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Joan Armatrading

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Joan Anita Barbara ArmatradingMBE (born 9 December 1950) is a British singer, songwriter and guitarist.[1] Armatrading is a three-time Grammy Award-nominee[2] and has been nominated twice for BRIT Awards as Best Female Artist. She also received an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection in 1996.[3] In a recording career spanning 40 years she has released a total of 18 studio albums, as well as several live albums and compilations.


Early life[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Joan Armatrading was born in 1950 in Basseterre on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts in 1950 as the third of six children.[4][5] Her mother was born in Antigua and her father was from Saint Kitts.[6] When she was three, her parents moved with their two eldest boys to Birmingham, England while Joan was sent to live with her grandmother on Antigua.[7] In early 1958 at the age of seven, she joined her parents in Brookfields,[6][8][9] then a slum district of Birmingham.[10] The area is now mostly demolished and has been absorbed into the district ofHandsworth.[11] Her father had played in a band in his youth, later forbidding his children from touching his guitar.[8] At about the age of 14, Armatrading began writing songs by setting her own limericks to music on a piano that her mother had purchased as "a piece of furniture".[4][9][12] Shortly thereafter her mother bought her a £3 guitar from a pawn shop in exchange for twoprams, and the younger Armatrading began teaching herself the instrument.[4][8]

She left school at the age of 15 to support her family,[4][5] and her first job was at Rabone Chesterman, an engineering tool manufacturer in Hockley, Birmingham. She lost the job after taking her guitar to work and playing it during tea-breaks.[13]

Career[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Late 1960s and 1970s[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Armatrading in concert in the early 1970s

Armatrading first performed in a concert at Birmingham University for her brother at the age of about 16. She only knew her own songs, but her brother asked her to perform something that would be familiar to the audience; she chose "The Sound of Silence".[8] She then performed her own songs around the local area with a friend from school, and played bass and rhythm guitarat local clubs.[7][14] In 1968, Armatrading joined a repertory production of the stage musical Hair.[7] There she met the lyricist Pam Nestor in 1970,[15] and they worked together on Armatrading's debut album Whatever's for Us, released by Cube Records in 1972.[16] Nestor wrote the lyrics to eleven of the fourteen songs on the album, while Armatrading wrote the lyrics to three of them, performed all the vocals, wrote all the music and played an array of instruments on the album. Although Nestor was credited as co-lyricist, Cube considered Armatrading to be the more likely star material. These events produced a tension which broke up the partnership.[citation needed]

On 28 November 1972 Armatrading appeared on the BBC Radio 1 John Peel Show performing "Head Of The Table", "Spend A Little Time", "Child Star" and "Whatever's For Us". She sang and played acoustic guitar and piano.[17] In 1973 Armatrading's first single "Lonely Lady" (with lyrics by Nestor), a song that had not been included on the album, was released by Cube on the Fly Label (catalogue: Bug 31). It was unsuccessful in the charts. A period of inactivity for Armatrading followed, while she extricated herself from her contract with Cube Records. The single was subsequently withdrawn by Cube and re-released as a promotional single in the US by Armatrading's new label A&M Records, the same year (as A&M1452). In January 1974 she appeared again on the John Peel Show. Performing "Some Sort Of Love Song", "Lonely Lady" and "Freedom", she again sang and played acoustic guitar and piano, but was accompanied by supporting musicians Snowy White (guitar), Mike Tomich (bass) and Brian Glassock (drums).[18]

In 1975, Armatrading was free to sign with A&M Records, and issued the album Back to the Night,[16] which was promoted on tour with a six-piece jazz-pop group called The Movies. Armatrading credited English singer Elkie Brooks on the sleeve notes as she had cooked for Armatrading and the band in the studio while they had been making the album, which was produced by Brooks' then husband Pete Gage. A major publicity relaunch in 1976 and the involvement of producer Glyn Johns propelled her next album, Joan Armatrading, into the Top 20 and spawned the Top 10 hit single "Love and Affection".[16] The album mixed acoustic work with jazz-influenced material, and this style was retained for the 1977 follow-up Show Some Emotion, also produced by Glyn Johns, as was 1978's To the Limit. These albums included songs which continue to be staples of Armatrading's live shows, including "Willow", "Down To Zero", "Tall in the Saddle", and "Kissin' and a Huggin". Also at this time, Armatrading wrote and performed "The Flight of the Wild Geese", which was used during the opening and end titles for the 1978 war film The Wild Geese. The song was included on the soundtrack album for the film, originally released by A&M Records, later released under licence as a Cinephile DVD. A live album entitledSteppin' Out was released in 1979.

Between 1972 and 1976 Armatrading made a total of eight appearances in session for the John Peel show and the decade saw her become the first Black British female singer/songwriter to enjoy international success.[14]

Armatrading was the musical guest for Season 2, episode 58 of NBC's Saturday Night Live, which originally aired on 14 May 1977.[19] She performed "Love and Affection" and "Down to Zero".

