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Joan Armatrading, Gig Review.

When a musician of the legendary status decides to announce the last days of major touring, the polite thing to do is to go and watch a marvel say their goodbyes somewhere, anywhere, on tour. For someone of the quality and assurance of Joan Armatrading, the decent and respectable thing to do is to turn up and be quiet apart from the large spontaneous applause at the end of each song. To generally bask in an absolute legend and trail blazer who came through the ranks and became a much admired figure, even with the still dreadful race relations that haunted 70s Britain.

Joan Armatrading has graced the Liverpool stage many times, but none perhaps as important as this, her final ever major world tour, some announcements just don’t seem right, some don’t sit well in the stomach of the fan. However, as Joan Armatrading played out her evening, the applause getting longer between songs, the humour and the smile getting broader, for those in the Philharmonic Hall, the music of the night would at least carry them home in good spirits.

For 40 years Ms. Armatrading has thrilled audiences to the point of jubilation and utter delight. Her voice has carried many over the threshold of insecurity and delivered them into soft, warm arms, ready to embrace and be kept safe. Yet perhaps for many in the aisles and in the boxes, this was the true moment of a distinguished career. The acid test and the defining section all rolled into one musical ball, whether the humour would hold up, the voice would play its part, after all she had already pointed out that this tour was well over the hundred mark, and whether the crowd could cope with not seeing her as often as they would like.

The set itself was long, beautifully so. The stage almost minimalistic, a token aspect to the important figure of the musician and the only instruments on stage were three guitars, one piano and the tool of her trade, her sublime voice. With just this in mind, tracks such as the opener City Girl, the sensational More Than One Kind of Love, the beating, pulsating, All the Way From America, In These Times, Down To Zero, The Weakness in Me, the eagerly awaited Love and Affection, Drop the Pilot and Willow were given the respect, the due deference, that songs that have withstood fashion and changing times, dictates.

For Joan Armatrading, the emotions of the night would have arguably caught up with her the moment she left the Philharmonic stage, they would have been understandable, for its not everywhere that gives a musician such a respectfully charged standing ovation when the night is over.

If this is goodbye for some fans who would not be able to make the evenings ahead then Joan Armatrading could not have asked for anymore from her audience on the night and they certainly could have asked no more of her.

A fantastic night filled with images of the past, music that lives in the ever constant present and all delivered by a woman for all seasons. This is not goodbye, not by a long chalk, it is more of celebration of what has been so far. Tremendous!

Arts journalists Mandy Morton and Nicola Upson review
Joan Armatrading on the Eclectic Light Show on Cambridge105 fm in October 2014
at The Key Theatre in Peterborough.

Joan Armatrading walks on to thunderous applause, a huge grin stretching right across her face. “I actually came out here to do something, but I’ve forgotten what it is,” she frets, gazing around the stage. “Somebody told me that’s what old people do.”

It’s the first of many jokes from a performer who, at 64 and with nothing left to prove, can enjoy a chuckle at her own expense. The Caribbean-born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter is on the 106th show of her “final major world tour”, and after three numbers claims that she is already so tired that “this is the last song”. The audience roars, because when she sings, her voice is ageless: she can still reach the high notes of her youth and is clearly bowing out of intensive touring with her famous powers undiminished.

Alone with a guitar and keyboard – with occasional pre-recorded enhancements - the well-chosen set list reflects a remarkable career. She flits from folk to rock to raw blues to even quasi-heavy metal, proud songs with themes of dignity, empathy and “a sense of self”. The protest song In These Times – accompanied by images of the Ku Klux Klan – is a particularly powerful moment.

The banter returns as she introduces old photographs of herself: getting her MBE, meeting Mandela and – not least – being immortalised in the Beano. Love and Affection receives a standing ovation, 1983 hit Drop the Pilot is slightly messy, but is soon forgotten as the audience form an impromptu choir for an ethereal, lovely Willow.

Armatrading eschews the encore ritual and instead remains on stage, savouring the moment as the crowd holler for more. Still, after 42 years and a magical 90 minutes, she’s more than earned it.

The Guardian Manchester

Yet again St David’s Hall is delivering to a packed auditorium the shows people want to see, the excitement and anticipation for Joan Armatrading tonight flowed up from the front to the top of the hall as people found their seats and made themselves comfortable as they knew they were going to be entertained.

