right now but theses are the forefathers that made it happen for me and for them.  I loved "Moving On Up On The Right Side" an amazing improvisation using Curtis Mayfield’s "You’re so Good To Me" used for the anthem "Happy" by Mary J Blige. I loved Mary’s track but your vocals were typical of what we can do UK style when we are influenced by the USA. I think it’s one of your best vocal performances coz it rocks like MJ! Yeah it has that kind of early MJ swagger about it. I recorded that song with The Ethnic Boys bad boys wicked guys. I’d done that way before I heard the Mary track and remember to this day being at the student union bar at university in Cheltenham writing the album and hearing the Mary track thinking it was me, but listening intently I realised it wasn’t. It was one of those sychronicity moments. Both Mary and I  used the same sample and neither were otherwise aware (don’t think Mary’s heard mine) and I loved "Happy" and knew it was going to be a huge hit. When did you record "Moving On Up" as "Happy" was 1995? In 1994 whilst I was still at Uni and I recorded "Flavour Of The Old School" which blew up before its release and had to follow it up with something hence "Moving On Up" and I was still doing my distillation in my last year at Uni, but Dome needed an album. I was furiously writing songs but that track was given to me by songwriter Wesley Jones and we recorded it before the Mary’s came out.... It was crazy. I remember meeting you at Twice As Nice at the Coliseum in Vauxhall where you did a live PA of "Made It Back" and you smash da place .It was a big tune in our playlist and remixed by Dodge what did you think initially when you heard Chic’s "So Fine" break under his funky drum looped production and how did ya pull Redman on the track? Dodge played the loop to me and I recognized it as Chic but the way he banded up the drums that dropped in the track sounded to so fierce. So I thought I had to get this track right and it sounded so defiant so it need that kind of an attitude to it. In my attempt to move from Dome to Parlaphone I was frustrated as it was a push and pull deal with the lawyers. So once that was dealt with I wanted my first record to reflect that I had made it back from the wilderness and so that’s what I wrote on top of Dodge’s groove. And it was Dodges idea to get Redman which I didn’t think it was going to happen but hats off to Parlaphone they managed to get him. Again the old school flavour runs rife with "Greatest Day Of My Life" using Fat Larry’s "Act Like You Know or Whatnuts "Help Is On The Way". There is clearly a personal message behind the lyrics do you care to expand? The funny thing with that song was I was with the 2B3 production crew at a studio in Brixton and it was raining hard. My head was empty and was thinking what am I gonna be inspired to write about. I looked out of the window and create a scenario of a perfect day with the sun as I couldn't leave the studio with nothing as time is money. So for once I didn't start with the chorus and started from the top “Its a good thing the air feels good today and it’s better that god doesn't decide to send the rain.” Then eventually I started to get a vibe for it and had a nice verse and got to the chorus thinking “it’s a great day” eventually becoming "The Greatest Day Of My Life"...and it was a rainy day in Brixton LOL On the flip side I loved "Weekend Thing" again working with Maestro Dodge he cleverly used one of my fave Billy Paul cuts "It’s Critical" as a sample. How did you find working with the South London Artful Dodger whose DJ,Hip Hop artist and production history is rich in talent? Ahh bless you Dodge is very chilled and I remember going to his house over Croydon way to work with him and looking through his great vinyl collection in his attic. I’ll be writing away and he’d be doing his thing and if he'd hear something he’d go “Yeah Bev that’s happening” and his eyes would sparkle and we’d roll with the idea. Whilst he wasn't a writer of melodies or lyrics he was great at doing was editing. He’d hear something and say thats right or not right and if he doesn't end up running a label one day I’d be very surprised as he's got that fantastic ear. You definitely crossed over and captured the attention of the more commercial world appearing on BBC1‘s music show "Just The Two Of Us" touring with Take That and winning celebrity Mastermind in 2010. You Have an MBE won 3 MOBO’s 2 BMA(Black Music Awards)and are dedicated to working for charity. Did you imagine this could happen back in 1994? Not a sausage..I knew I’d be making music in some way shape or form.But If you told me I’d be picking up a medal for what ya doing from the Queen at Buckingham Palace meeting Mandela,singing with Prince and touring with Take That...I’d have been like “Eh didn’t they split up?” To say I’ve done all this  