The British soul singer gave the biggest show on her UK tour her all
A Wolverhampton girl who grew up singing in the church, Beverley Knight was dubbed the ‘Queen of UK Soul’ in the late-’90s. The label has stuck, and with good reason. Stubbornly refusing to be resigned to obscurity – sadly, a far-too-familiar outcome for Black British female soul singers – Knight has kept at it, widening her appeal through musical theatre and television.
But I imagine the most important factor sustaining Knight’s longevity is her consistency as a live performer. With respect to her studio work – and there is plenty of great stuff across her nine-album discography – it feels secondary to what Knight can do live. In an interview for Rolling Stone UK earlier this year, Knight herself admitted that her stamina on stage was her trump card.
Finishing her biggest national tour to date at the London Palladium, Knight is brimming with joy as she enters the stage singing the buoyant ‘Greatest Day’. Her setlist majors on latest release The Fifth Chapter but draws upon her independently released debut The B-Funk (1995), the funky Prodigal Sista (1998), her breakthrough Who I Am (2002), and its poppier follow-up Affirmation (2004). Sadly, we miss the choice cuts from the earthier Music City Soul and Soulsville albums; the former’s ‘Black Butta’ would have been a much more worthy encore number than Chaka Khan’s oft-overdone ‘I’m Every Woman’. But she still sings the stuffing out of it.
In fact, she sings the hell out of everything. Her elastic, melismatic, and gritty vocals never let her down. The spectacular vocal showcase is augmented by a trio of backing vocalists and a top-notch band. Her cover of Robyn’s ‘Keep This Fire Burning’ is delivered with a ‘70s soul groove, while ‘Systematic Overload’ proves the most compelling of the newer material, evoking Knight’s idol Prince with its hues of disco and funk. There is also some exquisite balladeering on self-actualisation anthem ‘Gold’ and the Diane Warren-penned ‘Not Prepared For You’.
An acoustic segment mellows the tone of the evening, allowing Knight to show restraint with stripped-back readings of ‘Fallen Soldier’ (Knight’s homage to Stephen Lawrence) and ‘Sista Sista’. She closes the segment with the yearning blues of ‘The Need of You’, rendered acoustically for the first two-thirds before a raucous, electrifying climax. It is the evening’s highlight, summing up what Knight is all about: Soul singing par excellence.