Dinner with Auntie Bev
Beverley Knight has come a long way since her debut album in 1995. After gaining a degree in Religious Theology and Philosophy, Wolverhampton’s favourite daughter has gone on to release 7 albums, work with the likes of Chaka Kahn, Prince and Stevie Wonder, as well as racking up a doctorate and an MBE. ANDREW TRENDELL grabs a bite to eat with the soul sensation, with some food for thought…
Beverley Knight is starving. It’s been a long day of press interviews and sound checks for tonight’s gig in celebration of Smooth Radio’s birthday. She is currently in the depths of a campaign for her latest album ‘100%’, the first record she has released independently on her own label – hungry work indeed. “Sebass!,” she gleefully screams, with eyes lit up and arms aloft, before the timid waitress even lets a word leave her mouth. “And can I have some rocket and some parmesan please?” she grins, licking her lips.
As she relaxes into the plush and chic surroundings of Tonic bar and restaurant, before tucking into a bowl of olives and letting out a mock sigh of exasperation. It seems that the past few months, although being quite rewarding, have certainly taken their toll.
“It’s been hard bloody work,” she sighs, rolling her eyes. “It was also really fulfilling at the same time. I really enjoyed just looking at spreadsheets and working on the technical administrative side. What artist do you know that looks at spreadsheets? It’s a whole new world but I strangely enjoyed it.”
As countless other artists grow weary of the greedy approach of major labels who are becoming more and more archaic in a digital world, Beverly Knight also saw this as the prime opportunity to go it alone.
“The whole ‘old model’ of big major record labels is dying – they are really on their last legs. That’s been no better exemplified than with EMI, which was my home and I saw the writing was on the wall which is why I got out and decided to do things independently.
“Creatively I wanted to take control of the music, the writing, the single releases, the artwork – everything. Not that I’m a control freak, mind!”
Spreadsheets and pie-charts aside, ‘100%’ is a joyful album. With traces of soul, funk and disco-pop, Knight comes across on record just as she is in person – comfortable and confident. The album also gave Knight the opportunity to work with some famous friends, including the iconic Chaka Kahn.
“I’ve worked with Chaka for a number of years, doing live shows n’ that, and I think she’s just an absolute icon,” she admits. “We got into the same room which was great because you could really feel the energy there. Working with a legend like her was really just incredible for me.”
As well as the established legend of Chaka Kahn, Knight also enjoyed collaborating with the up and coming miniature pop hero Chipmunk on the album.
“He’s someone I’ve known a very long time, having watched him since he was a very little kid, as opposed to being a slightly bigger kid, and I just absolutely adore him and wish the best for him. He’s a fantastic little fellow and I loved working with him.
“‘Auntie Bev!,’ he would say, ‘I’m really chuffed that I’m working with you Auntie Bev!’ But bless him, he’s just so talented.”
I ask if I could please start calling her Auntie Bev. She lets out a boisterous infectious chuckle. “Oh go on,” she beams, “everyone else does, which makes me feel really old!”
The calibre on her list of collaborations is quite staggering, which is hardly surprising considering the long list of famous friends and fans she has gathered.
“I’ve been on stage with Prince a few times. We opened for him when he did his 21 nights at the O2. He saw me perform and knew all about me – he’d done his homework bless him. He grabbed me and said ‘I want you to do my after shows, let’s jam together.’ I just broke down in happiness and started dribbling.”
She adds: “Then in 2008 he flew me over to Los Angeles to do his Oscars party, in his house with all of the night’s winners and all of these major Hollywood stars like Wesley Snipes and Penelope Cruz. So there I was, onstage, in Prince’s house, surrounded by Prince and all of these stars, singing with Prince and Stevie Wonder – I can’t even explain how it felt.”
To most artists, that would be the sign of a dream come true and a life fulfilled, but Auntie Bev is lucky enough to claim that it wasn’t the proudest day of her life. In 2006, she received an MBE from the Queen for the work she has done both in music and for charity.
“It was absolutely mental,” she staggeredly confesses. “I never in my born days thought that I’d be someone who would ‘enter into the establishment’ and I didn’t even know that people at that level knew who I was, but there I was at Buckingham Palace with the Queen – not Prince Charles or any lower member of the Royal Family but the Queen herself.
“My mum and dad were there in tears and there I was worrying about whether I was going to fall over in my platforms as I curtseyed. It was the most incredible day. Since getting my MBE I’ve got a couple of free pairs of shoes and upgrades on my flights, ‘doin’ my MBE thang!’ but all in all it’s been lovely and everyone’s been really happy for me.”
But wait, her list of honours goes on even further. She was even given an honorary doctorate in music by her hometown University of Wolverhampton. Does Beverley Knight ever get overwhelmed by having such praise heaped upon her?
“I think that when your town bestows an honour like that on you and says ‘you’re our Bev’ then it’s the most wonderful thing to have,” she humbly admits. “My mum was like ‘you got to make everybody call you Doctor,’ and I was like ‘No, they’ll think I’m a bloody heart surgeon or something!’”
Just as she finishes polishing the olives, her juicy sea bass arrives. “I very rarely use the ‘Dr’ bit but sometimes I get invitations and they’re addressed to ‘Dr Beverley Knight MBE’ and I think ‘who the bloody hell is that?’”
So there you have it. Beverley Knight: Doctor, MBE and soul sensation. But really, she will always be our Auntie Bev.
By Andrew Trendell