Beverley Knight MBE, an English singer, songwriter and actress, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Andrew Roachford, getting the Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton, her latest album The Fifth Chapter and her forthcoming 2023 UK tour.

Beverley Knight is an English singer, songwriter and actress, who was born in Wolverhampton.

She released her first album, The B-Funk in 1995. Heavily influenced by American soul music icons such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin, she has gone on to release eight studio albums.

Widely labelled as one of Britain’s greatest soul singers, Knight is best known for her hit singles Greatest Day, Get Up! Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Come As You Are and Keep This Fire Burning.

In 2006 she starred in BBC’s Just The Two Of Us. Later that year she went on to tour with a reformed Take That having previously toured with Prince. She has also hosted the BBC Radio 2 show, Beverley’s Gospel Nights which explored the origins and impact of gospel music.

Knight is an ambassador for Christian Aid and an active campaigner for anti-Aids organisations such as the Stop Aids Campaign and the Terrence Higgins Trust. After more than a decade in the music industry she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2006 in recognition of her contribution to British music.

In 2005 she was made an honorary Doctor of Music by the University of Wolverhampton. She has also received three Mobo Awards and was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 at The Urban Music Awards in London. On 16th May 2018 she was presented with The Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton.

Whilst busy promoting her latest album The Fifth Chapter and her tour of the UK, she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Beverley, good morning, how are you today?

I’m very well thanks for asking Kevin. Are you well?

I’m doing alright thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Oh God, it’s a pleasure, so there are no worries at all.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that it’s good; life is good so far, in fact, life is always good. I’m here, I’m healthy, I’m happy, and it is a really good time thank you. It really is a privilege just to be here especially as we have all been through such a tough time with the pandemic. We lost so many people, a hell of a lot of people of my mum’s generation passed. My friends mum passed, so I really do feel like it is a privilege for me to wake up in the morning. I look at myself in the mirror and say to myself, “I’m still here and I’m fine thanks to God”.

Well, you have made me feel a little older today.

Have I really, how have I managed to do that?

You and I last spoke on 7th April 2017 when you were in Toronto.

Oh my gosh, that really is such a while ago now. In fact, that was just before I came back home. Wow, that is such a long time ago; such a lot has happened since then (laughter).

Coming right up to date, we really must talk about your latest album The Fifth Chapter.

Yes, we must (laughter).

Well, I have to be totally honest with you and say that I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I absolutely love it.

Thank you, thank you very much. I really am so glad to hear that.

Are you happy with it?

I am absolutely over the moon with it. I will be totally honest with you and say that the album would not have gone anywhere, in fact, it would not have reached your ears were I not happy and thought, ‘this is the album that I want people to hear’ (laughter). I am at that point in my career now where I can think if it is not what I want to do musically then there is no point in releasing it. But, with this one, I really am so thrilled with it. Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous as hell but still pleased with it at the same time (laughter).

A lot of your fans are saying that it is your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

That really is so lovely to hear, and I have been hearing that quite a lot on the socials and everything. I personally think that this album is the best work that I certainly could have offered up at this moment in time. Having said that, I honestly do not know if it is my best work ever. I would like to think that at this stage in my career I am still giving you the very best but if that’s how people feel then what can I say, I’m thrilled, I’m really am.

When I was listening to the album, I wrote that it has a ‘feel good’ factor to it.

I’m so pleased that you have said that because right from the off, that really was the intention.

In my opinion it is an album that makes you smile.

That was absolutely the whole point in me making this record. It is a record of strength, of power, and I want people to hear it and go, ‘now there’s someone who absolutely knows them self and is absolutely confident in just who they are and who is marching forward’. For me, that was the feeling.

As you know I’m an old soulie at heart and I feel that certain tracks on this album most definitely have a 70s disco feel to them.

Yes, it doesthere is certainly a lot of that influence there. However, having said that it is not solely a disco album, there is a lot of post disco on there as well, but I feel that the nucleus of just what makes up this album is that disco, joyful, sound. So, once again, you are absolutely right, and you have identified that perfectly. It is all knitted together with my vocals, but obviously there are a few ballads on there, and all kinds of different flavours, but yes, it is all coming from that era.

I’m so pleased that you have bought up the topic of ballads on the album because I would have loved to have heard Dusty (Springfield) sing Not Prepared For You.

It’s a great song, and Dusty would have sounded completely different to me but that is the power of such a great song. I have to give the honour to Diane Warren who wrote that song for me; it’s such a great feeling of a song. I don’t know how she does it, she is such an extraordinary song writer, as she has been for years, and she is still at the top of her game. I was going to say that actually, in this day and age of Artificial Intelligence, you could probably create a version of Not Prepared For You with Dusty singing it (laughter).

Well, we could most probably get ABBA to back you (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) now why didn’t I think of that (laughter).

Putting you on the spot, do you have a favourite track on the album?

(Laughter) Oh my God, you really have put me on the spot. Being totally honest with you I really don’t have a favourite track on the album, simply because it changes every day (laughter). Having said all of that I will say that I keep going back to Someone Else’s Problem a lot because it just reminds me of listening to Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and Jocelyn Brown, great big old singers like that which was the vibe that I was going for. But I really also like listening to I’m On Fire because that, honest to God, is just how I feel.

