Joan Armatrading is one of Britain’s best loved singer/songwriters. Known for her finely crafted lyrics and distinctive vocals, her career has spanned over four decades, winning her millions of fans across the world.
Since her 1973 Outstanding New Artist award, Joan has received accolade after accolade.
Three Grammy nominations, two Brit nominations, an Ivor Novello award, a BASCA Gold Badge, Radio 2’s Lifetime Achievement Folk Award and MMF’s Artist’s Artist Award, to name but a few.
The recipient of an MBE in 2001, she was the first British female artist ever to top the Billboard Blues Chart.
Now, following the release of her latest album ‘Not Too Far Away’, she’s touring the UK, with dates in Scotland next month.
And by the sounds of it, it should be a positive experience ...
“I’m a positive person,” says Joan, talking about her new album.
“In all my songs the words are pretty much positive and the music is always up. The music is always something that I think will try and make you smile.”
The songs, she explains, are very personal, as they’ve been written from either knowing the person, or reading about the person, or seeing what the person’s going through.
“So I’m involved in it, but I think if every song I wrote was about myself, I’d be a pretty weird person.
“You can’t write everything about yourself.
“But sometimes I’ve had instances where I’ve written something that’s nothing to do with me, and then later on something happens that actually is, ‘Oh look, I wrote that song already!’
“This time I purposely wrote all the words first, because I wanted it to have an emotion – and I hope I got the emotion through. I wanted people to connect with the words.
“And then, once the words were written, the music kind of flowed quite naturally.”
Joan adds: “I wanted people to use the lyrics for themselves and to communicate with each other which, I’m really happy to say, people tell me that they do.
“But I did want people to think yes, this is an album, these are songs that I can say to this person ‘look, this is you, this is us’.
“There’s a song on there, the very first song, called ‘I Like It When We’re Together,’ and even when you’re with friends – it doesn’t have to be a partner, lover, whatever – it’s a really nice feeling, so it’s nice sometimes to just say that to somebody, you know?
“So I just wanted to say that.”
Joan’s songs over the years have clearly connected with people, and she says that’s one of the great things about beging a songwriter.
“People will say ‘Oh, we used your song at a very sad time, somebody died, it was their favourite song, we had to have it with them at the funeral.’ You can’t get a bigger compliment than that.
“You get ‘We named our child after one of your songs’ – there’s a lot of Rosies and Willows out there! ‘We got married to that song, we met through that song, we went to a concert and we were both so into your music and we hooked up...’
“I get all kinds of stories, all around these things that I’ve written, it’s the best feeling, I love it. Absolutely love it.”
Joan’s latest album is very much her own work – literally!
She wrote everything, recorded, engineered, programmed the drums, she played everything, arranged everything, wrote and arranged all the strings and, of course, sang it all.
Apart from input from a mixing engineer – “the trained engineer will hear little things that I’ve missed and be able to get certain sounds better than I’ve got them, stuff like that” – it’s all down to her.
As well as performing the songs from her new album, Joan has been busy working out what songs from her extensive back catalogue should be included on the tour’s playlist.
Of course, there are certain songs that just have to be included ...
“I would never dream of doing a concert where I didn’t play ‘Love and Affection.’ Why would I? That’s the song that got me known.
“All over the world, wherever I go, it’s because of ‘Love and Affection.’ Why would I not want to sing it?
“So I can sing ‘Love and Affection,’ ‘Me Myself I,’ ‘Drop The Pilot,’ ‘Willow,’ ‘Rosie,’ all the songs, and I’ll still have time to do all the new album.”
However, not everything can make it on to the playlist.
She doesn’t know how many songs she’s written – “It must be hundreds”.
This is her 21st album and she’s been performing for 46 years.
There’s usually at least 10 on each album so there’s a lot of songs just in the albums.
“It’s so hard, I think I’ll do this one ... then I’ll think, no, I can’t do that one because ... well, I can’t remember it for a start!
“There’s so many, it’s very difficult, that’s all I can say, it’s really, really hard to work out what to do.
“The tour will be solo as well, so I have to work out what songs can I do an arrangement for that will really work as solo. The last tour was solo, and it worked out great, I played electric guitar and piano and acoustic guitar as well, and I had a few little backing things that I’d done for it, but not much.
“This tour will be acoustic, I won’t play any electric, but I’ll play piano as well. So it’s a question of thinking what songs are really going to work as acoustic? How’s ‘My Myself I’ going to sound? It was written on an acoustic probably, but how’s it going to sound now on an acoustic? It can be tricky.”
Whatever songs she decides to include, though, they’re sure to please her many fans.
Joan says: “I’ve been very lucky with people who’ve stayed with my career, and I’ve had a very long career, but I didn’t have it on my own. If it wasn’t for these wonderful people tagging along I wouldn’t have had such a great ride and if I didn’t have new people coming along it wouldn’t sustain. People do die and people’s tastes change.
“Some might think ‘Oh, Joan was wonderful when she was 26 but now she’s 67, I don’t think so.’ That can happen, so you can lose people like that or because they’ve just moved, or they’ve had children and their focus is on something totally different.
“When that happens in that way it’s not even just you or your music that gets lost, but other artists’ as well, because people haven’t got time for music in the way that they did when they were younger.
“So you need the loyal fans, and I’m happy to say I have some very loyal fans, and you need the new people to join in as well.
“That’s it, really. I love doing live shows because there’s always such a great mix of people. I’m a very lucky person!”
Joan Armatrading is playing Glasgow Concert Hall on September 24, and Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on September 25.
Her new album ‘Not Too Far Away’ has just been released on BMG.
For more information about the album and tour, go to Joan’s website www.joanarmatrading.com