1980s and 1990s[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In 1980, Armatrading radically revised her playing style and released Me Myself I, a harder pop-oriented album produced by Richard Gottehrer, who had previously produced albums for Blondie. The album became Armatrading's highest ever charting album both in the UK and the US, while the title track became her second UK Top 40 hit single.[16] In that year, she performed on Rockpalast night.[20] The same pop style as on her previous album, now coupled with synthesisers, was also evident on the 1981 album Walk Under Ladders and 1983's The Key. All three of these albums were Top 10 successes in the UK, with The Key also producing the hit single "Drop the Pilot", Armatrading's third UK Top 40 hit single. To capitalise on her success, A&M released the best of compilation albumTrack Record in 1983.

Armatrading's next studio album was 1985's Secret Secrets. The album was a top 20 hit but failed to yield any hit singles, cementing Armatrading's status as an "album artist". Taking over production responsibilities herself, she continued to record the albums Sleight of Hand (1986), The Shouting Stage (1988) and Hearts and Flowers (1990) for A&M Records, which all made the UK Top 40 but failed to achieve the level of commercial success of her earlier works despite successful national tours (a show from her 1988 "Shouting Stage" tour was also filmed for television).

In 1989 she was the guest of Sue Lawley on the BBC Radio 4 radio programme Desert Island Discs where her favourite choice was Van Morrison's "Madame George".[21] Armatrading's full list included Ella Fitzgerald and Gustav Mahler.[22] Her luxury item was a guitar, while her castaway's book was Why Didn't They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie.

In 1991, A&M released the compilation The Very Best of Joan Armatrading which returned her to the Top 10. However, her following studio album for A&M, 1992's Square The Circle did not replicate this success and would be her final recording for the label. Following her departure from A&M, a label she had been with for almost 20 years, Armatrading signed with RCA for her 1995 album What's Inside. Despite various television appearances and a full tour (which included a string quartet in addition to her stage band), the album was not a commercial success, becoming her lowest charting studio album in 20 years. In December 1998, she released Lullabies with a Difference, an album of lullabies contributed by her and several of her favourite artists, in honour of PACES, a charity for children with cerebral palsy.[23]

Later work[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In 2003, no longer attached to a major label, she released the album Lovers Speak. Though it was her first album in eight years, it met with little commercial success.

Her 2007 album Into the Blues debuted at #1 on the US Billboard Blues Chart, making Armatrading the first UK female artist to earn that distinction. Into the Blues, which Armatrading calls "the CD I've been promising myself to write for a long time", was nominated for a Grammy Award, also making her the first female UK artist to be nominated in the Grammy Blues category.

In 2007 Armatrading appeared in Episode 3 of the second series of Live from Abbey Road performing "Tall In The Saddle" from her 1976 self-titled album, and "Woman In Love" from the album Into The Blues. She also appeared onLater... with Jools Holland where she performed "Love and Affection", as well as "Woman In Love" and "My Baby's Gone" both from her 2007 Into The Blues album.

In 2008 she was part of Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour 2008.

On 29 March 2010 she released a new album, This Charming Life. The album peaked at #4 on the US Billboard Folk Albums chart.[24] She embarked on an international tour to promote it, and a concert from this tour in April 2010 at theRoyal Albert Hall in London was released on the CD/DVD album Live at the Royal Albert Hall, along with two tracks from a concert in Denver, Colorado, U.S., in February 2011.[25] In 2012, she released the album Starlight.[26]

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 before her main tour support Chris Wood.[27] Each of the artists opening for her across the UK also had a track selected for a three disc compilation released by her record label Hypertension Music.[28] She presented Armatrading's Singer-Songwriters, a two-part radio series showcasing these artists, which was broadcast on BBC Radio Two in February 2013.[29]

Appearances and other media[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In addition to recording, Armatrading has toured extensively and appeared in high profile concerts such as "The Picnic at Blackbushe" in 1978 (alongside Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton) and The Prince's Trust Rock Gala in 1983. She also appeared in the film The Secret Policeman's Third Ball in 1987. Several films have also used classic Joan Armatrading songs on their soundtracks, including Whoopi Goldberg's 1995 Boys on the Side ("Willow") and Goldberg's 1995Moonlight and Valentino ("The Weakness in Me"). She has also made many appearances on television, including The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, “Joan Armatrading: Rock Over Europe” in 1980, “Joan Armatrading in Concert” in 1982, “Late Night in Concert” in 1984 and “Joan Armatrading” in 1985.[14]

Armatrading presented a five-part series on BBC Radio Four called Joan Armatrading's Favourite Guitarists which was broadcast in July 2009, in which she talked to guitarists about their music and their technique.[30] She followed this up with another five-part series called Joan Armatrading: More Guitar Favourites, which was broadcast in November and December 2011.[31] In May 2012, She appeared on BBC One's The One Show.[32][33]

In 2003, "Save Me" from Armatrading's self-titled album appeared in Season 6, Episode 7 of the prison drama OZ during a capital punishment scene.

On 30 November 2010, "This Charming Life" was played on the season finale of Sons of Anarchy, the hit television show on FX.

In 2011, "It Could Have Been Better" was featured in the British film Kill List. In February 2012, the song was also played in the opening sequence of the Burberry Prosum Autumn/Winter 2012 fashion show which was organized in London.