Before Joan we were entertained by an Electro-acoustic guitar duo Rich Lown and Robin Hirschfeld, who were back supporting Joan Armatrading in Cardiff with a mix of electric taking the lead and acoustic guitars and self-penned numbers, this was an act that entertained warmed the acoustics in the hall ready for the main act. The audience was pleased with what they heard and they certainly musically entertained

There was an eager anticipation and the low rumble of chatter as everyone waited for the house lights at St David’s Hall to dim and Joan Armatrading step on the stage and entertain Cardiff once again the performance including elements of pre-recorded material which Joan had prepared in advance and according to the statement would add colour and shape to the performance. Tonight is part of Joan’s final world tour and the first as a solo act. The stage was set and Joan stepped onto the stage to tumultuous applause. It was a happy, chatty Joan who introduced herself, joked with the audience and raised the excitement even further before a first note was struck. She told us it would be good to do a track from every album, but not tonight with that she delivered a number from 1972 City Girl, with a video backdrop of city lights, this was going to be an evening of pure unadulterated joyous entertainment. The repartee between her and the audience continued as before the third song and she sat behind her piano said you have been the best audience, I am feeling tired so More Than One Kind Of Love, will be my final number, the confidence to play with the audience was as harmonious as the music being played. She used her voice as another instrument in perfect synchronization with the piano keys and then she soared above the piano notes like the pipes of an organ being opened up.

he next track we heard the melodious 12-string guitar that was full of glorious chords and augmented her contralto voice on All The Way From America; the audience were happy it felt as if an old friend had popped round for a chat and played some of your favourite tunes to you.

Every track she played worked in the solo format and the added backing really gave the performance texture, but the reality was all that really was required was Joan’s bubbly personality, perfect stage craft combined with strong vocals and her ever underrated guitar playing that mixes rock, blues and jazz using the tempo that suits the track being played. In the solo format these skills shine and Joan met the challenge and more and the interlude of backing photo’s as a scrap-book from her life as she picked out highlights provided an insight into this talented and popular entertainer.

s we paused she picked up the guitar and delivered an array of hits from 1972 to the present day with many albums being showcased as her dexterous fingers drove the guitar to bend the sound to her command as on Kissin’ and Huggin’ with some perfect jazz and then a contrasting bluesy number Empty Highway from her Grammy nominated album Into The blues with its mix of simplicity and deep and meaningful playing and the story unfolded in a perfect video backdrop.
All too soon the show had to end Joan stayed on stage to enjoy the spontaneous rousing standing ovation and then one of the highlights of the evening Willow with a meaningful solo interpretation of this classic number.

This is the third show since Joan had to take a short break in her final world tour and there was no doubt that she was on fine form; and let’s hope we have some more solo outings to enjoy despite this being a world tour.

Set List
City Girl (Album: Whatever’s for Us 1972)
Promise Land (Album: Hearts and Flowers 1990)
More Than one kind of love (Album: Hearts and Flowers 1990)
All the way from America (Album: Me myself and I 1980)
In these times (Album: Lovers Speak 2003)
Mama Mercy (Album: Show Some Emotion 1977)
My baby’s gone (Album: Into The Blues 2007)
Down to zero (Album: Joan Armatrading 1976)
Steppin’ out (Album: Steppin’ Out 1979)
Kissin’ and a huggin’ (Album: Show Some Emotion 1977)
The weakness in me (Album: Walk Under Ladders 1981)
Empty highway (Album Into The Blues 2007)
Woncha come on home (Album: Show Some Emotion 1977)
Love and affection (Album: Joan Armatrading 1976)
Rosie (Album: All the Way From America 2004)
Me myself and I (Album: Me myself and I 1980)
Drop the pilot (Album: The Key 1983)

Encore
Willow (Album: Show Some Emotion 1977)

Joan Armatrading

★★★★✩

PHOTO albums are special no matter who you are. They hold such precious memories, snapshots of loved ones and cherished places. But then there's another league of photo album and that's Joan Armatrading's incredible snapshots from across her lengthy career. With quiet pride she stood centre stage as huge images from her high flying photo album showed just quite what high regard she's held in. Dancing with Paul McCartney, singing alongside Elton John, sharing a joke with Nelson Mandela, as well as her delighted smile at accepting her MBE, her picture in the National Portrait Gallery and an iconic African-inspired snap taken by none other than Lord Snowdon were just some of the gems.

This is a woman whose extraordinary talent has taken her to some high-up places and who shows no sign of slowing down. She's adored by her fans who cheered her on stage, clapped loudly as she introduced songs before even singing a note and who gave her a standing ovation to leave the stage. The warmth of the crowd is mirrored by her own good natured lively, dry humour. Throwing jokes into the mix between songs she seemed almost ageless as she grabbed her guitars for frenzied riffs, followed by laments on her keyboard, wandering around the stage as easily as if it were her own living room, she was completely at ease.

