Beverley Craven interview
PUBLISHED: 10:54 20 December 2013 | UPDATED: 10:08 08 January 2014
Beverley Craven has had to face illness, death in the family and recently an acriminious divorce. But, as the Bucks singer tells Karen Kay, she’s found the peace and inspiration she needed to write a new, and daringly different, album
It’s an autumnal Monday morning in Old Beaconsfield, and the picturesque Buckinghamshire town is providing a backdrop for a raucous wedding party intent on sharing their celebrations with anyone who will join in. The bride, in a full-skirted white gown, pillarbox red lips and scarlet patent heels, seems out of kilter with the genteel pace of life as she cavorts with her cohorts, champagne flute in hand, volume turned up to full, dominating the cosy surroundings of an old coaching inn with her bumptious behaviour. In another corner of the bar, a tall, slender woman sits quietly, her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, gazing serenely into the flames of the open fire. Her apparent solitude couldn’t be in starker contrast to the exuberant scene on the other side of the room, but singer Beverley Craven is a woman at peace with herself after many years of fame - and pain.
The two scenes are perhaps representative of her own deeply contemplative style of easy listening music in an era of brash, manufactured pop.
Beverley is sitting here, in the town she has called home for the last seven years, quietly reflecting on life. She looks radiant after walking through the local beech woods with Buddy, her Staffordshire bull terrier, and lights up like besotted teenager when she discusses the photographer she is dating.
Yet there’s a sadness there, evident in the ruminative weight of her conversation. And she’s got a lot to contemplate, having trodden a turbulent path since she left her family home on the Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire border, at the age of 18 to pursue a career as a singer in London.
“As a young girl, I’d sit in bed with a pad and pencil and write poems, but I didn’t realise I was writing lyrics at the time. I took grade 7 piano, but got bored with lessons, learning set pieces for exams, doing the scales and the sight reading and being so disciplined.
“At school in Berkhamsted, one of my best friends was Nicola Brightman, the younger sister of Sarah. I remember seeing her play the piano beautifully, with real natural instinct, having never been taught. I thought why can she do that better than me, when I’ve had years of tuition?
“So, she really inspired me to abandon formal teaching and to go my own way, playing around with keys until I made sounds I liked. I think when you’re looking at written music, you don’t connect with the instrument in the same way, so that’s where I really found my own way of being a musician.”
After a few years initially living in squats, acting as an unpaid session singer for other acts, and signing on to the dole, Craven got her big break when she sent her demo tape, recorded in her bedsit, to Peter Reichardt at Warner Brothers.
“I sat in his office, played the piano and sang my heart out,” she recalls. He offered me a deal straight away, with a £30,000 advance and a contract splitting royalties. I put a deposit down on a flat in East Dulwich and started to record the tracks for my first album, which I’d already written.”
She smiles a wry smile, filled with wisdom, and perhaps a hint of regret.
“Back in the day, I played Wembley Arena, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, the Hammersmith Apollo with a full live band, and I used to tie myself in knots with anxiety. I was so nervous I couldn’t enjoy the experience. I just wanted to be at home songwriting.
“Now, I have learned to enjoy performing, on my terms. Intimate gigs suit my music, and it’s either just me and my keyboard, or I’ll have a sax player and perhaps a bass guitarist. I drive myself to gigs now, so I’m my own roadie, and I do all the invoicing myself. As long as I can fill village halls, I’d be happy to do just that, and my songwriting.”
Beverley Craven became a household name thanks to her 1991 top 5 single ‘Promise Me’ and a string of other hits, including ‘Holding On’ and ‘Woman to Woman’. She’s been nominated for three Brit Awards, won one, and in a career spanning over two decades has sold over four million records.
Now 50, with five original albums and a couple of greatest hits compilations on her discography, Beverley is still baring her soul with the kind of therapeutic, personal lyrics that have become her signature – and the soundtrack to many fans’ lives.
If you’re a woman of a certain age, you’ve almost certainly wept over lost love to one of Craven’s ballads, and many couples have one of her tracks as ‘their song’. But, after an unceremonious dumping by a record label, Craven has had to adjust to a different way of life.
“When the record company dropped me in 2000, it really obliterated me,” Beverley confesses. “I was stunned, I thought I’d be signed forever. I’d taken some time out to raise my three young daughters and felt pressured to deliver my third album but my heart wasn’t in it and it flopped. They are a business and the bottom line wasn’t adding up, so I can’t blame them.”
Since then, she’s written her autobiography and adapted her career to suit her love of songwriting and more intimate performances.
Just 36 hours before we meet, the reluctant celebrity performed a gig in a small village hall in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, which “is just the sort of gig I love. It was packed full of lovely people who really know my music and was really intimate, with lots of audience interaction. It’s perfect.”
Today, she’s trying a different tack as she works on her next album, due for release next summer.
“This album, I really want to be something that couples put on late at night, after a couple of glasses of wine, to get down to. It is going to be sexy and sultry….”
She trails off, pausing for thought, before adding. “Well, aside from the couple of tracks I’ve written about my ex-husband, which are angry. It’s very personal. I’m really purging deep inside my psyche.
“I like writing about human relationships, which are complicated and I love the psychology, I love making the connection with someone in a song. I love it when fans say a song really resonates with them.”
Clearly Beverley has a lot of emotive material to use in her songwriting, having recently gone through a bitter divorce from her husband of 17 years, Colin Campsie - also a singer-songwriter. They met backstage at a gig in 1994 and settled in north London before moving to Beaconsfield in 2005 to be near Beverley’s mother and – like so many others before and since - “for the grammar school system and improved quality of life.”
