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Joan Armatrading


Country of origin:

West Indies & England

Type of music generally:

Ambitious pop, some mainstream pop

Status:

Most recent release, Me Myself I: World Tour (live CD/DVD, 2016); most recent studio release, The Tempest Songs (2016)

See also:

Joan Armatrading's site

Wikipedia page

Comparisons:

To my ears the similarity to Tracy Chapman is quite marked in the *sound* of the two singers, but not in their choice of lyrical subject matter or musical style. (nightwol@dircon.co.uk)

Covers/own material:

Own material

General comments:

I was an Armatrading fan for about ten years from 1976 when she first came to prominence in the U.K. with her "Love & Affection" single. I lost track of what she was up to in the mid-'80s but as far as I know she continues to make records. The era of Joan's music with which I am familiar is well summed up in the compilation album Track Record which was released on CD (albeit with a slightly different track listing to the original vinyl release). This spans a range of styles from the pure acoustic to the harder-edged, more electric sounds. I'd suggest you start there and see what (if anything) of hers appeals to you. (nightwol@dircon.co.uk)

Joan Armatrading is an outstanding guitarist, she plays acoustic Ovations, a six-string and a 12-string as well as a variety of electrics. When she tours, she takes about 7 guitars with her, including two electric gibsons and a strat. (jsutton@rahul.net)

Comments about live performance:

I always thought she was a good guitarist, but when I finally saw her (back in the '80s, this was), I was truly impressed. She's so shy, even on stage, that it's almost like she wants to keep her ability a secret. But at one point in the concert someone handed her an electric guitar, and she ripped through a solo that made the whole crowd gasp out loud; I don't think anyone had any idea that she even played electric at that point. (keefer@msmary.edu)

I've always thought that Joan is sort of proto-ecto, if such a thing can exist. I've already posted reviews of her gigshere, so I'm repeating myself by saying that, while not a huge Joan fan, she has always given good live shows, full of warmth, humour and her still-amazing voice.
     I had another chance to see Joan Armatrading in concert over the weekend. What a wonderful performer. I can't speak highly of her enough. She exudes a warmth, humour and charm that makes you want to go up and hug her. The gig was in the Royal Albert Hall, somewhere I've only seen an opera before. It's kind of cavernous, and the acoustics suffer, but she was magnificent. Apart from the acoustics, the only other drawback were the two girls behind me, who decided to express their love and dedication to Joan by singing along, extremely loudly and out of tune, thus ruining "The Weakness in Me" for everyone around them. Requests from various of us that they keep it down were met with withering scorn: We, of course, were not true fans, but mere dilettantes. These girls owned Joan, and the concert was theirs. At another, poignant moment in the gig, I was distracted by a blue light, and noticed the woman in front of me was checking her mobile. What is it with people at gigs, these days? Why do they bother coming? Why not just go to a karaoke bar or slip a cd on at home? But still, Joan was fantastic. I'd forgotten what a great guitar player she is, as well. Even if you don't care for her music on cd (I'm not a huge fan of it) see her live if you get a chance. (5/03)
     Unfortunately, on this occasion, the experience was less than satisfactory. Three factors at play:
     First, the seats. The only ones I could wrest from the dreaded TicketMaster, turned out to be two rows from the very back of the balcony and off to the side. A mere five feet behind us was the bar.
     Second, the Venue: The Indigo is a new, smaller space, carved out of the Millennium Dome. Let us say it's a relatively intimate venue, which is a good thing. But, barely a year old, the air conditioning in the venue itself was not working this warm night, and so we sweltered in an airless fug, listening to the sounds of the bar and with a great view of the lighting and sound rigs, as well as the useless ventilation ducts. The sound was good and, while Joan was quite far away, we could pretty much see all of her, but any focus or atmosphere was sorely lacking.
     And then, Joan. Twenty minutes late and, armed with a career spanning over thirty years, she plays an hour and a half, including encores, at least half the set being from her new album, Into the blues. And that was our lot. Don't get me wrong: Into the blues, is very, very good, an album I hope to get to know better, and she plays a mean blues guitar, but I think this is an interesting area for debate: While it is commendable for an artist to want to move forward, how much do they owe their fans when it comes to the ones they want to hear? While it is financially sound to push the new album, couldn't some balance be introduced? I counted about five, maybe six old songs, and she didn't even touch "The Weakness in Me". In fact, she didn't even touch any of Lovers Speak, her most recent album before Into the Blues, which is loaded with songs that I rate among her best, so I don't speak from pure nostalgia. She still had oodles of charm and humour and warmth, but when the lights came up I felt short-changed and damp with sweat.
     So, basically, not one of my better concert-going experiences, an unfortunate amalgamation of factors. I'd be happy to go to the Indigo again, but only if I had much better seats.
     Or a large club. (6/08)
     Joan played another great show at the Albert Hall last night, and can still pack them in. It's a tribute to her talents that the songs from her last, independently-released album Lovers Speak are as good as anything she's written, so this is not just a nostalgia fest. Her voice was a bit cracked, and she made references to having been ill recently, but this didn't affect her range or her enthusiasm one bit. Apparently, she's got a DVD coming out this week, and this was part of a "Greatest Hits" tour to support it. Naturally, she's got so many good songs that some really good ones were notable in their absence ("Drop the Pilot," "The Shouting Stage") but "Love and Affection," with its almost hypnotic, ascending rhythms got everyone to their feet, as did "All the Way from America" and "The Weakness in Me." It's just a shame that her public profile has dipped of late and that she now tours with only two musicians. They're extremely talented, don't get me wrong, and one of them handles both percussion and saxophones expertly, but every now and then backing tapes have to be resorted to, and I wish that she had the clout to tour with a full band again. I also wonder what a, umm, younger backing band would do for her profile and appeal. But, she seems comfortable with what she's got and genuinely pleased to be performing, so what the hell. (11/10, adamk@zoom.co.uk)