She's recently been ill and had to reschedule some shows, her Bristol performance was her third gig back after recovering but other than a perhaps more throaty voice than usual, she seemed totally in her stride. A varied set list mixed up some of her earlier pieces from back in 1972, kicking off with City Girl for a relaxed comfortable beginning, showing off her unique, strong voice, rich in experience with a hint of gravel and at times with almost a gospel feel to it. She got toes tapping to All The Way From America and pulled at the heartstrings with a deeply powerful song in In These Times. Mamma Mercy offered an uptempo piece, performed with attack and peppered with higher pitch offerings of just what her varied vocal can do. There was a hint of rock to My Baby's Gone which was full of musical variety with twists and turns. She played Down To Zero, while Kissin' and a Huggin' had a jazz, rock and blues feel all thrown in. The Weakness In Me earned her enormous applause with a heartfelt song with a strong storytelling element and her much-loved favourite Love and Affection couldn't have been better received.

She's a gutsy performer with soul who exudes a down-to-earth charm that has endured across more than 40 years. Her fans adore her and with such a fantastic solo show, it's easy to see why she's still selling out venues after all this time.

The clue, really, was on the ticket — Joan Armatrading. Not Joan Armatrading and band; no, just Joan Armatrading. And so that was the show — 90 minutes of one woman, three guitars and an electric piano.

And it was a bloody good show. “What I thought I would do is play a song from every album,” Armatrading told a delighted full house at Auckland’s Town Hall. “Yeah, but that’s not going to happen.” Instead she played an 18-song set that spanned her 36-year career.

She opened with City Girl, from her 1972 debut album Whatever’s For Us, followed by Promised Land, from 1990’s Hearts And Flowers. She played alone, one woman with an electric guitar, on a stage with nothing but a projector screen displaying images to accompany the songs. That’s all she needed. On Promised Land her guitar chimed and her voice soared. On the outstanding Mercy Mama, she switched to a black Ovation 12-string acoustic which she thrashed soundly it might need armour-plating, playing it almost as much as a percussion as a stringed instrument, the power and the energy in her right hand quite remarkable.

The electric guitar returned for My Baby’s Gone, pleasingly dirty slide-guitar blues which served to remind that Armatrading, while usually pigeonholed in the largely-meaningless “singer-songwriter” category, is in fact a quite accomplished musician. She played, as has been noted, acoustic guitar with such raw fire and passion that a guitar tech appeared from the wings at the end of each song to disappear stage right with whichever instrument Armatrading had just played, presumably to re-tune it. But her playing had depth and detail as well as force; 1975’s Steppin’ Out featured both power and detail to remarkable effect. Kissin’ And A-Huggin, from the 1977 album Show Some Emotion, remained a jazzy number, but, shoehorned slightly into the middle was another exceptional bit of blues picking. It didn’t quite entirely fit into the context of the song, but it sounded good enough that, really, nobody cared.

Armatrading revisited her recent Into The Blues album for Empty Highway, a simple but highly effective blues wail. There was too much reverb on her electric guitar, and her voice could have stood to be higher in the mix, but it didn’t matter. On songs like this, everything came together — her rich, powerful voice, with a range and a depth that other singers would cheerfully kill for, cut through the guitar line and drove the song with clarity and richness, a thing of beauty.  There were moments, such as Woncha Come On Home, when Armatrading’s voice started to show — very slightly, now, but the signs were there — a little bit of weakness in some of the higher registers, but the delicate, beautiful electric-guitar fingerpicking that accompanied more than compensated.

The show was a solo performance, but we were told at the beginning that “elements of tonight’s concert have been pre-recorded by Joan especially for this evening to bring added colour and depth to the performance.” This translated to string accompaniments in All The Way From America, or electric piano on Mercy Mama, but for the most part, this was Joan Armatrading, solo, no backing, and it was good.

This show was billed as Joan Armatrading’s farewell tour, and a message projected on the screen behind the stage before the show told us that this would be her “last major world tour.” The slideshow she presented, then, half-way through the concert, could have been read as self-indulgent and pretentious, but Armatrading, a wonderfully charming stage presence with just a hint of shyness, managed to make it a quite delightful moment that told the story of her career in five minutes. Not that the audience particularly needed reminding of her career; most of the crowd, largely middle-aged, middle-class and white, clearly had the greatest affection for Armatrading, and Love And Affection, her first big hit from 1976, was met with huge cheers and some slightly embarrassing middle-aged white-man chair-dancing and air guitar, and a standing ovation at the end — the first time since Armatrading had walked onto the stage that the audience were on their feet.

The show ended with a brisk trot through Armatrading’s hits. Rosie, all chopped electric guitar and threatening-to-become-reggae joy, was followed by the big, crunching power chords of Drop The Pilot and dancing in the aisles. My Myself I featured a technically superb, but ultimately somewhat gratuitous and unnecessary, overdriven electric guitar break. And then, as the audience cheered, Armatrading announced the end of the show. “You’ve all been to concerts before,” she said, you know what’s coming. “But I’m just going to stand here and enjoy what I’d be listening to over there in the wings.” And she did just that, smiling as her audience — at this stage they were, quite unmistakably, hers — cheered and applauded. One last song for an encore, she sat at her keyboard for Willow, a crowd-pleaser since it first appeared on Show Some Emotion in 1977. She told the audience she’d be taking a break for the last couple of verses, and the thousand-strong crowd sang the song for her.

