STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Joan Armatrading’s musical career has stood the test of time. Despite the many changes that have occurred in the music business since she released her debut album “Whatever’s for Us” (Cube) in 1972, she has remained a vital performer and has maintained a loyal fan base. She celebrates her 40+ year musical career with the “Me Myself I” tour, which is of course named after her 1980 album (UMG Recordings) which spawned the hit single of the same name.
Last year Armatrading embarked on an 18-month tour that has taken her around the world. It is her first worldwide solo tour and it will be her last “major” tour.
“It’s (my) first time doing a world tour solo,” said Armatrading by phone from Amsterdam. “When I came to America the very first time I (performed) solo. I’ve done a couple of gigs in the U.K. on my own. That was 1973… But I’ve never toured all these other countries on my own so this is a first.”
Armatrading decided that it was the right time to celebrate her career. But she insists that her career is far from over.
“It’s not the final tour. I was quite careful (to) not say the final tour. It’s not that I’m retiring, and there’s no way on earth I would ever retire. There’s no need.
“This tour ends at the end of November. My birthday is December 9th and I will be 65. I decided (that) after 65 I don’t need or want to be on the road 18 months at a time nonstop. From now on (the tours) will be short; the absolute longest I would want to be on the road is a month.”
When asked why she decided to do such an extensive solo tour, Armatrading replied: “Because I’ve never done it, and since this is going to be the last time that I would tour in this way it made sense to make this the time to do it.”
Musically, of course, this is a very different experience for Armatrading.
“When I’m writing I hear all these different things in my head,” explained Armatrading. “I hear the bass parts, and what the drums have got to do, what the strings have got to do, what the keyboards have got to do, what the sax has got to do. Then I’m recording the arrangements that I’ve come up with, so I love to hear all of that. I love to hear it on the record and I love to hear it live. I enjoy listening to (the band members) showing off their talents. I love hearing the different things that they come up with every night and that I’ll come up with every night. I don’t like to hear the same thing all the time.
“The thing I really enjoy about being on stage on my own is I’ve enjoyed the arrangements that I’ve had to do. I had to rearrange the songs for that.”
When asked what she considers the best part of performing solo, Armatrading replied: “I think it’s all the best part, actually. I’ve realized how the audiences have enjoyed my playing. In a band sometimes I think people might miss that I’m a really good player because I’m in a band and I just become a part of it. On my own, people can see I’m a really good player. I’ve enjoyed the audiences’ reaction to that — It’s something that people have said to me for a long time. ‘We would love to see you just on your own.’ I’m really pleased that they wanted that and that it worked out.”
As for the material, Armatrading said it was “incredibly difficult” to come up with the set list from her catalog of 24 albums.
“It’s difficult all the time, anyway,” she added. “When I’m with a band it’s difficult because I’ll always choose the set list but the band will always say ‘well, can we do this one, can we do (that) one…’
“For some reason, even with a band certain songs just don’t seem to lend themselves to a live show. I had to (consider) how it will work live with just the solo thing and (if I can do) an arrangement that will work well live with just piano or guitar.
“I still have to make it a show because I want it to be a show. That is, to have some kind of momentum that goes with it. It took quite a while to come up with that definitive set list. Then once I had it and it was working it seemed to work straight away. I just stay with it. I don’t deviate. Some nights (I might) not play a particular song or something but I don’t deviate from (the set list) because the last tour I did I was working from four set lists. A, B, C, D, but I found we tended to play set A most times because that was the set that really worked. You will get a show with certain songs in that certain order that just really fits. Everything flows smoothly. You get the build and the dynamics you want throughout the show, and because that works well you’ll stick to it.”
How does Armatrading stay engaged playing the same songs night after night?
“I’m not (performing) exactly the same every night. Even if I sing some certain things the same way I’m not playing the same way. There’s enough difference for me. Certain solos might have to be the same but certain solos I can just improvise. If I did want to play it exactly the same I could because it’s new to every audience, but it has to stay fresh for me and that’s the way I keep it fresh.”
Armatrading says she is looking forward to heading home after such a long tour. But she’s not about to take a break from her career or rest on her laurels.
“I’m always trying to find new ways to do things, learn things, become a better player and a better writer,” she said. “After the tour finishes I’ll be writing and bringing out some new material. I’ll be recording until I die.”
IF YOU GO
What: Joan Armatrading with Marti Jones & Don Dixon
When: Concert is at 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 2.
Where: Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Ages: All ages.
Tickets:$39 – $69
Info.: Call (215) 572-7650 or check www.keswicktheatre.com. For more information on Armatrading, check www.joanarmatrading.com