Joan Armatrading

JOAN ARMATRADING reminds us why she is one of “The Greats”

Following the intimate conversation we have with JOAN ARMATRADING backstage, prior to the first of her two IndigO2 shows that will close her 2012 UK/Ireland Starlight Tour, we bounce off to the main venue, ready for the live show.

Before the show kicks off, we are treated to a personal statement from Joan, read out by a guy we assume to be one of her crew, introducing the opening act: No. 55 of the 56 local artists hand-picked by Joan as part of her inspired Local Talent initiative. Martin J Sandom gives it a lot of welly and is clearly delighted to be there, soaking up the atmosphere of the room full of loyal Joanie fans. Although his lyrics are something to be desired, he nicely warms up the room, ready for 2011 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Chris Wood.

Charmer Chris Wood has the crowds in stitches at points with his satirical humour, and his lilting vocals and easy-listening melodies assure us of his lofty folk status. Closing song The Sweetness Game is particularly beautiful, though slightly saccharine – but, therein lies part of Wood’s charm: his balance of sweet charm with natural talent and intelligent songwriting.

After a long pause, we get to the main highlight of the night: Joan Armatrading wanders casually onstage, guitar in hand, a huge grin across her face and sporting her butterfly shirt, leaping straight into classic track “Down To Zero” to a rapturous applause, wooping and even whistles from the crowds. With shivers down my spine, there is tangibly a lot of love in the room, and it’s hard not to let tears fall as I stare up at this artist with THAT voice and a knack for stunning melodies and hard-hitting lyrics. In a split second, I have become that 15 year old again, lying on my sister’s sofa listening to Joan’s “Very Best Of” album on repeat, the moment I first discovered her… As the track closes, to genuine yelps, Armatrading humbly bows in thanks, still with that Cheshire Cat smile across her youthful face.

And it’s straight into 2 more tracks. As a woman shouts “Hello, Joanie!” Armatrading jokingly expresses concern that the crowds aren’t bopping along to her new tracks and warns them that the next one is “very jazzy” – without her guitar now, she dances around the stage, encouraging the crowd to sing along. She’s in her element and loving every second. When the introduction for “All the Way from America” comes on, the crowd goes wild (it IS a killer song) and she gets them this time to waive their arms in the air in time to the main chorus. Years of experience have taught her how to warm up a crowd.

Looking around, I notice a certain famous lesbian author sat a few rows behind, Ms. Sarah Waters. It’s a very women-heavy crowd – great to see so many women of all ages coming out in support of someone who has likely been a personal inspiration to each and every one of them.

Armatrading impresses with new song “Tell Me” about staying friends with an ex-lover, a brilliant jazz track. But, of course the one that really gets the audience entranced is the eternal classic “Love and Affection” – beautifully performed, it’s just like listening to it for the first time. As the sax chimes in, the crowds woop and clap, and I have goosebumps brought on by those iconic lyrics “Sing it, sing it / With affection / With a little dedication / Give me love / Love…” As the song closes to further applause, Joan wittily responds, “Yeah, I was persuaded to put that one in…”

Joan displays some phenomenal guitar moves, and profiles her new album title track “Starlight” which epitomizes this stage of her songwriting which is notably more chilled but still exudes depth and is instilled with social commentary – “Everyone trying to be somebody / Everybody trying to be someone / Trying to be at the A list party / But most times on the sidelines waving… Sell your mother for a breakthrough / And your father if you had to.”

When she gets to “The Weakness in Me,” she’s completely absorbed, singing with her eyes closed, her words and vocals penetrating to the bone as she sings the thoughts of a person conflicted when having an affair outside of their relationship. “Why do you come here and pretend to be just passing by / I need to see you – I need to hold you – tightly.”

“(I Love it when you) Call me Names” gets the crowds going again, but it’s “Me, Myself and I” that gets them literally leaping over the seats dancing in the aisles, while security tries to push them away from the stage front, which frankly is beginning to look way too heavy-handed and is spoiling festivities. I can’t really see any Joanie fans disrespecting the artist by getting too close, but security persists, nonetheless…

Joan enters the encore thanking the audience for beckoning her back, comically feigning surprise with “Oh, that was so unexpected!” She warns the crowds that she’ll end on a new song – certainly an unusual and brave decision, but Joanie is confident enough with her fans to pull it off. She first gives them a thrill with “Drop The Pilot.” As everyone sings in unison: “Animal, mineral, physical, spiritual / I’m the one you need / I’m the one you need,” the venue erupts onto its feet, joining in the Joanie lovefest, and they’re ready for the cool-down closing song of the night.

Joanie, many thanks for giving us years of musical pleasure.

Joan Armatrading has completed the European stretch of her tour, and will be performing in New Zealand and Australia next year.