For her seventh and latest studio album, Soul UK, Beverley Knight has paid tribute to the British soul music which soundtracked her youth and inspired her to become a performer. “This record is an absolute labour of love”, she told the Post, earlier this year. “I’ve always banged on about how British soul doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but you have to honour the people who put it in the spotlight in the first place.”
Ranging from early Eighties jazz-funk to early Nineties acid jazz, selections from Soul UK made up a large part of Beverley’s 100 minute set. Appropriately enough, the singer made her entrance with a red, white and blue scarf around her neck. Tying it to her mike stand, she used it as a prop for the rest of the evening, grabbing it and jiggling it for emphasis. Just in case we had still missed the point, an enormous Union Jack was revealed on the back wall of the stage, about halfway through the show.
As opening numbers go, you can’t get a clearer statement of intent than Get Up!, the 2001 hit which immediately brought half the stalls to their feet. The other half were swift to follow, once commanded to do so. “This is an energetic gig!”, we were warned. The energy levels duly remained high as Beverley, her four piece band and her three backing singers led us through the equally appropriate Made It Back, and into the first selection of Britsoul covers: Freeez’s Southern Freeez, Soul II Soul’s Fairplay, Junior’s Mama Used To Say and the debut single from Jamiroquai, When You Gonna Learn.
The pace slowed for the rapturously received Gold, which led into a lengthy selection from Beverley’s back catalogue. “I want to take you on my own Soul UK journey”, she explained, introducing a medley which went as far back as 1998’s Sista Sista (a welcome revival for one of her finest tracks), and as far forward as last year’s self-explanatory Soul Survivor (when you’ve been in the business for seventeen years, you’ve earned the right to celebrate your achievement).
The main set concluded with a run of hits – Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Keep This Fire Burning, Greatest Day – and then it was back to Soul UK for the first encore: a stunning, gospel-tinged reworking of George Michael’s One More Try. Rocking it up for the final lap, the band tore into Come As You Are, Beverley’s highest charting hit, and a spirited cover of Roachford’s Cuddly Toy closed the show.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed every minute!”, she beamed. “I certainly have.” And perhaps that’s the key to understanding how Beverley Knight has maintained her status as Britain’s best known soul artist for so many years. A natural entertainer to her very core, with a generous spirit and an infectious love of performing, her mission is simply to share that enjoyment with everyone around her. Long may she continue to do so.
Before headliners Dutch Uncles made their appearance – upstairs at the Rescue Rooms, in the implausibly named Red Room (it’s actually green) – a couple of local acts took to the stage. First up were Boots Booklovers: five young lads from Beeston, who have been getting their name increasingly known around town this year. Earlier this week, they were announced as finalists in Nusic’s competition to find a support act for Dog Is Dead at Rock City in December, having finished in joint first place in the public vote stage of the contest. They’re a fresh-faced bunch, with neat, buttoned-up collars and instruments that still look a bit too big for their slender frames. The Eighties-slick singer and the Fifties-quiffed drummer have the best haircuts, the lead guitarist and the bassist look like brothers (perhaps they are), and the five-piece comes across as a closely-knit unit with a pleasing sense of purpose. Jangly indie-pop often sounds best when the ideas are slightly ahead of the execution, and if that sounds like a sly dig, then it’s not meant to be. It’s usually a sign that the band are pushing themselves hard as songwriters and arrangers, and in this case, the signs are already clear: this is a band with a future.
Perhaps it was because Infinity Hertz opted to play in darkness – only the drummer was visible, his upper body illuminated by the titchy kaleidoscopic visuals on the back wall – but it was harder to get a handle on what the second act of the night were all about. According to the band’s Facebook page, their stock in trade is “altruistic alchemypop skip-hop shoowave”, so perhaps there’s no point in trying to slot them into a genre. Still, the silhouetted gloom was an apt match for the dour intensity of the music, and in particular for the doomy, somewhat mannered vocals of the lead singer. In place of Boots Booklovers’ freshly laundered neatness, the five members of Infinity Hertz looked more dishevelled, and perhaps less well-nourished. The first band were cheered on by their beaming mums and dads; the second band were stared at by their cool mates. It was a striking contrast.
