Source: Touch magazine (UK) - December 2001
Words: Toussaint Levy
Photography: Eddie Otchere
He's the King Of Funk and she's the Queen Of Soul. And, as evidenced by Jamiroquai's new album A Funk Odyssey they make beautiful music together. In a revealing world exclusive interview with both Jay Kay and Beverley Knight, Touch explores whether it is merely a professional relationship or is there something that they're not telling us?
"We had a fling," whispers the UK's very own Queen of Soul Beverley Knight. She's talking about a relationship that she had. It's the inspiration for a new track Gold. The honey-voiced soul singer from Wolverhampton has a new attitude and as anybody who's got eyes in their head can see a bristlingly taut new body. We're in the canteen of the prestigious Bray Studios just outside Windsor. The studio is home to more televised period dramas than a Sunday afternoon on UK Gold and it's also the place where Jamiroquai are putting the finishing touches to their first world tour in two years. Just in case you were wondering Knight features on two of Jamiroquai's new tracks and is also touring with the band.
"It was cool, it was long distance," adds Knight about her discreet relationship. "I thought it was cool but I came back home to England and I called up just out of the blue and said 'Oh hi what's up blah blah.' and he was like 'Er, yeah actually I'm busy with someone right now, but you know what, call me next time you're in New York.' Click burrrrrrr. And I felt horrible. I told my friend, my best friend Zazz. She said, 'Bev, I'm telling you, you are like gold to me. If someone pans deep enough they'll find you.'"
You may have guessed that Knight isn't talking about Jay Kay's Jamiroquai, rather someone she met after splitting up with her long-term boyfriend of several years.
"My ex-boyfriend was nothing like that," she continues. "We split up for the reasons I spell out on another song Shoulda Woulda Coulda. That was just a horrible experience and I sat at the piano and remembered her words and wrote this song Gold, about catching me in the slipstream."
So you're single now?
And Jay as we all know is single too, so what's going on?
"Well Jay wrote this tune called Main Vein and asked me if I'd be up for putting some vocals to it and I was like, 'Yeah-yeah-yeah!' Well, that's not exactly true, he asked my manager Dave to ask me, because he was a bit afraid to ask me himself!
"I whizzed up to his house and walked into the NASA space station which is studio. Rick the engineer who co-produced Odyssey had it up on the desk. I was like, 'I've got a really good idea of what I want to do on this.' When I heard the outro I thought I could really take it to some Earth, Wind & Fire ending. I just loved it so I had the idea, which took all of 15 minutes.
"I went into the vocal booth and bang, bang, bang just put it down. Vocal after vocal after vocal and that was that. Jay heard it, he came in the studio and then he cleared off while I was doing it, but he came back and shouted, 'I love it I love it I love it!' Couple of days later he was like, 'I've got another tune can you come and put vocals on that?' So I did went up there and put vocals on Love Foolosophy." So there you have it, UK soul royalty collaborating like we all know they should have done years ago.
Knight talks like a woman more than ready to re-polish her soul crown, which has taken a few dents or two in the last couple of years with emergence of UK garage as well as the worldwide dominance in R&B with new voices such as Alicia Keys and Jill Scott.
"It's heavy!" Knight says of her new LP Who I Am. "it's really good, in terms of songwriting. It's the best I've ever done. All I wanna do is write songs that people will remember for years. That's all I ever wanted and I can feel I've taken a step closer to doing that with this album. Shoulda Woulda Coulda is the most straightforward my writing has ever been, at its most frank without using metaphors or similes." Listening to the album there is a real defiance in the phrasing, the instrumentation and, of course, Knight's lyrics. She's grown up, and yes, I'll say it again, looks like gold and sounds like platinum.
"My stuff was in full flow so may be next time round Jay will feature on my next album. I'd love it, I would love it. I wouldn't think twice in doing a version of one of the songs on the album with Jay on there, I'd absolutely love that," she says. "I've got a lot of time and a lot of love and respect for the boys and particularly Jay, because of how their career has gone. They had a lot of success early on but then it's built and built and built and it really took off with Travelling Without Moving and Virtual Insanity. I look at them and I think 16 million albums, worldwide success and the start was somewhere in Ealing, west London and I think to myself - I could have that, I could have the same thing I'm sure, with the same kinda progress with my career."
Knight is a realist and her new album, particularly her first single Get Up seems to reflect the fact that the emergence of he vampish Beverley Knight - which began to blossom in 1998 with the release of Prodigal Sista - is here to stay. "I'm always going to be one of those slow-burn artists in terms of the mainstream. I think right now the foundations for my career are pretty solid and it's up to me to capitalise and build the rest of the house. The tangible success, that's the next step. I'm convinced this is the album to do it."
But back to the burning question that the world wants to know. Bev, is there any chance of a romance between you and the UK's premier funkster Jay Kay? "No love!" she screams girlishly. So you're happy with the bubbling sexual status quo between you both? You know a lot of women would kill to be in your position. "No, it's just the way it is," sighs Knight. Jay is fine! Hmmmm, a skinny little white dude with the voice. That voice is a come to bed voice - straight up! But you know," she pauses cheekily, "I'd kill him outside ten minutes anyway!"
