Beverley Knight, Somerset House, London

The heat of the Knight
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The Independent Culture

When Beverley Knight released her debut album The B-Funk in 1995 it was described by one music magazine as the best British soul album ever. Almost a decade and three more albums on, she gave a performance at Somerset House that suggests that she hasn't slipped from the high point of her introduction to the world all those years ago.

Knight dazzled, dressed in a shimmering sequinned dress of alluring sexiness, and sweating under the heat of the summer's night she performed to an appreciative crowd of mainly faithful followers who'd come to see their Brit queen strut her stuff. Seduced, too, were the curious who had possibly been attracted to the gig by Knight's fourth album, Affirmation, and its rock-inspired guitar-led soul.

The one-off performance on Saturday was intended to promote the recently released Affirmation, and it was as such that 10 of the 17 songs that she performed came from it. It was Knight's way of saying "it's in the shops now, go and buy it... and keep it in the charts for as long as possible". She was determined to ram the message home.

When Knight opened the set with the insanely catchy "Get Up" from her previous album, Who Am I, and did not revisit her back catalogue until "Gold" (seven songs in) it pointed to a woman who is confidently asserting her position as Britain's premier soul singer, one who does not have to rely on her old hits.

But the pushing of the new material wasn't at all a distraction. Affirmation probably signifies Knight's finest all-round effort to date. As well as the rock sensibilities of "Come As You Are", which served as the last of Knight's three encores, "Not Too Late for Love", "Keep This Fire Burning" and "Straight Jacket", her church/gospel roots were not forgotten with the powerfully delivered "Remember Me" and the delicate "First Time", "Salvador" and "No One Ever Loves In Vain".

And while Knight's stage presence was as engaging as ever (she wasted no time in whipping up her enthusiastic fans into a frenzy of applause and whoops: "the sister's wicked, man", was a typical affirmation) what marked her out was her outstanding voice, that at times seemed to fill the venue's courtyard, and her maturing ability as a songwriter, which is more pronounced on this album than on any other.

But it is Knight's live performances that have given her a reputation as someone who always delivers. The booming power of her voice and a rousing rendition of Gwen McRae's "Love That I'm Giving" was enough evidence to show that live, Knight's time in the business and four albums have put her streets ahead of the new kids on the block.

McRae's song is one of those belters that can only be tackled by those daring enough to have a go. But Knight attacked it with flair and wrapped herself in glory. The sister is indeed wicked, and she proved it in the best possible way.

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