TSOTA Catches Up With Three Times Grammy Nominee Joan Armatrading On Her World Tour
[Images courtesy of joanarmatrading.com]
There is no denying that Joan Armatrading is a very impressive woman-her singing, her songwriting, her playing, her quietly understated but complete control of the stage. Joan Armatrading has a music career spanning 42 years and the energy that she gives to each and every performance to this day is truly inspiring.
TSOTA caught up with Joan Armatrading mid way through her first ever solo world tour, the morning after her performance in Cardiff to talk about her love of the X factor, how the music industry has changed during the course of her career and her decision to bid farewell to continuous longhaul travel…
TSOTA: The tour that you’re currently doing is billed as your last world tour, first solo tour- can you tell us more about this? What can people expect from this tour?
JA: My first record was in 1972 (42 years ago). In all that time this is my first world tour on my own, the rest have always been with a band. As usual, I try to sing songs from as many different albums as I can. The difference is that I have arranged the songs just for me rather than for the band. I play electric guitar, 12 string acoustic, 6 string acoustic and piano. There’ll be lots of different things- stuff that they haven’t heard in a long time, stuff that they haven’t heard at all, and songs they’re very familiar with- a really good mixture. I also show a slideshow with a few pictures.
TSOTA: How do you find the energy to keep touring on such a large scale?
JA: I am quite a self-contained person. I am good at looking after myself and being by myself and that is how it has always been. I am fit and healthy and enjoy touring and playing to the audience. If I just had the playing to the audience part without the travelling it would be so enjoyable. Touring is very tiring-you’re literally in a different city and sometimes a different country every day-a lot of moving around. On this tour I have kept the same set list-on the last one I had three different set lists but because it’s just me I don’t have to come up with a million songs. Every audience is different-they react in a similar way such as when I say I’m gonna play ‘Willow’ or ‘Love and Affection’ they always like that but each audience is different-it’s hard to explain exactly how. Every night is different somehow. You’re in a different theatre, the sound is different. I played St David’s Hall last night and although I’d played there lots of times before I’d forgotten that it’s quite echoey. Sometimes you go to another hall and it’s almost as if the sound stays in your mouth and doesn’t come out.
TSOTA: What have been your highlights of the tour so far?
JA: One of the highlights has got to be my performance on my birthday. I turned 64 whilst I was in Australia and I walked on stage in Canberra and everybody started singing Happy Birthday. Then the next day the same thing happened again. Then however many days later I went to New Zealand and came on stage and everyone sang happy birthday to me again. It was really nice, very touching.
Definitely looking forward to all the UK dates that’s for sure, I have been for a while. I did a lot of UK dates in 2014 when the tour started but I am looking forward to coming back and performing at some of the larger theatres. I have to say I do love playing in America. The American audiences are very vocal and extrovert. If they like something they really show it. However if they don’t like something they show that with as much enthusiasm as when they like it. I’m happy to say that I’ve never been on the receiving end of not liking it-it’s not a pretty sight.
TSOTA: Would you consider playing at smaller, more intimate venues?
JA: I did in 2014 but this one is more about the bigger halls. I like both though- I have played at Ronnie Scotts and I have played at Central Park- I’ve done a bit of it all. Big or small they’re all concerts to me.
TSOTA: You studied for a history degree through the Open University in 2001 whilst on tour-an impressive feat. How did you manage to fit this into your schedule?
JA: That’s a very good question! It was quite difficult because I was moving about from city to city all the time so the logistics of that and writing my essays were difficult-quite often I’d come off stage and then write my papers at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Even though email was available they wouldn’t let you email the work over so I had to finish it off in time to send it off via post. I always had to be a little bit ahead of everyone else. These days of course it’s great, everything is online.
TSOTA: Seeing as you’re a history buff…if you could have been born at any other point in history when would it be?
JA: You know I am a very now person-I like now and being me. I get some questions like ‘if you could be any other person who would you want to be’ but I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than me, I’m happy being me. Then sometimes they say ‘would you rather be somebody else and get their awards’ and I say no-I’d like to get their awards, but as me, not as somebody else!
TSOTA: How has the music industry changed during the course of your career and do you think it’s for the better or for the worse (or a bit of both)?
JA: It’s a bit of both. The music industry has always been an industry of image, that hasn’t changed. It has become more exaggerated but it has always been the case. What I think is slightly different is that in the early days there was what is called ‘artist development’ which would allow an artist to have potential and help fulfil that potential so if your first record wasn’t a big hit you had two or three records to prove that the potential was real. These days, if the first record doesn’t work then that’s quite often it, you’re on your own which is a shame as a lot of people do need to fulfil that potential and often it’s not because a person isn’t good but because a lot of other things need to catch up. My first record, although I was voted best newcomer and all that, it wasn’t a big commercial success-it wasn’t until my third album that I had worldwide success. If you think of Amy Winehouse- it wasn’t her first record that made her become the Amy Winehouse that we know.
The good thing is that artists can use social media, the internet, and technology in general to do things themselves. I do still think that once you’ve done a certain amount yourself you still need the experts-the producers, record companies, publishers to help you get to that next level because we’re not marketers-we don’t know how to do that part and really I think that you shouldn’t need to know how to do that. Really, there’s good and bad in all of it.
TSOTA: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
JA: I think that the first thing to say is to be true to yourself and be honest with yourself. I do love the X Factor, I love to watch the people coming on who are coming on to just enjoy being on the television, they know they can’t sing. Those people are really good because they just enjoy it but then you see other people who have convinced themselves that they can sing and it’s really sad. My advice is be true to yourself-get people who your trust to give their honest opinion. Some people may not want to hurt your feelings but in the end they end up making you look really stupid. Own up-are you really good? If you are really good then just go for it! Do whatever you can to get yourself to where you want to be-, start a band, create your website, go on social media, knock on record companies doors, go to publishers, start your own band if no one wants you to be in their band. Don’t expect that it’ll just happen as it doesn’t normally work like that.
Interview by Bethany Ashcroft
Joan is performing at the Leeds Grand Theatre on the 22nd of March and there are still some tickets available for the side balcony-contact the venue for more information.
There are tickets still available for her performances at the Liverpool Philarmonic on the 23rd March and the Victoria Hall in Stoke-On-Trent on the 24th March.