A musical legend puts herself out there in the latter part of her career.
By Steve Houk
Recently, a friend of mine told me that when he was in college back in the 80’s, he went to his school’s coffee house one evening to see an unknown artist he wasn’t very familiar with, a woman by the name of Joan Armatrading. In no time, she transformed that non-descript little venue into a world class concert hall, mesmerizing my friend and everyone there with her very special talents, all right at the beginning of her illustrious career.
Well it’s 30 plus years later, and as far as transfixing audiences, not much has changed.
For an accomplished, world-renowned, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter like Armatrading, 64, there’s not much more she really needs to do to further cement her legend. Her songs are revered by everyone from my friend the everyman to the late Nelson Mandela, whom she once played for. So well respected that she was awarded an MBE in 2001, she speaks right to the heart with her songs, painting beautiful pictures of love, longing, loss and wonder all conveyed by her unique and emotive voice.
Armatrading lives and breathes her music, so even into her 60’s she wanted to keep touring, but was a bit weary of the endless dates and months on the road away from home. So she decided she would do one last major world tour, solo, just her and a guitar. Not that this would be an end to her touring, but it’d be the end to the grind of many dates in a row while traipsing all over the world.
“When I said to the people around me that I was going to do this tour on my own, they said, ‘But they’re used to seeing you with the band!’,” Armatrading told me while on a tour stop in Boston. “I think they were a little bit nervous about it. But I was really confident about myself, I know what I can do. And the response has been fantastic.”
The reviews for Armatrading’s Me Myself and I tour, which includes two sold-out stops at The Barns of Wolf Trap this month, have been raves, but the tour itself may appear like a departure for Armatrading given it’s not with her full band. But to her, playing them solo is how they were conceived so performing them solo seems very natural to her.
“What people have to remember is everything that they hear me sing, I’ve written,” Armatrading said. “And everything I’ve written I wrote either on the guitar or the piano. So I know these songs from this angle. It’s new to everybody else, but it’s not new to me. And I do different things every night to, well, keep myself entertained.”
And even though she may be trimming down her touring schedule, it’s not like Armatrading is slowing down, not on your life. So what will she be doing after that last show at the UK’s Bangor Abbey in a few weeks?
“I’ll be writing!” Armatrading says, followed by her wonderful hearty laugh. “This is not a retirement, this is just about not doing such long tours. I just don’t want to be on the road for so long all the time, which is the way the tours in my career have always been. I’m actually itching to write, my mind is turning to the writing phase now, so I just jot down things. It’ll be something I’ve written once the tour’s finished. I don’t write on the road, there’s too much going on out on the road for me to write. But I’m a songwriter…why would I retire?!”