The couple have three daughters, 21-year-old Mollie, Brenna, 18 (both at university) and 16-year-old Constance, known as Connie, who is studying for her A levels and hoping to follow in her parents’ footsteps with a fledgling career in the music industry.
“She had violin and piano lessons but each teacher left her disenchanted with the formalities of classical learning. Now she fiddles on the guitar and she finds her own way, using her ear. She is doing some great stuff,” says her proud mother.
The marriage breakdown saw Beverley move out of the family home, leaving behind the girls, all then teenagers. She’s renting a small house in the town. It’s an unusual step for a mother to take, but any raised eyebrows do not concern Beverley as the girls all come for cosy visits.
The pain of her broken marriage and the resulting bitterness are clear in Craven as she talks about the reparative nature of writing.
“I love shedding light on something through a song: you get a nub of an answer with a gem of honesty, finding the truth through words and music. It is a form of therapy, creating my music, then singing it live in front of an audience.
“When you’ve taken that journey from a concept, through to the creation of a song, and then you perform it live, when you are breathing properly and really giving it your emotional all, you get the final euphoria…it’s a kind of closure on a part of your life.”
Nine years ago, Craven found a small lump in her breast. Having lost her cousin, Sara, to the disease when she was just 46, Craven had been having regular mammograms, and thought the lump was probably just a blocked milk duct.
“I had been lulled into a false sense of security and thought it would just go away.”
Then, during a routine smear test, she asked the nurse to check her breast, and “from there, life was blur. It had been caught early, so I had a lumpectomy and a brief course of radiotherapy. But it hits you hard, and I was terrified. When I came through it, I felt I had been given a second chance.”
Craven’s younger sister, Kathy – a 43-year-old mother-of three – is terminally ill with the disease that has so brutally forced its way into their lives. Having had a double mastectomy, she believed she’d taken away the risk of further cancer, but was constantly exhausted. She had run marathons and had three young kids, so everyone just put it down to being busy.
After 21 visits to the doctor and endless prescriptions for antibiotics, eventually, she was diagnosed with liver cancer and told there was nothing more they could do.
Kathy’s twin, Clare, recently brought forward her wedding so the three sisters and close friends and family could be together for her big day – an occasion that Beverley says was, “incredibly, incredibly emotional and difficult, as well as being wonderful.”
Craven is determined to live life her way, focusing on the good fortune which enables her to pursue her passions.
She supports a number of breast cancer charities and “loves ticking over writing songs and doing my gigs.
“I’m really happy walking my dog or going for a run in the woods, living the quiet life.
“I get a real kick out of buying junk furniture and giving it a new lease of life. It’s the simple things that matter.”
Beverley Craven: My Buckinghamshire
What does Bucks mean to you?
I’ve always been a Home Counties girl, even though I spent 20 years living in London pursuing a career in the music business, so being in Bucks feels very familiar & comfortable - like I’ve finally come home.
Your favourite Bucks view?
Between Wendover & Tring there’s a fabulous view from the roadside (B4009) not far from the base in Halton. It’s called Upper Icknield Way, next to Wendover Woods, and you can see for MILES! My dad used to take me up there when I was a kid. He’d stand there with his binoculars and say, ‘Just look at that view!’ I didn’t really appreciate it as a child but I’d recommend it now. Our photo is courtesy of The Chilterns Conservation Board, see www.chilternsqaonb.org.
Your favourite place to go for an informal, affordable meal?
I enjoy walking the two and a half miles from Beaconsfield over the fields to the Old Queen’s Head pub in Penn. They don’t mind muddy dogs in there - in fact, they have a jar of dog biscuits on the bar and put a bowl of water by the fire for them. The food’s good too, and reasonably priced, especially the Sunday roast.
Your favourite place for a more formal meal or special occasion?
I’m not a huge fan of the Beaconsfield Crazy Bear, to be honest, but their posh Italian over the road is quite nice. The décor is cosy, yet plush. I took a friend there for his 50th birthday, as a special treat.
Your favourite place to meet for a coffee or tea?
The Saracen’s Head in the Old Town. It’s peaceful (no screaming kids!) with excellent, friendly service, and they have a proper log fire and fresh coffee.
Your favourite shop in Bucks
If I’m looking for a special outfit I go to Grace in Beaconsfield new town, but I’m also drawn to the many charity shops…specifically the bric-a-brac section. I like picking up pretty glass jars for my dressing table.
Where you’d spend a wet afternoon or day in Bucks?
The best place to be when it’s raining is indoors, at home, isn’t it? There’s not much I find more fulfilling & enjoyable than writing a new song (apart from snuggling up on the sofa with a cup of tea, homemade cake and a good film).
Where you’d spend a sunny afternoon or day in Bucks?
If it’s sunny I like to garden - I love to go to Flowerland in Bourne End - although I’m without a garden at the moment, but there’s just enough room to grow seeds and take cuttings. Pottering is such great thinking time.
Your favourite cultural experience or venue in Bucks?
My favourite place to play in Bucks is at the Stables in Wavendon. It’s a really well run small venue, with good acoustics and very friendly staff.
Where you’d recommend a visitor to Bucks to go?
If you have younger children I’d say Bekonscot model village, or Odds Farm is good for young ones too.
What’s the best kept secret in Bucks?
The Iain Rennie charity terrapin at High Wycombe Household Waste & Recycling Centre in Booker. I call it an Aladdin’s cave, you never know what you’re going to find.