in my career a is shock and a joy and a privilege  is an understatement. The harder times have taught me valuable  lesson and the great times have encouraged and inspired me and I look back and think ...”yeah that was me” . I have to be honest in how I saw your career escalated in the commercial arena and was pleased that you “made it back” to a larger platform from where you started. I was unable to embrace the rockier pop dance music you were making as it didn’t fit with what and where I played. I got your "Soul Survivor" CD and was excited because it the same title as our magazine but unfortunately if wasn’t as I imagined it.When you were younger did you want to be a soul singer or just a singer as when most black acts these days gain commercial success , they seem to lose their identity as soul singers because the industry tends to water down the earthier music of black origin and make it more expendable to anyone from Cheryl Cole to Jedward? Funny thing was that I felt comfortable pulling in my other influences and with people who usually talk to me in interviews from the soul & R&B world, I don’t really talk a bout loving David Bowie, Hendrix and Funkadelic’s crazier "Maggot Brain" rockier era and me being a huge Prince fan. In my head I’m emulating what they were doing but to people who don’t know that side of me it confused them. I see it as a soul hybrid and don’t see myself as a purist anything to say that my voice is anything but soul as it’s where I clearly come from and it’s my base. But I don't think its pure but mixed with other bits and the minute you step outside whats perceived as the comfort zone or a category, people start predicting “oh here we go here we go!!” . I can appreciate that some people didn’t want to go on that journey with me but others totally did. Whats always interesting about people who've’ had accusations of selling out which is a horrible phrase like Diana Ross, Prince and James Brown, is people realise looking at the wider picture that its part of their progress and journey as an artist. Having said that it was difficult when I left the label, the discussions and some of the battles I had in song choices and production direction at EMI were like “if you don't do x and we can’t do y Beverley”, and for me the situation became unattainable. 360 deals were coming in, the record company was losing money hand over fist trying to get more money out of the artists like they weren't getting enough already and I thought the writing was on the wall and just bided my time got out and became a free agent. But if people look at the whole book and not just the chapter they’ll get the whole story. Your new album "Soul UK" I’ve heard a few of the songs and reviewed in our June July issue of Soul Survivors.I like the take on Junior's "Mama Used To Say",Jameroqaui’s "When You Gonna Learn?" and Soul To Soul’s "Fairplay". The fact that its all organically UK will be interesting to see how the Americans receive this. In your own words how important was it to document this musically? Its so important to appreciate those who laid the path before us. It wasn’t an easy road that I had but these that came before their path was ten times worse than mine ever was. I still have a degree of spot light on me but for these guys it came and dimmed but I hope the light shines again. This is not a definitive collection of British soul as I could fit in Imagination, Linx Mica or Light Of The World. Its me telling my own story through other British acts to arrive at my point and its a way of saying thank you for the sacrifices to enable me and I’m really pleased with the project. We just had 30 years of celebrating British jazz funk with Central Line Imagination, Beggar & Co, Junior and Incognito. And like you said earlier this generation of teenagers and youngsters have no concept of the sacrifices made so they can have artists like Chipmonk and Tinchty Snider. Chipmonk is intelligent and like you completed his university studies but a lot of the other artists who live that rock n soul lifestyle bringing certain attention to themselves in the press, they seem to have no respect for the previous history struggle including the racism whatsoever. Absolutely this generation wasn’t born when some of this was going down and as a kid I remember coming down to the Brixton Frontline visiting my cousin Don E and my aunties and remember the whole Atlantic Avenue scenario and the racial divide in Brixton 30 years back. Junior and Central Line were making music then and struggled and broke through. Today relatively speaking it is so much easier than what those had to go through 30 years back Thanks Beverley I think I timed that right thank you Bev That was great Fitz serious good to see ya again ">Me & Bev catching up!! Listen and enjoy Fitzroy


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