This year’s Bluesfest at Byron Bay features a star studded line up and one of the brightest is definitely Joan Armatrading whose latest album, ‘Starlight’, is the third and final album in a trilogy of Blues, Rock and Jazz that Joan has recorded. The singer has lost count of the number of times she has been to Australia. She admits to not knowing the exact number but she obviously does like coming here and, judging by the fans who keep returning to see her shows around the country, the feeling is mutual.
This is also not the first time she has played at the Bluesfest. “I’ve performed there before,’’ she tells me. “It was fantastic and I am really looking forward to doing it again.”
Joan will be performing a mixture of songs on this tour. ‘’Some that people know very well, and songs that they might know but they never hear on the radio and, of course, the new songs as well, so it’s a really good mixture.”
The latest album, ‘Starlight’ is a jazz album and the third in a trilogy that covers three different genres. “The last three albums are a trilogy of blues, rock and jazz,” she explains. “And each of them just concentrates on a specific genre. I set out to write the trilogy. It’s a very deliberate concept. It was just a challenge to see if it is something I could do. It wasn’t easy. Even though I’ve written in all those genres on other albums throughout the years, to just stick to one (for an entire album) was a challenge. But I did the blues one and to my surprise, and to my delight I must say, I became the first UK female artist to debut at #1 in the blues charts and it actually got a Grammy as well. That was a big surprise for me. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that something like that would happen.”
So, out of those three genres, which one is most ‘Joan Armatrading’?
“I think they all are really,” she responds. “I could have chosen folk, country and reggae but I think the three I chose, I chose for a reason. I love rock. Rock is so uncomplicated but jazz is really complicated.”
Joan says that there was no particular artist or musical style that inspired her to write songs. “When I was young, my mother bought a piano and put it in the front room and that’s how I started writing. It wasn’t hearing whichever group or singer that got me into it. I don’t have a big record collection. I’m not a big buyer of music. I’m aware of music and I know what’s going on but, at the same time, I’m not constantly listening to music but I am constantly writing.”
Joan has played all the instruments on all the albums in this trilogy. “It’s something that I’ve been doing for a bit now and I enjoyed it. I’ve always kept up with technology and what has been happening at the time so nothing is a big shock. When music moved to computers, I moved to computers with it so I’m not just playing catch up.’’
You would think that, with all the pressures of touring and song writing, Ms Armatrading would have little time for anything else quite so demanding. However, the singer decided to challenge herself a little bit more and pursued a goal that she had long been dreaming of. She undertook to study for her BA in history, while still touring. I can imagine it wouldn’t have been an easy task to undertake in normal circumstances but juggling a university degree with hectic touring commitments?
“It wasn’t easy at all.’’ she admits. “Whichever country I was in, I would have to write the essay and post it in. Even though email was available back then, they wouldn’t let you use it so, whatever country I was in, I had to post my essays which meant I had to finish everything earlier than everyone else so they would arrive on time. It was quite difficult. I wasn’t able to go to lectures and keep up in that way. Nowadays, it is easier. You can do everything online and you can be anywhere you want to be with modern communication but when I was doing it, they weren’t quite ready for that. I loved doing it but it was pretty hard, going to the sound check, doing the gig and then do a bit after the gig or on the plane or the tour bus or whatever.” It was a hard slog but she did it. “And it’s an achievement I’m very proud of.” And rightly so.
“Someone said to me once ‘How did you do that? I wouldn’t even know how to do it!” and I told them ‘’Well, you have to start it and then finish it.’’ Advice we can all live by…
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved.
Joan Armatrading performs at Bluesfest on 28th and 29th March. For more details of this event as well as Joan’s other shows in Australia, please go to our Touring page.