Armatrading’s glad to be on road again

Joan Armatrading
Joan Armatrading
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YOU have been in the industry for 40 years, touring extensively and exhaustingly for a number of those decades.

While they do not admit it, many a veteran musician must dread the monotony of churning out their greatest hits, gig after gig.

Not Joan Armatrading. Her recent work has been as prolific and varied as can be.

She has written, arranged, produced and recorded her jazz-inspired album Starlight, released this year, as the final part of a five-year triology that include blues and rock orientated records.

Her energy for touring remains. Probably helped by her new material, she remains a near constant presence on the road, with 69 dates between now and the end of the year.

“Touring is seriously tiring,” she told TheSouthern, ahead of a date at the Buccleuch Centre in Langholm this month.

“But when you get on the stage and hear the audience, there is a thing called adrenaline that gets you through.

“I don’t quite understand how it happens but it does.

“I was at the Olympics and watched the Great Britain’s ladies hockey team beat South Korea 5-3. The atomsphere was incredible and the roar was akin to what it feels like as a performer.”

Born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, Armatrading, 61, moved to Birmingham at the age of seven and was soon playing on her mother’s piano.

Her father was not so generous with the use of his prized guitar, so Armatrading bought one for £3 in a pawn shop. She taught herself to play and began writing songs at 14 years of age.

A year after she released her debut album, in 1972, her talents were recognised with an Outstanding New Artist of the Year title from a leading trade magazine.

She has since been nominated for a Grammy three times, a Brit Award twice and won an Ivor Novello Award.

The 70s and 80s remain the golden period of Armatrading’s career, with her self-titled album reaching number 12 in the UK charts in 1976. It included her best known track Love and Affection, which rose to number 10 in the singles charts.

She became a favourite of the late John Peel during the 70s, performing a series of live sessions for his BBC Radio 1 show.

A switch of musical direction to pop in 1980 led to Armatrading’s highest-placed album, Me Myself I, which reached number five, followed by Walk Under Ladders in 1981 (number six) and 1983 record The Key (number 10).

Commerical chart success has been rare since, but Armatrading has remained active and at the forefront of many musical projects.

She played for the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute concert at Wembley in 1988, while the future South African president was still imprisoned.

And 13 years later, Mandela danced through her performance of tribute song The Messenger at a South Africa Freedom Day show in London’s Trafalgar Square. She collected an MBE later that year.

Armatrading made a long-awaited return to the charts with Into the Blues in 2007, which reached number one in the US Blues Chart.

A BBC series followed in which Armatrading interviewed five fellow leading guitarists of different genres, from Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits to Russell Lissack of indie rockers Bloc Party.

But she shows no signs of slowing down her own writing or touring. “I write,” she says, “because I love it”.

Joan Armatrading performs at the Buccleuch Centre on Sunday, August 26 at 8pm. Tickets are priced at £30 and are available from 01387 381196.

To win a copy of her latest album, Starlight, answer this question:

Which island was Joan Armatrading born on?

Send your answer, name and full postal address by email to kenny.paterson@tweeddalepress.co.uk or post to Joan Armatrading Competition, The Southern Reporter, The Hermitage, High Street, Selkirk, TD7 4DA, by Monday, August 20. Usual Southern rules apply.