I totally agree with you when you say that favourite tracks change daily, but at this moment in time I have got four; they are I’m On Fire, Someone Else’s Problem, Queen Of Everything and Everything’s Gonna Be Alright. I think that those four tracks are absolutely fantastic.

Thank you so much, thank you.

Putting my old soulie head on once again I feel that Someone Else’s Problem has definitely got a Philadelphia International feel to it. You can almost hear the house band, M.F.S.B. playing on that track.

It does, it really does; it absolutely does (laughter).

That particular track would slot in nicely at a nightclub back in the 70s.

I am so glad that you have said that because that could easily be the intro and you are about to hear Teddy Pendergrass sing baby, baby, baby, baby, come on home. I have to say that it really is so nice to speak to someone who gets it if you know what I am saying (laughter).

I’m older than you so I actually got it back in the 70s (laughter).

That’s fantastic; you lived through a wonderful era of music. I was a mere child in the 70s (laughter).

I personally feel that you are guilty of telling porkies.

Oh really, how come?

Because there is no way that you are fifty years old.

(Laughter) I was born on the 22nd March 1973 at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton. I absolutely am telling the truth (laughter). God bless you. I honestly do think that, and people can laugh but I think that this is true, the experiences that you have in life will tell on your face. I have been so fortunate, privileged and honoured to have had a life in music and I swear to God that has kept me, not necessarily youthful, because I love the fact that I am older, I really do, that’s why I have called the latest album The Fifth Chapter, but I have to say that the zest for life I think is what people see when they look at me. I think that’s what it is and people associate that with youth. You can also associate it simply by being a happy soul.

Are you looking forward to being back out on the road again?

Massively as it is so overdue. I’ve been on the road doing various other things, but not as me singing as me. The last time that people saw me I was with the Leo Green Orchestra celebrating the genius that is Stevie Wonder. People who are into The Ministry Of Sound and the whole dance music scene they will have seen me celebrating those great Ibiza classics. But I haven’t been out as me since 2017 and I simply can’t wait. It is going to be brilliant. I really am so excited.

How many of the new songs will make it onto the set list for the forthcoming tour?

Don’t worry, there will be all of the ones that you love, they will be on there (laughter).

I have checked the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham this morning and they are telling me that there is limited availability on tickets.

Is that right, in that case I couldn’t be more thrilled with that news. People can spend their money any which way that they want, and they have chosen to put their hands into their pocket and spend it on a night with me and my music. That means more to me than I can ever begin to say. So, my objective is always, whenever I stand on the stage, is for me to give people the best night that they could ever have. That really is so very important to me.

Throughout your career you have won many awards. Which has given you the greatest pleasure?

If I am going to be totally honest with you then I would have to say that it would have to be the 2023 Laurence Olivier Award for the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. I say that simply because it was so unexpected. I came into acting latterly, acting professionally for the past ten years, so for me to do this professionally and for people to say, “you are really good, in fact you are so good that you are worthy of this particular award” really does mean everything to me. I was always confident in my musical ability, and the fans show you just how good you are by going out and buying tickets for the shows and the records.

So, in some instances it could be argued that the accolades there somehow kind of matter less, whenever people vote with their feet. In the theatre people are attached to shows, but they are singling me out, in a particular show, as having merit. That means everything to me, especially as I have crossed over from the music industry into acting; that really does mean everything. I really do hope that makes sense (laughter).

May I take you back to 16th May 2018, when you were presented with the Freedom of the City of Wolverhampton. Just how did that make you feel?

That really was incredible, but I see that slightly differently. Whenever I think of awards The Freedom of The City together with the MBE both sit in a slightly different place. Getting the Freedom of Wolverhampton really was so unbelievable, I cried. Every picture taken at the ceremony shows me with red raw eyes. I knew that it was coming but I still cried. For me to get that from the people who helped me to get here in the first place, well there simply are no words. Wolverhampton shaped me, made me, moulded me, and gave me everything that I have to this day, and I love her for it.

I spoke to a dear friend of yours last week and I am going to ask you, just what is Andrew Roachford like to work with?

Andrew is an absolute dream to work with; he has magic is all in those fingertips, and then he opens his mouth and then it’s like, ‘for God’s sake’ (laughter). He has got so much talent; it is just pouring out of him. He is the loveliest man you could ever have the honour to meet. I just love him, I love him so very much, and I am so thrilled that we finally got to do something together and that is on record. We had the best time. I just love Andrew.

Testing your memory, what was the first record that you bought?

Well, it was shared, and it was Thriller but we bought Thriller and Off The Wall at the same time. My brother was far too young, so the two albums were shared with my sister. We actually bought the two of them on cassette (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live?

That would have been a Gospel group and that would have been The Commissioned who were a Gospel group. That would have been when I was very, very young. My early experiences of live music were all Gospel.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That would most probably have been when I heard Not Prepared For You for the very first time. I cried my eyes out as I was so very happy with it.

On that note Beverley let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it really has been delightful. Stay safe and good luck with the tour.

Thank you so much Kevin. I have really enjoyed our chat, as I always do. I look forward to seeing you when I get up to Nottingham. Bye for now.