Beverley Knight has always been partial to a Flavour of the Old School. In fact, for her Soul UK album she paid homage to the favourite home-grown soul from her youth.
For her first album in five years, she takes her tributes further afield, to Memphis, Tennessee.
Soulsville sees Knight celebrate the music, sounds and legacy of the city she fell in love with while preparing for her Oliver Award-nominated role of Felicia Farrell in the West End show Memphis the Musical.
Co-written with Jimmy Hogarth, Middle of Love is the first single to be taken from the album, and you can listen to it exclusively below:
Soulsville, Knight’s eighth studio album, was recorded in a week long session at Royal Studios in Memphis – the same studios where Mark Ronson and Bruno Marrs recorded the Grammy winning song Uptown Funk.
Named after the Memphis neighbourhood that was home to Stax Records and where Royal Studios still is, Soulsville explores the sounds and soulful vibes of the city.
It features new songs co-written by Knight with Hogarth and Matty Benbrook, as well as a handful of Memphis classics.
To record the classics, the three-time Mobo Award-winner pulled in some exceptional talent to do the songs justice. These collaborations include Jamie Cullum on a version of William Bell and Judy Clay’s Private Number, Jools Holland on Big Momma Thornton’s Hound Dog (which was later a hit for Elvis Presley) and Memphis soul man Sam Moore of Sam and Dave on Hold On I’m Coming.
Watch Beverley Knight behind the scenes at Royal Studios:
To add extra authenticity, Knight recorded the album using Al Green’s mic and was accompanied by some of the original Hi records/Al Green players, such as brothers Leroy and Charles Hodges on bass and Hammond respectively.
Knight first visited the city in 2014, to research her role in the award winning Memphis the Musical, Beverley was struck by both the feeling and the music emanating from the bars and the churches of the Memphis suburbs into the studios of Stax, Royal, and Sun.
This research changed Knight “permanently”.
She says, “What really prepared me [for the role of Felicia] was going to Memphis and seeing the history before my eyes. Beale Street where ‘race music’ was born, the recording studios there where that music exploded from the underground, the museums that detail what life was life for black people in Memphis at the time. That changed me. Permanently.”
And this transformation continued with the recording of the album Soulsville.
“As soon as I walked into Royal [studios] I knew I had to record an album there,” adds Knight.
“It had such a great vibe and it turned out the best recording experience I’ve ever had.”
Knight is certainly someone who doesn’t believe in taking life easy.
The singer turned musical theatre leading lady finished a stint in Memphis the Musical, recorded an album, and is soon to be heading on a tour, before returning to the role of Rachel Marron in the theatre production of The Bodyguard.
Widely described as the Queen of UK soul, Knight celebrates 20 years since the release of her debut album, The B-Funk, in 2015.
Her longevity in the music industry can be attributed to her exceptional voice and her pin-sharp intelligence.
At the age of 19 she decided to reject a record contract in favour of doing a theology degree.
“When I went into the music business, I was determined not be seen as some fluffy R&B chick and having my degree made me able to articulate that very specifically.
“The big thing for me was: 'You don’t have to like what I do but you must respect me because what I do is solid’. That’s guided me all the way through.”
Knight has also won Celebrity Mastermind with the late singer Prince as her specialist subject.
So it comes as no surprise, then, that the Purple One is one of Knight’s musical influences.
Knight explains: “From a very early age my influences were Aretha [Franklin] and Sam Cooke, and then as I got older I discovered Prince, and he has completely stayed with me in a really major way. He is a very big influence.
“Then it was the voice, the strength and the attitude of Chaka Khan, and I really liked Annie Lennox because she didn’t appear to belong to any kind of genre; she just was Annie Lennox.
“I started to be really be influenced by acts that were very eclectic and that stems from my thing with Prince.”
Knight’s “thing with Prince” may have been instrumental in her formative years, but it also saw her support him on his 2007 Earth Tour at the O2 Arena in London and feature on a live cd released by Prince in 2009.
But one highlight was surely when she was flown to Los Angeles in February 2008 by Prince to perform with him at his post-Oscars party, where they were joined on stage by Stevie Wonder.
Knight also sang at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival with Chaka Khan at Quincy Jones 75th Birthday concert, where she was given a standing ovation by Jones, as well as at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics.
The album, Soulsville, is out on June 10 on East West Records. The single Middle of Love is also released June 10.