New Zealand will likely never see Joan Armatrading play live again. This was, after all, her Farewell Tour, and she’s 64 years old already. On the strength of tonight’s show, it’s definitely Auckland’s loss.

 

Governor Hindmarsh Hotel

Ladies & Gentlemen… The Gracious, Witty And Extraordinarily Talented Ms Joan Armatrading – Live Music Review

 

Joan Armatrading burst on to the music scene in the mid seventies as a black woman who didn’t sound like a typical black singer. She had a unique sense of melody and phrasing that was all her own. Born in the West Indies, she moved to Birmingham in the UK at the age of 7. I, like millions of others, was smitten by her self-titled breakthrough album in 1976, and after her performance at The Gov here in Adelaide, I’m still smitten.

Her music crosses an extraordinary range of styles – folk, pop, rock, blues, jazz – and while she is equally at home in all of them, she doesn’t actually belong in any of them. Joan Armatrading is one of those rare artists who simply sounds like herself. Whatever style she is experimenting with, she dances on the edges of it. So you get her interpretation of blues; her interpretation of jazz. Except perhaps for rock; when she veers down the rock path she, surprisingly, is a classic rocker. A couple of guitar solos sounded quite Hendrix-esque. And then she’s just as likely to follow that up with a soft melodic ballad on piano. 

Armatrading took us through a representative sample of a musical canon that spans four decades. There were plenty of her best known numbers – MeMyself I, Drop The Pilot, Love And Affection, All The Way From America and a selection of songs from her more recent forays into jazz and blues influenced offerings.

From the outset she was gracious and witty. I loved the way she paused at the conclusion of each song long enough to allow us to show our appreciation, and for us to see her smile warmly in enjoyment of the moment. Quite endearing.

Midway through her performance we were treated to a slide show of her career highlights – musical and personal. It felt like we were in her lounge room at home sharing precious memories. It was a nice touch.

Several songs featured pre-recorded parts to fill out the sound. At times this worked really well. It allowed her to play nifty jazz lead parts on songs like Stepping Out, and have us enjoy the brass embellishment on the classic Love And Affection. She told us she’s played this song in every concert she’s ever played, and you can see why; it is indeed a classic. (“Sing me another love song but this time with a little dedication.”) On other songs like the reggae influenced Rosie I found the extra overlay intrusive.

Drop The Pilot was very funky, and Me Myself I once again revealed Joan the rocker. She finished with the gentle Willow, and invited the audience to join in. We all sent ourselves home singing in unison as Joan sat, smiling again, at the keyboard.

It was a privilege to finally see Joan Armatrading in person. She’s still pushing boundaries and her voice still sounds as rich and mellifluous as it ever did. Like ‘massage for the brain’ someone commented. Swapping seamlessly between electric guitar, piano and her trademark 12-string Ovation, she generously shared forty years of original music and few were disappointed. Most in fact were rapt.



Joan Armatrading's music is like an old and trusted friend.
Her contralto voice contributed greatly to the soundtrack of my student days of the mid 1970s as I battled to get to grips with organic chemistry synthetic pathways, listening to BRMB legend Robin Volk playing her early albums through my tiny transistor radio.

Since then, as is often the way, I've often lost track of her but she would always eventually pop back into my consciousness and we would 'catch up', as old friends do.

With the announcement recently of her final tour it was only right that I, and quite a few more 'old friends' should go along to Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre on Sunday evening to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.
And what a way to say goodbye to touring! Playing completely solo for the first time, Joan treated her adoring fans to wonderful versions of some of her most popular and endearing songs, such as Drop The Pilot, Me Myself I, Love And Affection, and All The Way From America.

Accompanying herself on either guitar or piano, Joan showed what an accomplished musician she is as well as possessing a truly original voice and wonderful songwriting skills.

Her guitar playing has always, it seems, been underrated but Joan clearly demonstrated that she can hold her own in comparison to many of the more recognised rock and blues guitarists.

The intimate nature of the evening was further enhanced when, midway through her set, Joan paused to share some stories of her long career illustrated by old photographs. Just as friends do.

The climax of the set was a beautiful rendition of Willow with the audience gently singing along. An emotional moment for everyone.
Joan has no plans to retire from music but is unlikely to tour again so this was one of her very last appearance on stage here in the West Midlands.

There is one further opportunity to see her in March next year at Birmingham Town Hall. My advice would be to make sure you are there. It would be a pity to miss it.

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