Since emerging from Birmingham in the early ’70s, Joan Armatrading has established herself as a consummate songwriter. Her mainstream chart hits, such as the enduring Love And Affection, Drop The Pilot, Down To Zero, and Me Myself I, tell just part of her story as her career spans singer-songwriter, pop, jazz and blues genres.
Her much anticipated headline appearance at Towersey Festival (Sunday 30 August 2015) is part of her ‘final solo world tour’, a mammoth global trek lasting over a year. We recently caught up with her between dates.
How’s the tour going?
I’m just used to doing long tours, my tours have always been long. That’s why I’ve been saying that this will be my last major tour. It’s not my last – but my last major tour. I’ll still do short tours, of six months, but not those longer ones of 12-18 months. After this tour, I’ll be 65, and I don’t want to be not working, but these non-stop tour… they can be pretty intense, tough that’s how all my tours have been since I started. I still enjoy playing. Touring can be gruelling, moving about all the time, but if I didn’t enjoy performing, I wouldn’t do it. The performing makes it.
What have been some of the highlights …?
All the shows have been highlights. Every night is a highlight, really. I’ve enjoyed all the shows.
Some artists like to hit the gym before they go on massive tours, to make sure they’re fit. For example, I know that Gene Pitney used to like to swim regularly before he hit the road. Do you have a regime?
I’ve always been fit and healthy. It’s only when I have a cold that I find it hard to sing. I can sing every day for a year without a problem. It’s very difficult it get people to understand that it’s only when I get a cold gets in the way. I can sing for days. If you look at the tour dates, I’m not playing days here and there, my routine is 4-8 days in a row, and then a day off. I might do four days, then have a day off, or it might be five, or six, seven of eight days in a row, and then a day off, and then another four, eight days. I’m absolutely fine. I’m healthy all the time.
When you’re writing, is it the music first or the lyrics?
It’s both. Sometimes it’s the lyrics, sometimes it’s the music, sometimes it’s on guitar, sometimes it’s piano, sometimes it’s a riff, sometimes it’s a melody, it just depends. There’s no set way I write, it does just depend …
I presume you get a lot of people calling out for particular songs – do you take heed of them? Would you drop in a request?
No, I don’t change the set for the audience. It’d be disastrous! You have to give people a show, you have to have dynamics, you have to have a structure, otherwise it’d just be chaos.
What’s the spread of material we can expect to hear at Towersey Festival?
There are songs from as many different albums as I can include. Sometimes you think, I’ll put that in a show, but it may not work alongside another song. You always think of the show as it’s the songs that make the show. So there are songs from lots of different albums. The last tour I did with a band, we had three different set-lists – A, B and C – and we played mostly A, because set A had all the sings in to make a good, dynamic show. Set B didn’t have the same shape, and when you got to set C, it was the same thing. I don’t want to give myself a headache [with different set-lists], I have enough pressure on my own! [laughs]
You’ve said you’re writing constantly, have you been writing on tour? Is there a new album coming?
There will be a new album, but once I finish touring. I don’t write on tour as touring takes up the whole of my concentration. Sure, I write down ideas, but I don’t tend to write on the road. (I Love It When You) Call Me Names [opening track from 1983’s The Key] is the only song that I’ve written completely on the road. As soon as the tour’s over though, I’ll be itching to write!
Will there be a live album or DVD from this tour?
If it records well, yes. If not, no [laughs]. So we’ll see …
Your work spans so many genres, including recently blues and jazz – any thoughts on what direction a new album may take?
I’ll have to wait and see myself what will happen. I’m not thinking about that while on a tour that’s long and arduous, there’s no time to think about anything else other than that.
Do you have a favourite guitar on this tour?
I’m using a Variax, a James Tyler Variax, which is an incredible guitar, it lets you have different tunings and sounds – you can have a jazz sound, a Fender [Telecaster] sound, a Stratocaster sound – and it lets you choose tunings. I play mostly in a normal tuning [EADGBE], but it allows you to drop tuning at the flip of a switch, and you can play in open tunings. It’s a very very good quality guitar.
Joan Armatrading appears at Towersey Festival on Sunday 30 August 2015. Adult Day Tickets £40 (Youth £28, Child £18, U5 free); Adult Weekend Tickets £135 (conc £110, Youth £95, Child £55, U5 free).
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