Singer- songwriter Beverley Craven told David Hennessy why she has decided to retire from touring, how she didn’t think her hit Promise Me was so special when she first wrote it and surviving cancer not once but twice.
Fresh from their highly acclaimed, sold-out Woman To Woman tour with fellow artistes Julia Fordham and Rumer, British singer-songwriters Beverley Craven and Judie Tzuke has again teamed up to play a new 14-date UK tour this autumn, shows that Beverley has confirmed will be her final farewell live shows.
Performing with the Gabriella Swallow String Quartet, the intimate new Strings Attached acoustic show will feature songs and stories spanning their entire careers.
Brit Award winner Beverley Craven (60) first shot to fame in 1991 with her eponymously-titled debut album featuring the hit singles Holding On, Woman To Woman and the eternal classic, Promise Me.
Beverley told The Irish World ahead of embarking on her final tour: ”It’s always quite an effort to rehearse and decide what I’m going to wear and remember how to play my songs.
“It’s huge when you tour, certainly at my age.”
Is there some anxiety or some nerves you have to conquer to get on stage even after all these years? “Of course, of course.
“I mean, there’s a very fine line between anxiety and excitement and it depends what else is going on in your life, I suppose.
“It’s sort of mixed emotions, I would say.
“Because it is tricky.
“I think the thought of getting up on stage and playing to a few hundred people would put most people in a bit of a spin.
“And I never wanted to be the front person.”
Really? “No, I was always wanted to be a songwriter, and just get a publishing deal, and it’s the same with Jude, I think which is amazing for someone with such a great voice, that she also just wanted to be a songwriter and imagined somebody else would be singing her stuff.
“Actually she quite fancied being a backing vocalist as well, as did I, just a back room boy.
“It’s a hell of a responsibility when you get on stage. I’m fine when I’m out there but it’s the run up and the few hours before you go on stage.
“You think, why am I putting myself through this again? That’s the truth of it.”
Well, you won’t be putting yourself through it again saying these are your last live shows..
“Yes, and it feels like a huge relief.
“It really does.
“It’s the right decision because the amount of promotion, the amount of outlay financially, just kind of the headspace that you have to get into.
“Also the risk of looking like a complete idiot,” she laughs.
“I mean, there’s so much at risk every time you do it, for me there is anyway, and it isn’t outweighed by the couple of hours that you spend on stage.
“I sound like a really negative moaning person but actually, you’ve just probably caught me at a time when I think I’ve already retired psychologically.
“Doing this tour, I know I’ll enjoy it once I’m out there, but I’m just a little bit relieved that this is the last one.”
After attending art college and performing with various bands in London pubs, it was at the age of 22 that Beverley decided to strike out on her own as a piano-playing singer and songwriter.
Her first album, Beverley Craven, was released in July 1990. Although it initially failed to attract attention in the United Kingdom, it found acceptance in Europe.
It was not until April 1991 that she found success in her homeland. A re-released Promise Me was heavily promoted and eventually peaked at No. 3 in the UK becoming her biggest hit.
This success helped renew huge interest in her debut album, leading to it also charting at No. 3 in the UK, staying in the charts for over a year and eventually going double platinum.
The album sold in excess of 1.2 million copies worldwide.
Promise Me was followed by the singles Holding On and Woman to Woman which were also Top 40 hits.
In February 1992, Craven performed at the Brits and won the Best British Newcomer Award.
I bet the Brits were incredible, what have been the highlights of your time performing? “I think probably the UNICEF gala, Audrey Hepburn and Roger Moore were the presenters.
“I met Audrey Hepburn.
“That was an amazing, huge star-spangled gala of stars and a massive production.
“You looked in the audience and every man was in black tie and every woman was glittering with jewels, and the cameras would swoop down and around you. There I was just sat in the middle of this enormous stage with a grand piano, that was pretty exciting.
“I did the Proms, the crowd was just so excited and welcoming and singing along and just clearly out to have a fantastic time.
“When I do the strings tour with Jude, it’s very, very polite, and everyone sits there very quietly listening and you think, ‘Oh my god, they’re not enjoying it’, but actually, they’re just sitting there listening to every word, you could hear a pin drop, so it’s a different vibe doing the strings tour to those huge productions.
“I also played at the Royal Variety Show once: Les Dawson was on and Gloria Hunniford was there, and Diana Ross and Michael Ball did that show as well.
