Joan Armatrading BBC 4 TV Documentary

Look out for the documentary on Joan on the 27th of September at 9pm on BBC 4 television.

It will be available on this date and also on catch up on BBC iPlayer after the transmission.

Joan Armatrading is one the most influential singer-songwriters in Britain. A national icon, she is known for her singular vision as a writer and performer. She has performed around the world to sell out stadiums, releasing records and touring almost constantly from the early 70s to the present day.

In this documentary we hear from Joan about her self-belief, and her unique ability to craft songs that have spoken to millions. Joan has for the first time granted access to her life and music. In this film we hear her story from Caribbean émigré to being one of the most revered songwriters of our generation.

The film covers Joan’s childhood growing up in Birmingham, and how she began writing songs from a young age. Joan would meet key people in life when she joined love rock musical Hair in 1968. She would leave home to go on tour and forge a musical partnership with songwriter Pam Nestor. Their collaboration would lead to a major record deal and an opportunity to work with Elton John’s producer, Gus Dudgeon. The album, Whatever’s For Us would receive rave reviews and chime with the burgeoning song writing movement happening on the west coast of America. The album would also signify a new energy and freedom that was taking shape in the seventies in Britain among the black population. Joan would be propelled into the musical stratosphere, signing with major American label A+M for over ten years. She would embark on creating her own genre of song- writing, defying stereotype and breaking barriers, becoming one of the first black singer songwriters in Britain.

Joan would later forge an unbeatable dynamic with rock producer Glyn Johns, who had produced seminal albums with The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and The Who. She would break the mould and create one of the most loved and iconic songs of the 70s – writing Love and Affection at just 26 in 1976. A song that took simple emotional fragility and made it somehow both sensuous and raunchy, at a time when many people in the UK felt far away from love and amorous feelings.

Joan would go on to make three more hit albums in three years with Glyn and her music would become anthemic to the growing feminist movement which had been gathering pace since the early seventies. Despite her gold records and international status, and touring worldwide, Joan would have to overcome misogyny in the music studio and fight racism she encountered in the music business.

In 1978, Bob Dylan would ask her to play his festival BlackBushe, Joan the only woman on the bill would play alongside rock gods such as Eric Clapton. Ask her how she felt, being up there and you’ll hear Joan’s fearlessness: “The Rock Gods don’t scare me!” This film shows the determination and strength that has got Joan Armatrading to where she is today.

By the Eighties Joan would refuse to be pigeon holed into a seventies guitar sound and she would diversify her style, experimenting with synths and finding a new direction to create music without a producer. Alongside this Joan would also be one of the first British black musicians to appear on MTV, creating innovative music videos and capturing the imagination of younger artists in the States who had never seen a British Black woman play and sing like her before.

Joan would be nominated for a Grammy three times, one of which would be for the song How Cruel, a song that articulated the racism that the British Black population was encountering in the UK. Notably it would highlight to White Britain the issues facing the Black community and it would show African Americans that the same problems with race were happening across the pond.

Songs like Me Myself I and Drop the Pilot would become hits overnight in the 1980s and they would show Joan’s consummate song writing ability. Joan by the late eighties would be one of the first women to write, arrange and produce all her albums, building a music studio at her home and working with the likes of Elton John, Pino Palladino and Mark Knopfler.

Alongside unprecedented access to Joan, watching her play a sold-out tour, the film features exclusive, previously unseen archive, and interviews with key collaborators from music producers Glyn Johns and Steve Lillywhite, to musician Pino Palladino. The film also features interviews and unique cover versions of Joan’s songs, from Martha Wainwright, singing Me Myself I, to Meshell Negeocello, covering How Cruel, and Shingai (Noisettes), performing Love and Affection.

The mark of a master is how easy they make it all seem to the rest of us. This is the story of a British icon, the enigmatic Joan Armatrading.

 

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