Interview:
Beverley Knight

Knight’s Tale

It’s been a testing time for Beverley Knight of late. Going through a long term relationship break up, witnessing poverty and starvation at close hand, and to top it all, being forced into recording a programme about the bloody Brit Awards! Beverley was only too keen to enlighten me with stories of all the above and more:

AD: First of all, how exactly does a girl from Wolverhampton go about becoming an international megastar?

BK: Oh God! I don’t see myself as that at all. I’m just a girl who has grafted solidly for nine years and now finally I am here. My music is finally beginning to make sense to the public and to the media. A lot of people who have come and gone were a lot more impatient than me, and personally I’m glad that it’s taken a while, as I have learned and developed both musically and spiritually along the way.

AD: One of your spiritual journeys took you to Brazil with Christian Aid recently. What made you decide to embark upon what must have been a fairly harrowing experience?

BK: Harrowing is right! Christian Aid asked me to be an ambassador for them and highlight, through their sister companies, the work they are doing in places like Salvadorto try to curb the rise in poverty and to combat the frighteningly rapid spread of the HIV virus that is destroying the community over there – particularly the black community. I was inspired by my closest and dearest friend, who lives with me and is HIV positive himself. It was a way of helping me to understand my own feelings. It was completely heart wrenching, but it was also inspirational, you know. All these formidable characters that I met still had such strength and vitality that it made me feel overwhelmed, but humble. It was particularly harrowing meeting the children who had the disease, and that’s where mum stepped in – I’m so glad she was there! Anyway, the experience completely changed my life.

AD: Will your time in Brazil shape much of your next album then?

BK: Definitely. You just can’t go through something as profound as that WITHOUT it shaping the music you create.

AD: Yeah and music’s such a great way of expressing your message and getting a message across. I got the impression that your excellent “Shoulda Woulda Coulda” single was very much based on personal experience. What can you tell me about it?

BK: I was just sitting there reflecting on my relationship, which had fallen apart a couple of days before I got on my flight to Nashville. My collaborator, Craig Wiseman told me to focus on my thoughts innermost – I was in pieces, I was a mess – and somehow, this song made sense of it all. It doesn’t tell the entire story though; you’d have to listen to the album to get the entire picture. I started writing “Who I Am” dealing with me and my relationship. I explored my own mind, my sexuality, my politics – all these things to try to find an answer within this relationship that had broken up. That’s where the title of the album came from.

AD: On the most recent single from that album, you collaborated with Wyclef Jean. How did the two of you get on?

BK: We got on fine. I think I had an advantage, because he had no idea that with me, the madness is just blooming beneath the surface, whereas I knew he was off his rocker already! We had a really good laugh and it was good working with Wyclef’s new prodigy too, a rapper calledHollywood.

AD: Going back to the beginning of your career, “Flavour Of The Old School” reached theUKTop 40 pretty much by word of mouth, rather than the excessive promotional ploys undertaken by other artists to realise their own material dreams. You seem to have kept that “Do-It-Yourself” ethic to this very day. How important is something like that to you?

BK: I think it’s really important that people FIND your music, rather than have them buy it because it’s been rammed down your throat every hour of the day. I mean, yes, marketing is so great when you can get it, but I just think if something takes a bit of time and people gradually pick up on it, it’s so much better. I’d be happier for my music to take a hugely long time to sell than to have it force fed to people while they waited for their kettle to boil.

AD: Admirable ethics indeed, which is more than can be said for the government’s reaction to the shootings of Charlene Ellis and Latisha Shakespeare inBirminghamrecently. You recently performed a concert for the two murdered teenagers at Aston Villa Leisure Centre and very publicly condemned Mr.Blair and co in the process. What upset you the most about the way the government tried to handle the problem?

BK: The fact that they didn’t handle it at all! I mean, first of all, where the hell were they? If they felt so vehemently about this issue, then where were they on the 18th of January? Watching Daytime TV? Or planning their next inane strategy for dragging us into war? Secondly, the comments made by the Home Secretary were so hopelessly misjudged and misguided that it makes me despair. They’re telling ME that all these people, these amazing artists from twenty years ago – mainly hip hop – which incidentally was all about people spreading love and not war – are to blame for a rise in gun crime?  I mean, come on!!  The one thing I have always said in situations like this is – Music reflects the society we live in; it doesn’t incite it. If music really was as potent a force as the government reckon it is, we wouldn’t right now be marching off to war.

AD: Couldn’t agree more, and an enormous amount of our readers will fully support what you’re saying there. Now then, when I recently interviewedLeee Johnof Imagination, he said the highlight of his entire career was having dinner cooked for him by a certain Mrs. Winnie Mandela. I gather you’ve been rather close to her other half lately – that must have been special…

BK: There is no accolade, or title, or honour that anyone could give to me that will ever compare with that moment – and it’s happened to me twice in my career now! I can’t begin to tell you how inspirational that man has been to me. I mean, who was I? I’m just that girl fromWolverhamptonyou mentioned earlier on, and here was a man standing right in front of me who has changed history! He will still be talked about in 600 years’ time as somebody who made an indelible mark on the world and changed it for the better. No matter what anyone says about him in the future, it will make no difference to things he has achieved.

AD: So you’ve sung to Mandela and Ali, received three Mobo awards, been nominated for several Brits…incidentally, is it true that you’re presenting the Brits this year?

BK: No I’m not presenting it, but I did do a trailer to get people to watch the Brits that I really, really didn’t want to do. Then they cajoled me and begged me to present this show called “The Brits Are Coming” so much that eventually I just gave in, threw my arms up in the air and said “OK, ok I’ll do it! Now leave me alone!”

AD: Okay, so you’ve achieved all the above, sold in excess of 20,000 copies of “Who I Am”, received further nominations for the Mercury Music Prize and can count Michael Stipe, David Bowie, Jay Kay and Prince amongst your biggest fans. What is there left for Beverley Knight to achieve?

BK: I’d like to sell a few records in America. The ones who do know about me over there REALLY know about me, and I have to thank David Bowie quite a lot for that, as he’s promoted me so much over there and always spreads the word whenever he goes. So I’d eventually like to release something over there. So many people have told me I’ll do really well in the U.S. I hope they’re right!

And I, for one, would be very surprised if they weren’t. One thing’s for sure – Beverley Knight deserves all the success she has had and more. A heart of gold, a voice to die for, intelligent songs and a wonderful personality. The girl will go far. And I’m saying that as a Leicester fan even after Wolves stuffed us in the FA Cup (and she supports the buggers too!) – you can still get hold of Beverley’s recent “Shape Of You” featuring Wyclef Jean and Hollywood, in all good record stores now.

 Interview and transcript by Tone E

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

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