As she continues to laugh uncontrollably, the man in question enters the room with his personal assistant, Esther. Making a calculated guess that he's the reason for the laughter Jay Kay smiles, says his brief introductions to the assembled squad of photographers, assistants and canteen staff and walks over to hug Knight. It's obvious that there is, as Darius would say, 'A lot of love in this room', platonic or otherwise. Kay dressed like a dapper skateboard kid, albeit with a couple of million quid in the bank, is in a good mood. It seems as though the photo shoot and the interview are providing the required break from rehearsing for his first major tour in two years. The boys: Toby, Derrick and Nick are locked away on a soundstage perfecting the Jamiroquai live sound and the main man himself is playing truant. "Toussaint you really ask some stupid questions don't you? That's a ridiculous suggestion," dismisses Kay when I later ask him whether there's any romance between himself and Beverley. He cuts me a withering sideways glance. Why is it such a ludicrous suggestion? "She's got her own man!" protests Kay. Photographs over Knight leaves the shoot as she's required up North for radio promotion. They say their goodbyes to one another and hug.
Pause. Despite the temporary frivolity, Kay, like the rest of the world has been more concerned with world events. Kay seems to talk as fast as he thinks and he carefully recollects over recent events. "On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was waking up in the Righa Royal Hotel in Manhattan at 8:43am," he begins. "I remember looking at the little clock you get at the bottom of the TV. I was in the hotel and Mark, my security guard phoned me and said, 'Look on the telly, a plane's just crashed into the World Trade Centre. I watched it until the second Tower collapsed and by then I'd had enough of watching. I just thought, 'God man'. So then it was just weird, I mean we did the gig the night before and I'd had a funny feeling. I have a funny feeling about domestic flights in America anyway, purely on an amount of aircraft in the air at any one time.
"When I got home you know I just spent many an hour with tears in my eyes. I do have funny feelings about things like that. People say, 'Just take a flight from Newark to LAX and there's five million quid at the end for you.' And you go, 'Oh alright, just to get the money I'll take the flight.' What I'm saying is to break your career in America you need to fly around the damn country all day long. And at these times you've got to ask yourself do you want to do that or are there more important things in life? There's stuff I haven't got around to yet. I mean I'm 32 and I haven't come anywhere near having a kid or anything like that. Like every other bloke you start to get broody and start to think about these things. It just threw the whole career thing out - and not only that but the album launch was September 11 in America. I was just like, 'Man this is all too close for me.' It's changed the whole way I look at things."
The interview more or less comes to a natural but abrupt pause, the mood is dark for a sunny day, so we make our way over to one of Kay's eight pride of joys, a £100,000 silver Ferrari. It's the sort of motor that it's impossible to look on and not smile at. "Anyway," he continues returning to the theme, "I went back and listened to some of the old tracks, like When You Gonna Learn? And yeah, I kind of said it then you know, I find that weird."
Jamiroquai, ever since its inception over a decade ago has always been about Kay. The band, first mentioned by Touch Magazine in 1991 has seen its fortunes go from strength to strength. Kat the cheeky chappy of UK urban music is a regular fixture on the tabloid A-list. The white guy with a black voice who sounds a bit like Stevie Wonder. His former relationship with Denise Van Outen didn't hurt his tabloid stock and recent brushes with the law and court appearances - there's one scheduled for January 2002 - will mean that he's guaranteed even more exposure in the coming months.
"No I don't think they were," Kay answers when asked whether he thinks his record company Sony, were surprised at the success of his fifth album, A Funk Odyssey, which went in at No 1. "I think they knew they had a winner, but I think that they've conveniently forgotten that they wanted me to put out a Greatest Hits album last Christmas and the reason why I didn't want to put it out is why the album's at No 1 now," he says pulling into the local petrol station. This has the effect of turning every head on the forecourt towards him. Kay then jumps out, leaves the Ferrari's engine running and runs inside to get some food. Without the hat he is just Jason Kay but the recognition factor is high. Everybody is staring at the proverbial goldfish in the bowl.
"I've just had three really bad weeks. It's just not been good," continues Kay, filling his face to the sound of several thousand revs underneath his foot. "People tend to forget that you're at the centre of everything," shouts Kay, over the burn of his engine, as we roar down the road for a test drive. "I've been a bit touchy with people 'cause there are things I want done right and sometimes they're not done the way I want them to be done. Perhaps I'm just trying to take too much on. I'm so used to keeping an eye on everything creatively, everything that goes on with Jamiroquai projects that it's hard to take your hands off it sometimes."
Twenty minutes and a large number of slick bursts of the Ferrari's true speed later and we're back at Bray Studios. I'm shaken and Kay is stirred. Now more than halfway through an eight-album deal with Sony, Jamiroquai are at a pivotal point. What is the next step for Jamiroquai. Is it likely that Jay Kay will set up Jamiroquai Records any time soon? "I really would like to set up my own label. It's just that I have to be realistic about keeping my own crap together. I'm more than halfway through the Sony thing, what I would like to release after this is a live album, whether they'll let me do that though I don't know."
Beverley Knight's single Get Up is out now on Parlophone/Rhythm Series. The album Who I Am is released in February 2002
Jamiroquai's single You Give Me Something is out on November 19. The album A Funk Odyssey is also out now on S2 Records.
Jamiroquai and Beverley Knight play:
Dublin's The Point on December 6
Belfast's Odyssey on December 7
London's Brixton Academy on December 9.
Jamiroquai will have a full UK tour early next year.