Joan Armatrading

Interview with Joan Armatrading

by Karen Shaw

Joan ArmatradingLove and Affection

I am not in love, but I’m open to persuasion”… my student days were spent humming this tune on my trusty Walkman. Joan Armatrading’s hit song Love and Affection was the signature tune to my teenage years and 20 years on it still is and will continue to be one of my favourites.

In a recording career spanning 40 years, Joan is a three-time Grammy Award-nominee and has been nominated for two BRIT Awards as Best Female Artist. She also received an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection in 1996.

Despite being born in Saint Kitts and raised in Birmingham, Joan’s no stranger to the North of England; she recently played at the world famous Rhythm and Blues festival in Colne and enjoyed it so much that she will returning in September. I caught up with Joan to discover why this tour was going to be her first and her last major tour.

“I’m not going to do another major tour after this one, so this just seemed like a perfect time to do a solo tour, she says. “The very first time I went to America in 1973 I did that on my own. I was there for three months but apart from that I’ve always been with my band. In my last tour I had 52 local artists who opened the show. Every place where I have a gig, I pick local musicians to open the show, all young, unsigned, unknown artists. At a recent gig in Birmingham, the local musicians had only played to an audience of 50 people; this gig had an audience of four thousand.

“This tour will be different, it will just be me. I’ll be playing the guitar and piano. I haven’t played piano on stage since the late seventies so that’s going to be very interesting.”

After a gig, you won’t find Joan drinking the bar dry. She prefers to head for her hotel room, and unlike many of her peers before her she prefers to watch TV rather than throw it out of the window! “I’m not a party person at all,” says Joan, “I’m afraid I’m not very ‘rock ‘n’ roll’!” Which is probably just as well considering Joan is 63 years old and will be 65 by the final gig on the tour. While on the subject of a ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Joan tries to recover her last statement: “I once got chucked out of Harrods because I was wearing holey jeans, and just when I was in the process of being evicted they threw a young chap out too, just because
he had a violin case with him! That chap was Nigel Kennedy!”

Although, a duet with her and Nigel never materialised after their chance meeting, Joan has played a multiple of musical genres over the years from reggae to folk. I was curious to learn what the audience can look forward to on her latest tour…

“I haven’t written anything for this particular tour so people will hear songs from 1972 up till 2012. If I write something before, fine, but if not then it won’t be part of the tour. But the way I write is that I wait for writing to come to me. At this moment in time it’s not doing that which is fine, I don’t have any kind of problem with it not doing that. I’ve recorded 20 studio albums to date, so I’ve written a lot.”

Her fourth single Love and Affection was her first chart success in 1976, reaching number 10. It’s been covered by many artists, even Sinitta!

“The inspiration is pretty much what the opening line says which is based on somebody trying to persuade me that we should be together. That’s all I’m prepared to say on that. Michael Ball covered it and he’s the only one who’s done a version of it where I haven’t been

In a relationship which emotion did she believe was more prevalent than the other, love or affection?

“It’s probably affection,” she replies, “because sometimes people can love someone but they aren’t good to them and I’ve seen that. I’ve seen someone profess to love somebody and you
think…are you sure?”

Joan’s first musical notes were hammered out on her mum’s piano. Although her father had a guitar it was strictly out of bounds. “He would hide the guitar!” laughs Joan. “I’m pretty sure that’s what made me want to play, it was unattainable, and so when I saw that guitar in the pawn shop for three pounds, I asked my mum if I could have it. She didn’t have the money but she swapped two old prams for it and we got the guitar. It was big, when I was a
young girl. It was bigger than my hand; but I was so determined to play it.

“People ask me why and how I got into music, well it’s very, very simple, I was born to do it. I love it. That’s why I’m on this earth. I’m on this earth to write songs.”

Since she entered the musical arena over 40 years ago, musical technology has come on in leaps and bounds. I wondered if she found this a help or a hindrance…

“I record the way I’ve always recorded. I write the song first on the guitar or piano then I work out the arrangements, then I play demos for each thing separately. When I go into the studio we play the song live, as I’ve always done. So for me it’s no different, in recent years because I now do everything myself and play everything myself. I put the piano down and listen to the piece and play guitar over it and then an instrument over that etc… it’s all done on a computer whereas in the past the only difference was, it was an analogue recording. I still play everything like normal but it’s not a bad thing that people can do that, if it helps with creativity and helps it along then there’s nothing wrong with that but I like to play the basics. I like to play the bass guitar but if you can’t play the bass guitar but you want to hear it you can always play it on the keyboard. As long as the part is good and the sounds are
good, absolutely nothing wrong with it.

“For me, everything comes at exactly the right time. Writing is my passion that’s what I absolutely love to do, then I like to arrange the song, then I record the songs and perform them live. Everything runs in the right order.”

Softly spoken Joan may come across as rather meek and mild, but don’t be mistaken. In her time Joan has ran marathons, been awarded an MBE, passed a history degree, flown a
helicopter, and abseiled. “I just like doing stuff,” she says. Although when I ask her if she has ever considered flower arranging, she screws up her face and responds with a rather blunt “No!”

“I wouldn’t mind trying paragliding though!” she adds.