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Soul UK

George Luke

Beverley Knight
Hurricane Records

Any soul singer who cut their teeth singing in Pentecostal churches has encountered the tension that arises when they decide to branch out creatively. There'll always be a few church folk ready to throw brickbats. But I've never seen as much vitriol poured on someone as I did when Radio 2 announced that Beverley Knight was to host their long-running gospel music series. One commenter went so far as to describe it as 'a stripper handing out tracts'.
Sad, really, because this is someone who turned down a record deal to study for a theology degree. She has a deep love of gospel music and is an active Christian Aid campaigner.

For the most part, Knight has just got on with the business of being a darn fine singer - no hype, no gimmicks, no parading onstage semi-naked or doing dances better suited to tables. As a result, she's sustained a career that has seen her work with the likes of Prince (her chosen subject when she took part in Mastermind), Santana, Take That and Ronnie Wood.

Soul UK is an album of cover songs  that pays tribute to an era (and a genre) that never really got the kudos it deserved at the time, and has been ignored by whoever writes the Big Book of Pop ever since. The era started around the end of the 70s with home-grown funk bands such as Heatwave and Hi-Tension. It continued through the 80s with the likes of Central Line, Beggar & Co and Linx (and on the poppier end, Imagination), culminating with Soul II Soul and the Acid Jazz movement of the early 90s. Though forgotten at home, this take on R&B is still revered across the Atlantic; tune in to any US radio station that specialises in old skool R&B, and I can guarantee that at some point you'll hear Junior Giscombe's 'Mama Used to Say'.

But even here the gospel influences really kick in  - especially on George Michael's 'One More Try' and her 'this little light of mine' ad-libs. Loose Ends' 'Don't Be a Fool' might not sound 'gospelly', but its don't-squander-your-opportunities message is the stuff of many a black church sermon. 'Damn', on the other hand, is dark and brooding - just like Lewis Taylor's original.

Even if this record just makes fans investigate the artists whose work Knight has covered, it will have served its purpose well. Those who dig a little deeper with find that Soul UK still leans to the gospel.

George Luke