“I’ve done so many fantastic big shows, and also the Royal Albert Hall as well.
“That was part of one of my tours playing there. So I’ve had a good (40 years).
“And when I say I’ve been playing live for 40 years, I started off playing in restaurants and wine bars on the South London pubs circuit so it’s sort of from one extreme to the other.
“But all in all, it has been at least 40 years of playing live in every sort of scenario you can imagine.”
Although it is so synonymous with you now, Promise Me was a slow burner in the UK and was first a hit in Europe…
“The record company did release Promise Me in this country, and it didn’t really do very much.
“I think Bob Harris played it, and a few other stations played it, but it didn’t take off at all.
“And my A&R man at the record company said, ‘We will release it again in six months or whatever’.
“And that was often something that they did, a way of marketing or tactics or whatever.
“But that often happened and you re-released something and then for some reason, the timing is better and off you go.
“But yes, I did a load of promotion and had a quite a bit of success in Europe, in several countries and then we released it in the UK, and then it took off here, so it was quite nice to kind of go out and do all the European stuff, and then come back to my home country and have it be a hit here as well.”
Was it a bit strange in the way it went on to be such a big song for you and was even big in Europe but initially looked like a flop here?
“It is strange, and it just goes to prove that nobody knows what a hit is, and how difficult it is to get something out there and especially nowadays with the music business as it is.
“I must admit, I didn’t think Promise Me was a single really.
“When my chap at the record company spoke about releasing it I just thought, ‘Oh well, that’s gonna die a death, that’s my career over then’.
“Because it was a ballad and everything else in the charts was sort of electro pop and it was a different landscape entirely. I thought my stuff sounded very old fashioned.
“But it’s like they say, You shouldn’t try and be like everyone else. You should try and do something different.
“Maybe that’s why that happened.”
Did you know it was a special song when you wrote it?
“No,” she laughs.
“I’ve had other songs that I’ve thought were more special, you know?
“And I sort of listen to Promise Me and think, ‘What the hell is it about this song that people seem to like?’ I don’t know but it’s a nice song to sing.
“And I still enjoy playing it. And it’s not embarrassing.
“It put my kids through private school, what can I say?”
Beverley was pregnant when she performed at those Brit Awards and would spend much of 1992 enjoying motherhood and recording her second album, Love Scenes. The album peaked at number 4 in the UK and Craven was nominated for another Brit Award, Best British Female at the 1994 Awards.
During an early part of her marriage, her family would live in Kilburn.
Beverley then took a five-year hiatus after giving birth to two more daughters and it was not until 1999 that she released her third album, Mixed Emotions.
The album peaked at number 46 in the album chart and the lead single I Miss You was only released as a promo single as the label refused to release it commercially.
It seemed the landscape had changed in her time away.
After that first record, family life and being a mother took over. It was when you returned to it that you found yourself dropped by the label, isn’t that right?
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that.
“I didn’t expect that at all.
“I mean, they were really dragging their heels with promoting that third album and they weren’t really interested.
“And I just thought, ‘You’re either rubbish at your job or I don’t know’.
“So I went in to give the head of the label a bit of a rocket, ‘Why do you keep putting the release date back of the single? And where’s the promotion for this?’
“And he just said, ‘Look, if you haven’t sold 10,000 units by this particular date, then we’re going to have to let you go’.
“And I said, ‘You what? You’re going to drop me?’
“And he said, ‘Well yeah, Bev. That’s what having six years off will do for you’.
“He meant the time that I had off to have my children.
“I suppose your career loses momentum, the record company loses interest.
“And it’s very notoriously difficult to sell adult pop, It’s much easier to sell to younger people, there’s more publications, more TV shows. Pop is a youth culture and although the adult population may have more money and be able to pay for tickets, CDs and all that sort of stuff, more of a disposable income, they’re a notoriously difficult market to reach.
“Well, that’s what they always used to say and they just dropped me.
“And at that point I thought, ‘Well, I’m not ready to kind of chuck it all in yet’. So I just started doing small gigs by myself.
“I couldn’t think of any other way to sort of maintain a career other than going out and just doing lots of gigs.
“I did, and it was hard.
“When you’re packing up the car with your equipment: Heavy keyboard and merchandise, keyboard stand, and suitcase, and driving probably at least two or three hours to a venue, setting up, doing a gig, selling your merch afterwards, packing it all down and driving home afterwards, it’s exhausting. And I did that for years and years.
