Beverley Knight @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 30/4/2016

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This concert was a hugely emotional one for the personable Beverley Knight, who explained to the Cheltenham audience that this was her first proper gig in four years. Of course, she hasn’t been idle in that time, appearing on stage myriad times during long runs of the acclaimed musicals ‘Memphis’ and ‘The Bodyguard.’ This, then, was an opportunity to get back to what she did before the West End came calling and such was the energy that she poured into her performance, that it was abundantly clear that this particular concert meant so much to her. Kicking off with a feisty ‘Soul Survivor,’ she quickly showed why she’s regarded by some people as the Queen of UK soul. She revisited old favourites – ‘The Greatest Day,’ ‘Shoulda Woulda Coulda’ and ‘Flavour Of The Old School’ among them – with typical aplomb and then introduced some material from her forthcoming new album, ‘Soulsville,’ which was recorded in Memphis. These included the retro-soul sound of ‘Middle Of Love,’ an impassioned cover of Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain,’ the plaintive ‘When Will I See You Again,’ and a raucous version of Big Mama Thornton’s rhythm and blues evergreen ‘Hound Dog.’ Her band – including three backing singers – provided superb accompaniment throughout but it was Knight who the undoubted star, her athletic, gospel-infused vocals proving why she’s perceived by many as this country’s equivalent of Aretha Franklin. The singer also served up her own tribute to the late Prince Rogers Nelson – with whom she performed several times – in the shape of a uproarious version of the Purple One’s classic ‘Alphabet Street.’ It capped off what was an incendiary concert from the 43-year-old Wolverhampton singer who, on the evidence of this compelling performance, is definitely back with a vengeance.