Opening with the pounding, piano-led title track from their critically acclaimed second album Cadenza, Dutch Uncles had the suddenly swollen crowd on their side right from the start. Led by the appealingly awkward Duncan Wallis – a tall, twitchy fellow, with the slight stoop of someone who has perhaps become used to dodging low ceilings in poky venues – the Manchester five-piece rattled confidently through their forty-five minute set, negotiating the tricksy twists and turns of their material with consummate ease. Their music bears comparison with the math-rock of Foals, Everything Everything and Dirty Projectors, but there’s a pronounced funkiness to them as well, which stops them becoming too cerebral and dry. There aren’t many bands who could successfully inject rock’s punch and dance music’s groove into a re-working of composer Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, as they do on recent single X-O, but Dutch Uncles are no ordinary band. “It feels like we’ve righted a wrong”, said a delighted Wallis at the end of the set, “because our last couple of gigs in Nottingham were a bit shite”. They can’t come back soon enough.
An edited version of this interview originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
You’ve just got back from the States. Has your body clock re-adjusted to UK time?
Yes – although having said that, I was up until four o’clock in the morning. I went for a little stroll at one o’clock in the morning, and found a local restaurant with the lights on. The restaurant owner and the chef were having a glass of red wine, so I joined them for a couple, and picked up on the local gossip.
You’re now preparing for the new tour. Will there be much in the way of new material?
There aren’t any new original songs, because they’re still sketches, but I’ve got an interesting new choice of covers.
You put a shout-out on Facebook for suggested covers. Have your followers given you any useful leads?
They got me looking behind my shoulder, thinking: are this lot in my house? A lot of their suggestions are songs that I love a lot. I could really talk all night with these people.
You use Facebook differently from a lot of people in your position, in that you’ll express what you’re genuinely feeling, rather than just using it as a PR tool. You sometimes post to it when you’re feeling completely sick to the back teeth of everything. Then your fans will rally round.
Yeah, like “I can’t find my bra – where is it?” Or “Oh my God, look at all this laundry!” I really enjoy it, because it’s absolute direct contact. They can talk to me, and I’ll respond. I would say that my Facebook meltdowns are now legendary. (Bursts out laughing) The record company are like: what’s she doing? They all follow me on Facebook as well.
That wasn’t anything to do with the fact that you were ill for a bit, was it?
I was ill. It was a big year, and everything went off really quickly, like a runaway train which took me with it. It was going at a hundred miles an hour. And it was great, but the thing about these big long schedules is this: it doesn’t take account of the fact that you’re human.
So if I wake up in the morning and I don’t feel well, and I’ve got to sing for Her Majesty The Queen, I can’t cancel. Or if my boyfriend’s dumped me and I’ve got to go onto Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, then I’ve got to do it. It doesn’t take into account your emotional state – or your tearful state, in fact – you have to fulfil your commitments, in any mood, and be as professional as possible.
What happened to me is that it just built up, and built up, and built up. I was struggling at adjusting to being in the media: being examined, being judged. As human beings, that what we’re all afraid of, aren’t we? Everyone pointing and staring.
Don’t you adopt the classic tactic of just not reading stuff about yourself?
No, I read everything. But I do stick up for myself, when people have been mean on blogs. I’ll go on and say “Oi! That’s really mean! What, all you grown men are going to start picking on little girls?” Ultimately, I’m a human being with an internet connection. I can see what they are saying, and I can go on there and say: what the fuck do you think you are doing?
I know some people will say that’s really stupid. I think I’m the opposite of what people say I should be. They’ll say: don’t get involved, don’t read anything. But if there are ten grown men tearing me to shreds, I’m going to go in there and make them feel bad about it. But that’s very rare. Most people are very nice.
Does touring change your relationship with your songs? If you’re having to perform them over and over again, you must have to enter into some sort of long-term committed relationship with them.
