Beverley Knight flying the flag for UK soul

West Midlands soul star Beverley Knight aims to stamp her British style on the American market. She tells Laura Blyth about her latest album, and her Wolverhampton roots.

Beverley Knight flying the flag for UK soul

West Midlands soul star Beverley Knight aims to stamp her British style on the American market. She tells

Laura Blyth

about her latest album, and her Wolverhampton roots.

Her latest album shot into the top 20 this week, sandwiched between no other than Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys. It is safe to say life is good for Wolverhampton soul diva Beverley Knight.

Soul UK, her seventh studio release, was even the highest new entry into the album charts on Sunday, coming in at number 13.

Not bad for someone who has been in the music industry for 17 years.

The 38-year-old immediately took to microblogging site Twitter when she heard the news, excitably tweeting: "Great to have the highest new entry! A great start!"

A devoted user of Twitter, Beverley - @Beverleyknight - posts dozens of messages every day and has just over 55,000 followers.

The three-time MOBO award winner has made a string of TV appearances over the last few weeks as well, including on ITV's Loose Women and Channel 5 show The Wright Stuff.

Last night she appeared on DJ Trevor Nelson's Radio 2 show.

But despite mixing with the stars, Wolverhampton still remains central to the Beverley Knight story.

Not only was it the city where she was born and bred, it also provided her with the impetus to become one of the most successful British soul artists of all time.

As a girl, growing up in the city, she was influenced by her city soul sister, Jaki Graham, who also rose from inauspicious beginnings to become one of the UK's pre-eminent soul voices.

"Jaki was hugely important," Beverley says. "She was getting into the charts and we all knew that she was from Wolverhampton. I could look at her and identify with what she was doing.

"The fact that she was from Wolverhampton and had made it led me to believe that I could make it too. I'd be out shopping with my mom and little sister and we'd see Jaki in Beatties and ask for her autograph. When I was a kid, she was at the height of her fame.

Soul UK CD"But she spoke like one of my aunties, she was someone that I could totally relate to. I was seeing her on the telly and she became an aspirational role model.

"I started off with total admiration, like, wow, oh my god, but then I realised that I also wanted to do that for a living. Because Jaki was doing it, I realised it wasn't pie in the sky."

Beverley, who was brought up in Penn Fields, met her one-time role model about 18 months ago, to discuss Soul UK, which pays homage to British soul stars.

Taking in songs from a range of iconic artists – from Soul II Soul and Loose Ends to Jamiroquai and George Michael, it also includes some of the more "hidden" gems that make up British soul's highlights of the 80s and 90s, including Princess's Say I'm Your Number One and Lewis Taylor's Damn.

"It's so frustrating when you have so many artists who make such absolutely wonderful songs and have a wealth of music but they're overshadowed by what comes in from America, good or bad," she continues. "Often the songs from Soul UK are sidelined because people focus on the USA.

"I just wish that some of the music from this area would get a lot more play and love.

"It occurred to me that the way to bring it to the public would be by putting it in a modern context and releasing an album of those songs. I didn't think I'd ever make a covers album, but it just made sense."

Though Beverley has sold more than a million records and is one of the biggest British soul stars of the past 20 years, she still hankers for the sort of Stateside success that artists like Joss Stone, Estelle and Adele have enjoyed.

Her former record company, Parlophone, didn't push her career in the USA, but Beverley hopes to put that right soon.

"It's like the Jaki Graham thing. Back then, it seemed like it would be impossible for me to do what Jaki had done, but I saw that it was achievable, I feel the same way about the States.

"America is massively on my radar, very much so, I want to go there and do well with my Union Flag in hand. That has always been my plan. I'd love that so much.

"What I'm interested in is introducing a real British soul sound to an American audience, who I know are ready, hungry and don't have anything like that over there.

"I'm not comparable to Beyonce, the closest is probably Mary J Blige."

The former Woodfield and Highfields schools pupil will be hitting the road later this year when she embarks on her new tour in November.

She will be performing for home fans at the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton on November 22.

There will be no let up for Beverley next year. She is due to marry fiancé James O'Keefe in June.

The pair have been together for three-and-a-half years and met on the set of one of Beverley's videos.

* Beverley Knight plays Wolverhampton Civic Hall onTuesday, November 29, 2011. Tickets cost £19.50 and £25 plus booking fees.

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