Joan Armatrading – I spoke to the talented songstress about her nearly 50-year career in music…
Only a few friends knew I was going to London to interview Joan Armatrading and they were all envious I was meeting up with such a talented singer songwriter.
I had met her once before, backstage at the Portsmouth Guildhall, in 2005. This time it was a day to remember. I’d just interviewed Annette Badland at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Millions remember her as Babe Smith in EastEnders, Charlotte the receptionist in Bergerac, Mrs Dooley in the Queen’s Nose and, most recently, Fleur Perkins in Midsomer Murders. She asked me where I was heading for next and became so excited when I said I was going to meet Joan Armatrading. Obviously, another great fan. Time was tight as I raced across London. I needed help and asked this tall and smartly dressed guy the way to an underground station. He was so helpful and as I hurried off I suddenly realised it was David Tennant.
On your last tour you did 235 concerts, which included America. This time it’s just over 50. What drives you on after 46 years in the music business?
Part of the reason is because the audiences keep coming and continue to buy my albums. My long career is down to them. I am also lucky that new people are coming to my shows all the time. I thrive on work
and give myself challenges all the time. I need to know I am doing something different every now and then. A lot of normal working people wait until they retire to take up the things they love. I’m doing it whilst I’m at work.
I know you moved to Birmingham from St Kitts when you were seven. I love your story of how you obtained your first guitar. Can you relive it for us?
My father played the guitar and I wanted my own. He wouldn’t let me play his and he hid it in the cellar, which had a door like a bank vault, so I had no chance of playing it. I saw one in a pawn shop window for £3. Mum said we haven’t got the money but we can swap it for these two old prams. That’s how I got it and I still have it. (Those two old prams have led to an amazing career).
Didn’t you write a song when you were just 14?
I did but I don’t remember anything about it. I know it was called When I Was Young. I can’t recall any of the words and I can’t think what there was to write about when I was just 14.
Music has been your life but early on I think you were keen on becoming a law student. Is this true?
Yes, I was very interested in the law but never really got anywhere with that. Music is what I was born to do and that’s why I’m here. I’m still interested in the law and am obsessed with the Judge Judy television show.
Gus Dudgeon produced your early albums. What was he like to work with?
He had worked with Elton John and was so good for me. He didn’t come in and say I’m a big deal producer. He recognised that I knew what I wanted and he made sure that happened. He really accepted my ideas in such a nice way and was not condescending at all. Gus was a great chap.
Did the album Joan Armatrading change your life?
Most definitely. It was my third album and contained Love and Affection, a song that is still so popular wherever I go. That was produced by Glyn Johns and, like Gus, he knew what I wanted.
You’ve been presented with so many awards in your life.You’ve won an Ivor Novello Award and a BASCA Gold Badge. You’ve had three Grammy nominations and two for Brit Awards. Were these special moments in your life?
You sometimes hear people say that they don’t care about awards and they don’t mean anything to them. I think they’re nice and everyone really wants to win one.
It means people appreciate what you do and I just feel it’s such an honour to be nominated.
You surprised many people when you ran the New York Marathon in 2008. Was that a good idea?
I was 58 when I ran that race and I raised £75,000 for charity. It was great and such a different way to see New York. You can never see it like that unless you are running. We were all waiting to start in the park at around 4am and it was freezing. When we got going it was just brilliant. Running past the finish line was such a wonderful feeling.
This current tour brings you to the Isle of Wight. Do you ever get much chance to look around?
We did drive around the Island on one of my previous visits and I really enjoyed it. I love playing Shanklin Theatre. The audiences are so good. So, I know I’m going to have a great time.
Tell me about your recent album, Not Too Far Away?
There are ten of my own songs on it. The theme is what I write about. How people connect with each other and how they express themselves to each other and their own emotions.
John’s full interview with Joan Armatrading can be heard on worldwide podcasts on all the major sites. There is a link from the IW Radio website.