I’ve been in that relationship with them for a long time. As a singer, you commit to every single song, and you have to live the song when you’re performing it, like you were when you first wrote it.
As time passes and as you change, sometimes the emotional connection to the sentiment can get faint. But that’s when you bring in your meditative processes. You just have to go into that space, and almost method-act your own self. Recapture those emotions, find that part of yourself, and deliver it with all the passion that you can find.
When we spoke last year, before the album was released, you said there were angels in all of your songs. So I’ve been looking at your lyrics, and I’ve been searching for the angels.
The angels are on Come To Me High, for example. I was sitting in my room and thinking: I’m so depressed; what would happen if a chorus of angels were to burst into my room, and talk to me? When you’re depressed, it’s very hard to get out of that space. You have to shift that space by wanting to get out of it – by wanting that shift of consciousness.
And in Thankful, there’s a whole “forest of angels”.
Interestingly, I used to have no idea what it was. Then I realised that my mother was buried in a woodland burial, where you don’t have graves. You have all these different trees, with these little plaques, with people’s names on. And it is literally a forest of angels. I found it the most startling example of channelling. A lot of the most inspired lyrics and melodies were coming from beyond me, and I’m as puzzled as anyone until afterwards.
Before I go on stage, I imagine a circle of angels. I say a prayer, and I call on them. I summon them.
If the person you are now could send a message to the person who spoke to me last year, just before it all kicked off, what message would she convey?
Apart from a lot of practical things, I would say: this will pass. There was a feeling of anxiety around performing live. I got very frightened of big crowds, and I got stage fright. I’ve got much better since then. I’ve learnt a lot, and I’ve overcome that – with the help of my band, and with doctors, and with friends. I’m starting to really enjoy it now.
Tinie Tempah has been here before, but never quite like this. Back in May 2010, a couple of months after debuting at Number One with his first single Pass Out, an unassuming young chap in a plain white T-shirt stepped onto the Capital FM Arena stage, armed with nothing more than a microphone and a backing track. Third on the bill to Pixie Lott and Rihanna, his likeable but basic four-song set gave little indication of the million-selling, Brit-winning, Glastonbury-rocking, arena-filling superstar that he was to become.
When he returned to town in February this year, for a sell-out appearance at Rock City, it already felt like he was too big for the venue. “Surely an arena tour beckons for Tempah now”, our reviewer predicted.
Following a massive summer on the national and international festival circuit, Tinie has been taking his first full-scale arena tour all around the UK this month. The night before Nottingham, he had played Wembley Arena , so perhaps our modest 9000-capacity venue was already starting to feel a little intimate.
He certainly had the sound system for a venue of twice the size, for even by Arena standards this was a loud one. Thunderous bass frequencies tore through the hall, making bowels quake and seats vibrate; not really a problem, as there was almost no one sitting in them after the first couple of minutes. But despite whacking the volume knob way past “11”, the sound mixers never compromised on clarity. When live rap does battle with muddy sound, the results can be horrendous, but the dynamics of this show would have put many rock acts to shame.
The star made his entrance in a flash of fireworks, emerging from the smoke in a black track suit with Spiderman-like blue stripes, his face still obscured by hood and shades. (The hood eventually came down, but the shades stayed on all night.) Tangles of fluorescent string adorned his back, as if he had been ambushed by a thousand party poppers.
The reaction in the hall was so intense, that the crowd never really recovered from it. From the opening bars of the first song to the final notes of the last encore, madness and mayhem reigned. Fists pumped the air, boots pummelled the floor, mosh pits formed and dissolved, and the screams gave even the turbo-charged sound system a run for its money.
Despite making the classic mistake of name-checking Derby at a Nottingham gig – “It’s all about love!”, he protested, as the boos rang out – Tinie delivered a flawless performance, combining a showman’s swagger with razor-sharp lyrical precision. Behind him, the band performed in cages made from tube lighting, which rose from the floor during Let Go and glowed blood-red during Obsession. The usual arena conventions were observed – the “left side, right side, who’s the loudest” pantomime, the acoustic section, the sudden re-appearance at the back of the hall – but Tinie’s Skype video call from Swedish House Mafia was a neat new trick, even if the chances of it actually happening in real-time felt slim. The call provided the cue for Miami 2 Ibiza – or rather “Notts 2 Ibiza”, as it was sung on the night – which sent energy levels to previously unimaginable new heights, putting whole new dimensions of “bang” into Swedish House Mafia’s club banger.
