A ‘one-off’ special performance for the BBC has, unexpectedly, become a 10-date UK tour for Beverley Knight. Britain’s ‘Queen of Soul’ will celebrate the songs of Motown legend Stevie Wonder in a show that visits Sheffield, Gateshead and Manchester in October.
Beverley performed a special concert recorded for BBC Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night Is Music Night’ series at The London Palladium at the end of last year and now she is set to take the show across the UK with the Leo Green Orchestra.
“The London Palladium show in November was such a wonderful, thrilling experience for me that I didn’t need to think twice when offered the opportunity to tour it across the UK,” says Beverley. “I thought it was going to be just a one-off, but they wanted to do it with a bit of a twist. Instead of doing it in Maida Vale studios, they asked if I would do it in front of a live audience at the Palladium, and I was thrilled, obviously. It’s much more interesting as an artist to be able to perform. It went so well that they asked if I would tour it, and I said ‘absolutely!’”
Beverley is delighted that she will again be performing with the Leo Green Orchestra. “It’s wonderful! I think Stevie’s music is so full of orchestration, each song is different to the next, that the only real way to interpret them all in their fullest, would be with an orchestra. For some songs you’re going to use one section of the orchestra, and for others you’re going to use a different section. Some songs are small, delicate and tiny, other songs are the full-fat flavour. So, it is absolutely right that Leo Green, who is so funky, and the orchestra are with me,”
As a writer and performer of his own material, Stevie Wonder has been one of the most original and influential of all of the Motown artists. His music transcended the boundaries and constraints that often confronted black artists, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, and he is equally revered in the worlds of soul and rock music. Stevie Wonder had a profound effect on the young Beverley Knight.
”The first song I ever heard on the radio was Sir Duke,” she says. “I must’ve been…four? I didn’t know the words, I just knew that melody of the chorus, and drove everyone mad singing it. My whole life is defined by music and Stevie’s was the first voice I ever heard on radio. He has been a constant in my life, since my very formative years, and still is.”
Does that put additional pressure the performance?
“It’s a privilege and it’s a responsibility. The memories that are bound up in Stevie’s songs, in anybody’s songs if you’re a fan, are so tangible that you can’t mess with people’s emotions like that. I have a job to do those songs justice, do them right, be true to myself and interpret them in the way that I see is fitting for them to be interpreted. But at the same time, not go off so far that people listen and go, ‘that doesn’t sound like the Stevie song that I know’. But then, I’m a Stevie fan too, so of course, I will faithfully reproduce some songs, some of the funkier songs, they will be as you know them. On some of the other songs, you’ve got a few key changes and things like that, so there will be a different resonance just for technical purposes because I’m a woman!” she laughs. “But I will keep the melodies and the notes and all of that the same. And hopefully, people will walk away and have their memories enhanced.”
Of course, as a fan, it’s always a thrill to meet your heroes and that was true for Beverley, too. “Yes, I’ve met Stevie twice! I met Stevie face-to-face backstage at Hyde Park, gave him a cuddle and took a photo which is going in a frame. I told him I was doing this tour, and he said he’d like to hear it, which I was thrilled about!
“But years before that, Prince flew me to LA to do an Oscars party, so the great and good of Hollywood were there, in his rented house. He then invited Stevie Wonder to join us up on stage. I was floored, as you can imagine. So I’ve got two geniuses up on stage with me! Like, how does that happen, you know? It was the single greatest musical moment of my life.”
Beverley, herself, is now celebrating 25 years in music. She released the first of her eight albums The B-Funk in 1995, has won numerous awards and, in 2006, was awarded an MBE for her contribution to British music. She has also starred as Rachel Marron in two runs in the West End production of The Bodyguard which, in turn has led to other West End roles.
“Some days, I feel old!” she laughs. “But honestly, I feel absolutely ecstatic that I’m in my 25th year. And not in the sense of ‘I’m in my 25th year, thank you and goodnight,’ I’m in my 25th year, and it’s still on an upward trajectory. Somehow, it seems to be defying convention and expectation, that at my age, at this point in my career and in my life, it’s growing and building. It’s incredibly exciting.
“I’ve got a live album out in November, which celebrates my 25 years. Again, with the Leo Green orchestra which is a lot of fun. I will be doing lots of shows to support that. Next year, I will be going back to the theatre, putting my theatre hat back on, which I’m very excited about. It’ll be my big return to the West End. So life is wonderful, life continues to be wonderful.”
Beverley Knight tour 2019 northern dates
Beverley Knight The Songs Of Stevie Wonder is appearing at The City Hall, Sheffield on Saturday 5 October, The Sage, Gateshead on Wednesday 9 October and Manchester’s O2 Apollo on Thursday 11 October. For more information and booking please visit livenation.co.uk/beverley-knight-tickets or contact the venues’ box offices.