Thursday, 19 March 2015

Joan Armatrading

The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh - Thursday 19th March

Over her 42 years of recording and touring, Joan Armatrading has never done a solo world tour. For this, billed as her last major tour, she has decided to do a series of intimate, small venue, solo concerts, and The Queen's Hall is the ideal venue for this type of gig.

She 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. "People tell me that’s what happens when you get old."
It’s the first of many jokes from a seasoned performer who seems to be really enjoying these smaller solo gigs. 

The stage is sparsely furnished, 3 guitars on stands, one keyboard and a small screen to host rolling videos or photographs. No mike stands, she's wearing a wireless head mike. Armatrading looks relaxed and chats easily with the audience.

"I was thinking that I might play a song from each of my albums" she says, "but with 20 albums that's not going to happen." However she says "But I will be playing a selection of songs that cover my career" and she kicks off with City Girl.

Her voice is strong, and the guitar is excellent, both in timbre and her ability. More amazing guitar work was to follow and I have to admit to being surprised and impressed at her guitar skills. 

The Caribbean-born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter tells us that she is on the 112th show of her “final major world tour”, and after the second number Promise Land, she 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. She's joking of course, and begins More Than One Kind of Love at the keyboard. The song has a beautiful organ gospel sound, and her voice is effortless. 

Returning to yet another guitar (the guitar-tech guy was kept busy all night, re-tuning and cleaning the strings of her 3 guitars) she plays a few chords of All The Way From America and receives a smattering of applause. She stops and says "So, some of you recognise this one - feel free to sing along. Don't join in if you don't know it" - big smile.

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 raw blues to some feedback filled rock with ease. These are timeless tunes and the song In These Times – accompanied by images of anti-war and apartheid protests interspersed with images of human love, is a particularly powerful moment.

Outside Ronnie Scott's in 1974
The banter returns as she introduces old photographs of herself: Posing outside Ronnie Scott's, getting her MBE, meeting Mandela and, not least, being immortalised in the Beano cartoon Tom, Dick and Sally. 

Despite joshing us earlier about not performing (probably) her biggest hit, Love and Affection receives a standing ovation, 1983 hit Rosie although wonderful to start, with sparse reggae guitar, is slightly messy, but is soon forgotten as she moves into Drop The Pilot and Me Myself I

Highlights for me are the blues slide guitar of My Baby's Gone, the jazz-blues excellence of Steppin' Out and the feedback fueled sections of Drop The Pilot.

Armatrading eschews the encore ritual and instead remains on stage, savouring the moment as the crowd stamp and cheer for more. Still smiling, she says jokingly "Wow, I didn't expect that. That came out of the blue!" 

The "encore" is Willow and the audience, shy to start, soon form an enthusiastic choir to finish a wonderful set.

Setlist: City Girl 
Promise Land 
More Than One Kind of Love
All the Way From America 
In These Times 
Mama Mercy 
My Baby's Gone 
Down To Zero 
Steppin' Out 
The Weakness in Me 
Empty Highway 
Woncha Come Home 
Love And Affection 
Drop The Pilot 
Me Myself I 
-- encore --

The Support Act was:

Adriana Spina

Local girl Adriana told us that Armatrading has always supported new music and local talent. For her 2012 Starlight tour she invited 56 singer–songwriters/artists to open for her in their respective home towns. In this series of concerts, 8 of those support acts were chosen to support her in the UK. She said she is honoured to be one of the 8 and has been Aramtrading's support in Ayr, Dunfermline, Inverness, Perth, Arbroath and Aberdeen. Tonight is Edinburgh and tomorrow Glasgow.

Adriana Spina

Spina is relaxed and chatty, telling us she's from Livingston originally. "Is there anyone from Livi here tonight?" she receives a cheer.

Her voice is strong and she can strum and pick a mean guitar - you can tell immediately why she's been chosen to support Armatrading. The songs are well written, quite personal, some beautifully melodic and some are real up-tempo guitar numbers which you could imagine being performed with a full band.

She also plays a hear-wrenching cover of Woodstock, written by "One of my favourite songwriters" Joni Mitchell.

Highlights for me are Two Steps (a story of being on the road) , Fall (if you're friends with a songwriter don't ever tell them any secrets cos it'll end up in their songs) and the poignant Jeannie's Song written for her "wee Edinburgh Granny" on her 80th birthday "It's my turn to sing you a lullaby, it's my turn to keep you safe".

Her album Never Coming Home is available now and definitely well worth a listen.

Don't Recognise Me
Two Steps
The Same Drum
Jeannie's Song

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