“These are the best days of our lives, whether we know it or not”, he told us, just before knocking us all dead with Written In The Stars. It was a fitting observation for a show that was all about cutting loose, letting go, living it up, and celebrating the moment.
Next time round, they’ll have to find a football stadium for him. And that probably won’t be big enough, either…
Set list: Intro, Simply Unstoppable, Frisky, Till I’m Gone, Wonderman, Illusion, Snap, Written In The Stars, Love Suicide, Invincible, Let Go, Obsession, Miami 2 Ibiza, Hitz, Mosh Pit, Earthquake, Pass Out.
When it comes to showing commitment, the fans of Bruno Mars are a hard act to beat. Outside the Capital FM Arena, the diehards had been queuing since morning, determined to bag the best spots at the front of the stage. And when the curtain was raised, revealing their diminutive hero in a feathered hat, loose black suit, striped vest and sneakers, the screams rose to an almost Bieber-like intensity.
Hawaiian born, to Puerto Rican and Filipino parents, Bruno has an appeal which crosses national boundaries. Over the past twelve months, the seemingly never-ending Doo-Wops & Hooligans tour has taken him several times around the globe, to venues which have steadily increased in capacity. But although this was the penultimate date of the tour, the freshness of the performers remained commendably undimmed.
Bruno’s long-time collaborator Philip Lawrence, who supplied backing vocals and joined the three-piece brass section in a series of tightly executed dance routines, never tired of geeing the crowd up – particularly in the middle of The Lazy Song, when his girly squeal (“Oh my God, this is great!”) literally stopped the whole show. “I think I might move here!”, he exclaimed. “Follow me on Twitter!”, he added, caught up in the heat of the moment – and cracking Bruno up so badly that he could barely resume the song.
Unlike most of this year’s big pop shows at the Arena, this was a stripped-down, gimmick-free affair, with no props, no dance troupes and no costume changes. If the playing had been anything less than spot-on, this could have made for a lacklustre show – but with the focus placed squarely upon the music, the players rose to the challenge. This was a tight, funky, versatile team, who could effortlessly switch from reggae to soul, and from R&B to rock, drawing on past traditions – the show often felt like a classic soul revue – while connecting with contemporary trends.
As for Bruno himself, he had an unusual knack of combining sunny wholesomeness – there was more than a touch of Donny Osmond about him, particularly in the dental department – with an unblinking sexual directness, such that even the ruder lyrics still somehow sounded clean. Steeped in music since childhood, his references ranged from Michael Jackson (particularly on Top Of The World, introduced as the first song he ever wrote) to James Brown (Runaway Baby, as recently performed on The X Factor, was an early highlight), via Fifties doo-wop, Sixties Motown and Seventies reggae.
The Doo-Wops & Hooligans album, from which most of the set was drawn, is a light, easy-going affair for the most part, with something of the relaxed appeal of Bruno’s fellow Hawaiian, Jack Johnson. It’s the sort of album which might have soundtracked your holiday, wafting out of your favourite beach bar for days on end. Sure, it’s undemanding stuff for the most part, and lyrics such as “You can count on me, like one two three” are hardly likely to be remembered as enduring classics, but there has always been a place in pop for simple good cheer, and it was hard to argue with the effect that it had on the Arena’s capacity crowd. Beautifully sung and fondly executed, the ninety minute set left nine thousand happy fans wreathed in smiles. Job well done, Mister Mars.
Set list: The Other Side, Top Of The World, Money (That’s What I Want), Billionaire, Our First Time, Runaway Baby, Marry You, The Lazy Song, Count On Me, Liquor Store Blues, Nothin’ On You, Grenade, Just The Way You Are, Lighters, Talking To The Moon.