Music Notes: Joan Armatrading still out to jazz it up
Most artists would kill to have Joan Armatrading’s career. She’s a multi Grammy and Brits nominee, the first female UK artist to debut at the top of the Billboard Blues charts, an Ivor Novello winner and has countless gold, platinum and silver discs.
Her focus hasn’t changed since she took her first musical steps on her mother’s piano as a youngster. “I [still] write because I love it. Sometimes I hear performers say they don’t care about awards but I have to think they’re lying. When anybody says I want to show you how much I like what you’re doing and the best way I can do it is to give you this’, I think that’s just wonderful,” she says.
“[But] it’s all about the music, writing the songs, getting them arranged, recording them, playing them live to an audience so you can get their reaction; that immediate response when they say ‘yes Joan, I really like this a lot’,” she laughs.
The singer is one of the UK’s leading female singer songwriters whose songs - including Love And Affection, Willow, Drop The Pilot, The Weakness in Me, Me Myself I, Into The Blues, This Charming Life - have stood the test of time.
She’s worked with with some of the finest musicians around, from members of Fairport Convention and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band to Mark Knopfler and Darryl Jones. Her list of producers is equally impressive, including Steve Lillywhite and David Tickle to name a few. She was also the first non-jazz artist to play at London’s Ronnie Scott’s in the main room.
It’s been a long journey from her birth in St Kitts, in the West Indies, and her upbringing in Birmingham.
Although her father had a guitar, it was out of bounds.
“My mother bought a piano, she thought it was a good piece of furniture for the front room. As soon as it arrived I started to write songs, that made me start.”
When Armatrading saw a guitar for £3 in a pawn shop window she pestered her mother to barter two old prams they no longer used. She taught herself to play and began writing songs at the age of 14. “That’s how I got my first guitar which I still have.”
Like many musicians she’s a multi-instrumentalist, arranging as well as playing every instrument, with the exception of drums, on her last three albums.
Latest release Starlight, her 20th, was out earlier this year. It’s the third in a trilogy which started with 2007’s Into The Blues, which earned her a Billboard Blues Chart record. It stayed there for 12 consecutive weeks and also earned her a Grammy nod in the blues category; again the first ever UK female artist to do so.
She followed this up with the rock orientated This Charming Life in 2010. Starlight is influenced more by jazz.
“I think because it’s different from each one to the next, people are kind of like ‘oh I’ve got to get used to this’,” laughs Armatrading.
Some listeners can find jazz frightening for some reason. “I think so, yeah. I think what people have to remember is it’s Joan Armatrading music still; they’re not going to be listening to Miles Davis.”
Joan will be in Norwich on Sunday. Fans can expect all the hits.
“It’ll be a mixture of songs from lots of different albums, obviously Love and Affection, Drop The Pilot, other songs people know and of course it’ll be songs from Starlight as well. It’s a really good mixture; the set’s been going down really well.”
t Joan Armatrading plays Norwich Theatre Royal on October 21.
t Starlight is out now.
t Further listening: www.joanarmatrading.com