Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Sun Dec 7
Joan Armatrading burst on to the music scene in the mid seventies as a black woman who didn’t sound like a typical black singer. She had a unique sense of melody and phrasing that was all her own. Born in the West Indies, she moved to Birmingham in the UK at the age of 7. I, like millions of others, was smitten by her self-titled breakthrough album in 1976, and after her performance at The Gov here in Adelaide, I’m still smitten.
Her music crosses an extraordinary range of styles – folk, pop, rock, blues, jazz – and while she is equally at home in all of them, she doesn’t actually belong in any of them. Joan Armatrading is one of those rare artists who simply sounds like herself. Whatever style she is experimenting with, she dances on the edges of it. So you get her interpretation of blues; her interpretation of jazz. Except perhaps for rock; when she veers down the rock path she, surprisingly, is a classic rocker. A couple of guitar solos sounded quite Hendrix-esque. And then she’s just as likely to follow that up with a soft melodic ballad on piano.
Armatrading took us through a representative sample of a musical canon that spans four decades. There were plenty of her best known numbers – Me Myself I, Drop The Pilot, Love And Affection, All The Way From America and a selection of songs from her more recent forays into jazz and blues influenced offerings.
From the outset she was gracious and witty. I loved the way she paused at the conclusion of each song long enough to allow us to show our appreciation, and for us to see her smile warmly in enjoyment of the moment. Quite endearing.
Midway through her performance we were treated to a slide show of her career highlights – musical and personal. It felt like we were in her lounge room at home sharing precious memories. It was a nice touch.
Several songs featured pre-recorded parts to fill out the sound. At times this worked really well. It allowed her to play nifty jazz lead parts on songs like Stepping Out, and have us enjoy the brass embellishment on the classic Love And Affection. She told us she’s played this song in every concert she’s ever played, and you can see why; it is indeed a classic. (“Sing me another love song but this time with a little dedication.”) On other songs like the reggae influenced Rosie I found the extra overlay intrusive.
Drop The Pilot was very funky, and Me Myself I once again revealed Joan the rocker. She finished with the gentle Willow, and invited the audience to join in. We all sent ourselves home singing in unison as Joan sat, smiling again, at the keyboard.
It was a privilege to finally see Joan Armatrading in person. She’s still pushing boundaries and her voice still sounds as rich and mellifluous as it ever did. Like ‘massage for the brain’ someone commented. Swapping seamlessly between electric guitar, piano and her trademark 12-string Ovation, she generously shared forty years of original music and few were disappointed. Most in fact were rapt.
by Michael Coghlan