“Then, of course, the Woman to Woman tour happened, and now it’s the Strings tour.
“And it’s like, ‘What do I want to do after that?’ Actually, I just don’t want to do anything after that.
“That’s enough, I think.”
Judie Tzuke first came to prominence in 1979, signing to Elton John’s Rocket Record Company and scored a worldwide Top 20 smash hit with her timeless classic Stay With Me Till Dawn and her critically acclaimed album Welcome To The Cruise.
It was actually Judie, as well as other names like Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Kate Bush, that was among the very first records Beverley ever bought.
“When I found out that my agent who books my live gigs- or used to book my live gigs- was booking gigs for her as well I was like, ‘Oh my God, Judie Tzuke, seriously?’
“So I went to see a gig that she was doing in a little theatre somewhere fairly local to me.
“She had a guy playing the acoustic guitar, Jude was sat on a chair and she had one of her daughters singing backing vocals.
“Everything was very pared back and all her songs were done with just an acoustic guitar and two voices.
“And I thought, ‘This isn’t the Judie Tzuke that I know’.
“I said to the agent, ‘You should book us some gigs together and then we can play bigger venues and get a five piece band in and actually make it sound like the records.
“And then I thought, ‘Well, actually, maybe we need three of us’.
“And he was also looking after Julia Fordham.
“I said, ‘Let’s do the three of us. And that’s how Woman to Woman was born.”
You have described this strings tour as like going out on ‘a high note’, haven’t you?
“Playing with a string quartet is absolutely the pinnacle for me.
“I know a lot of my songs have got drums and bass on them but when you’re in a live situation, they don’t half make a racket.
“I can never hear myself properly.
“But with a string quartet, you can hear every note.
“It’s a joy to sing with them.”
Beverley has had to battle cancer not once but twice. The disease has also devastated her family taking her sister Kathy at the age of 44.
After going through it for the second time, Beverley underwent a double mastectomy and lymph node surgery followed by five months of intense chemotherapy treatment.
You have had to come through bouts of cancer..
“Yeah, twice. Once in 2004 or 2005 and again in 2017, or 18.
“I always knew I’d get it again.
“I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’
“Because I lost my one of my younger sisters in 2014 to breast cancer.
“She literally just had something called DCIS which was stage one breast cancer, it was low grade stage one.
“I think less than 1% of people would die from that.
“I mean, the chances of dying from low grade stage one DCIS is miniscule and yet, for some reason her breast cancer made its way to her liver and within two years, she was dead.
“That’s been a very difficult one. It certainly takes the shine off life.
“I lost a first cousin who was also quite young, 46, when she died of breast cancer.
“My paternal aunt, my father’s sister, also she had bilateral breast cancer as well.
“We have what’s called familial breast cancer, which means it’s just more common in my family for whatever reason.
“It was at that point that I decided, ‘Right, well, wonderful as they are and fantastic as they’ve been feeding my three children, those boobs have got to go’.
“So I just kind of said to my consultant, ‘Look, I just want a bilateral mastectomy now’, and he didn’t even bother to argue.
“He said, ‘You could just have a lumpectomy again’.
“And I said, ‘Nuh-uh, no, these things are a reliability so they’ve got to go, I’m not going through this again’.
“Because chemo was hard. It was awful. And I just wanted to really seriously reduce the chances of a recurrence.
“It doesn’t eliminate it entirely but it seemed like the sensible thing to do.
“It’s a massive operation and it’s not nice to have to have gone through that. I wish I hadn’t had to have gone through that but given the choice, it was the best option. Doesn’t mean to say that I don’t feel a bit sh*t about it, because I do.”
The full list of Beverley Craven & Judie Tzuke Strings Attached UK live shows:
3 November Leeds City Varieties
4 November Belper St Peter’s Church
5 November Salford – The Lowry
11 November Bury St Edmunds – The Apex
16 November Bristol St George’s
18 November London St Martin-in-the-Fields
23 November Haslemere Hall
24 November Canterbury Gulbenkian Arts Centre
25 November Milton Keynes – The Stables
30 November Liverpool – The Tung Auditorium
1 December Gateshead – The Glasshouse
2 December Shrewsbury Abbey
For tickets for all dates, click here.
For more information, click here.