Recommended first album:

my own favorite is probably walkunder ladders which is sorta atypically electropop oriented (produced by steve lillywhite (xtc, early u2), features , tony levin, jerry marotta, etc) but full of wonderful tunes. you couldn't go wrong with track record a solid best of from the early to mid-80s records. i also think the key is terrific. those who want a more thoroughly acoustic sound might do better with whatever's for us. (dmw@mwmw.com)

Track Record. (nightwol@dircon.co.uk)

Recordings include:

  • Whatever's For Us (1972)
  • Back To The Night (1975)
  • Joan Armatrading (1976)
  • Show Some Emotion (1977)
  • To The Limit (1978)
  • How Cruel (EP, 1979)
  • Steppin' Out (live, 1979)
  • Me Myself I (1980)
  • Walk Under Ladders (1982)
  • The Key (1983)
  • Secret Secrets (1985)
  • Sleight of Hand (1986)
  • The Shouting Stage (1988)
  • Hearts And Flowers (1990)
  • Square the Circle (1992)
  • What's Inside (1995)
  • Lovers Speak (2003)
  • Live All The Way From America (2005)
  • Into the Blues (2007)
  • This Charming Life (2010)
  • Live at the Royal Albert Hall (live CD/DVD, 2011)
  • Starlight (2012)
  • The Tempest Songs (2016)
  • Me Myself I: World Tour (live CD/DVD, 2016)

The Shouting Stage

Release info:

1988—A & M, U.S.A.—CD 5211, DX 003416

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)

Group members:

Pino Palladino, Mark Brzezicki, Bob Noble, Phil Palmer, Jamie Lane, Alan Clark, Mark Knopfler, Manu Katche

Hearts And Flowers

Release info:

1990—A & M, Germany—395 298-2

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended. (Dirk.Kastens@rz.Uni-Osnabrueck.DE)

Group members:

Mick Karn, Jamie Lane, Don Freeman, Steve Jansen, Pino Palladino, Manu Katche

Comments:

Ick poo. (I_SW@zis.ziff.com)

Square the Circle

Release info:

(?)1992

Comments:

MUCH better than Hearts and Flowers. She's been growing in a different direction for awhile now, and if you didn't like Sleight of Hand, maybe you should stick to the stuff you do like. (I_SW@zis.ziff.com)

What's Inside

Release info:

1995—RCA

Availability:

Wide

Comments:

Joan's like a veteran baseball player who has experienced many fine seasons in the past, but has not made a splash of note lately. Then boom, a career season—comeback player of the year, MVP, Cy Young. That's how I feel about What's Inside. (jsutton@rahul.net)

Lovers Speak

Release info:

2003—Denon

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

Very, very good. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

This Charming Life

Release info:

2010—SLG—FTN 17760

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Joan Armatrading—all vocals and all instruments except drums and percussion

Guest artists:

Miles Bould—drums, percussion

Produced by:

Joan Armatrading

Comments:

I'm not a fan, but this was a very pleasant surprise. Sharp, spikey and full of fun, she performs on pretty much every instrument herself but the sound is still full and funky. I'd rate it up there with her best, with the shouty chorus of "Best Dress On" as a highlight, and recommend it highly. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

Further info:

DVDs

Joan Armatrading released Deluxe Into the Blues DVD in 2008. She appears in the following DVDs:

  • Harry Whittaker Sheppard DVD taped on May 9, 1988
  • The Old Grey Whistle Test. Vol. 2 (2006)
  • Saturday Night Live: The Complete Second Season, 1976–1977 (2007)
  • The Secret Policeman's Balls (2009)
BOOKS

Joan Armatrading is featured in numerous books, including:

  • Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music (1999)
  • She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll by Gillian G. Gaar (2002)
  • I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters on Their Craft by LaShonda Katrice Barnett (2007)
OTHER RECORDINGS

Compilation work includes:

  • "Flight of the Wild Geese"* on The Wild Geese soundtrack (1978)
  • a live version of "Reach Out"* on The Prince's Trust 10th Anniversary Birthday Party (1987)
  • "Willow"* on the Boys on the Side soundtrack (1995)
  • "Angels From the Realms of Glory"* on The Carols of Christmas, Vol. II (1997)
  • "I Can't Lie to Myself" on Sly & Robbie's album Ultimate Collection: In Good Company (2001)
  • "The Weakness in Me" on The L Word soundtrack (2004)
  • "Drop the Pilot" on New Waves (2005)
  • "In These Times (The Concord Mix)"* on Songs for Tibet: The Art of Peace (2008)
  • "What Do Boys Dream?" on Action (2010)
*Track otherwise unavailable.

Collaborations include:

COVERS OF HER WORK

Joan Armatrading's songs have been covered by numerous artists, including:

  • "Visionary Mountains" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band on their album Nightingales & Bombers (1975)
  • "Opportunity" by Bobby McFerrin on his album Spontaneous Inventions (1986)
  • "The Weakness in Me" by Thelonious Monster on their album Beautiful Mess (1992)
  • "Drop the Pilot" by Mandy Moore on her album Coverage (2003)
  • "Save Me" by Susheela Raman on her album Love Trap (2003)
  • "Rosie" by Charlie Dée on her album Where Do Girls Come From (2006)
  • "Show Some Emotion" by Vicki Genfan on her album UnCovered (2008)
  • "The Weakness in Me" by Maura O'Connell on her album Naked with Friends (2009)


Thanks to Chris Montville and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2017-10-14 13:08:09.
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