As Beverley Knight celebrates 25 years in the music industry, the singer has opened up about how her career hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
The Shoulda Woulda Coulda singer’s achievements include top 10 records, an MBE, supporting Prince during his residency at the O2, and becoming a musical theatre star.
But she admits it hasn’t always been easy.
“When I first started I had some horrendous things whispered to me and told to me and assumptions made – did you write that song, did you really write it, how I should look, what size I should be, all of that stuff,” Knight told Sky News.
But she’s optimistic that things are changing for the better.
“I know it’s still around, however there is an army of brilliant women who have come through in the years since I started who have not stood for any of the nonsense.
“With society changing it means the music industry has had to change – kicking and screaming – but it’s changing.
“Societal change always means it impacts on the industry of music – thank God!”
But it’s not just attitudes to female musicians that have changed in the quarter century since she started – and the 46-year-old believes changes to technology are a double-edged sword.
“It’s easier to broadcast yourself, there are so many ways to do that, it’s much more simple to record yourself now, the whole big studios are reduced right the way down, but it’s made for a very busy market,” she said.
“The technology, as all technology does, it helps in some ways, hinders in others. The fact that you can just upload your content means there’s a million other people – literally – uploading their content. How do you break through? How do people get to pick you out from everybody else? That’s difficult.
“I emerged pre all of that so I was already on that journey, but I do wonder how it is for younger people breaking through, just how tough they have it, and the pressure to look perfect from the jump – you haven’t released anything but you’ve got to have the great look, the great clothes, the perfect make-up, the band’s got to be amazing… artist development has suffered.”
I asked Knight what she thought was the key to her success in an industry that isn’t easy to navigate.
“You can’t really have a decent career without having talent, so that’s a pre-requisite, so it’s not just that,” Knight said.
“I think there’s luck, there’s a lot of hard work and I’ve been lucky enough to make decisions that have affected the next thing I do, and the next, and the next, which have all led up to a career which has had longevity.
“Making the right decisions is everything – you can sign your life away on a bit of paper and no matter how brilliant you are it can turn out to just be the worst thing you can do.”
Knight says she’s in the business because she loves it, and although everything else such as fame and money is “wonderful”, she says, “there’s no hiding that”, but she adds that it’s “very much a by-product”.
“I sing because I love to sing and that is what keeps me in line.”
Knight is about to go on tour again this autumn, and this time the setlist will be made up of someone else’s work.
She is performing the back catalogue of Stevie Wonder, and admits that singing someone else’s songs does necessitate a different approach.
“It’s a respect thing for a start. Stevie Wonder’s one of my own heroes, as he is for many people, so there’s an enormous amount of respect and there’s a huge amount of responsibility and nurturing as well,” she said.
“So many people’s memories are wrapped up in songs, so if you’re going to sing somebody else’s song you have to treat that song as you would a baby, you really have to look after it and nurture it and do the very best you can with it, so that’s how I’m approaching this project, and it’s a joy.”
Knight says that getting validation from the man himself was a huge moment for her.
“When I met him, I knew I had seconds literally, so I was like, ‘right, I’ve got to tell him that I’m doing this’, so I told him,” she explained.
“And he said. ‘I really want to hear that’. I was like, ‘that’s it – that’s all I needed to know’.”
- Tickets for The Songs of Stevie Wonder starring Beverley Knight are available now