Style[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Armatrading possesses the vocal range of a contralto.[34] Her music is considered to be mostly pop with forays into rockfolkjazzbluessoul, and reggae.

Her songs have been described as "some of the most deeply personal and emotionally naked ... of our times".[12] In a 2003 interview, she said: "My songs aren't about me at all. They're always about love, the pain and anguish of it. But the way I've always written is from observation. They're about what I see other people going through. If the songs were about me I'd be so embarrassed I don't think I'd be able to walk out the front door." She went on to say: "the optimistic songs reveal a bit more of me because that's how I feel. I'm definitely a 'glass is half full' kind of a person."[12] Many of her lyrics do not specify the gender of their subjects; the word "you" is used rather than a gender pronoun.[35][36]

She performs on both six- and twelve-string acoustic and electric guitars.[37] She has played on Ovation acoustic instruments since 1973, and said this about them in an interview with the magazine Guitar Player: "I'm a bit of a hitter, you see – I bash – and I like to have everything going at once: bass, harmony, and melody. This is why I love Ovations. They are very powerful-sounding guitars, and when I hit those strings, they ring with a nice, clear, percussive – but not overly bright – sound that highlights the rhythms I like to play."[37][38] She has played Stratocaster and Gibson electric guitars.[37] For her 2012–2013 tour, she has performed on six- and twelve-string Ovations and customised Tom Anderson guitars.[39]

Personal life[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Armatrading is reluctant to discuss her personal life in interviews. In a 2003 interview with David Thomas of The Daily Telegraph, she said:[5]

"People who like my music have a legitimate interest in me, but I need to retain some privacy, not to be telling people what's going on, or what I feel. When you go home, the reason it's beautiful is because it's personal to you and the people you want to include in it."

In addition to her music career, in 2001, after five years of studying, Armatrading gained a BA (Hons) degree in History from the Open University, of which she is now a trustee.[14]

In April 2011, it was reported that Armatrading and her girlfriend Maggie Butler were to enter a civil partnership on 2 May 2011, in the Shetland Isles.[40][41]

Collaborations[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Armatrading performed as a cameo vocalist for the song "Don't Lose Your Head" on the 1986 Queen album A Kind of Magic.

Honours[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Armatrading has been nominated twice for a Brit Award as best female vocalist and received an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection in 1996. She has received honorary degrees from the Liverpool John Moores University (2000), the University of Birmingham (2002), the University of Northampton (2003), Aston University (2006), the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (2008), and the Open University (2013).[42] She received anMBE in 2001,.[43] In May 2012, before her concert at Uttoxeter, as part of the 2012 Acoustic Festival of Britain, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.[44]

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album UK Album Charts[45] US US Blues BPI certifications
1972 Whatever's for Us - - - -
1975 Back to the Night - - - -
1976 Joan Armatrading 12 67 - Gold
1977 Show Some Emotion 6 52 - Gold
1978 To the Limit 13 125 - -
1979 How Cruel (EP) - - - -
1979 Steppin' Out - - - -
1980 Me Myself I 5 28 - Gold
1981 Walk Under Ladders 6 88 - Gold
1983 The Key 10 32 - Gold
1985 Secret Secrets 14 73 - Silver
1986 Sleight of Hand 34 70 - Silver
1988 The Shouting Stage 28 100 - Silver
1990 Hearts and Flowers 29 161 - -
1992 Square the Circle 34 - - -
1995 What's Inside 48 - - -
2003 Lovers Speak - - - -
2004 Live All the Way from America - - - -
2007 Into The Blues - - 1 -
2010 This Charming Life - - - -
2011 Live at Royal Albert Hall - - - -
2012 Starlight - - - -

Compilations[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Album UK[45] U.S. BPI certifications
1983 Track Record[46] 18 113 -
1987 Classics Volume 21(Canada only)[47] -
1991 The Very Best Of Joan Armatrading 9 - Gold
1996 Love & Affection (2 CD) - - -
2003 Love And Affection: Classics (1975–1983) (2 CD)[48] 24 - -

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title UK Singles Chart[45] USBillboard Hot 100 USMainstream Rock
1973 "Lonely Lady" - -
1976 "Dry Land" - -
1976 "Love and Affection" 10 - -
1976 "Down to Zero" - - -
1978 "Show Some Emotion" - 110 -
1980 "Rosie" 49 - -
1980 "Me Myself I" 21 - -
1980 "All the Way from America" 54 - -
1981 "I'm Lucky" 46 - -
1981 "No Love" 50 - -
1983 "Drop the Pilot" 11 78 33
1983 "(I Love It When You) Call Me Names" - - -
1983 "Heaven" - - -
1985 "Temptation" 65 - -
1985 "Thinking Man" - -
1986 "Kind Words (And a Real Good Heart)" 81 - 37
1986 "Reach Out" - - -
1986 "Jesse" - - -
1988 "The Shouting Stage" 89 - -
1988 "Living for You" 98 - -
1990 "More Than One Kind of Love" 75 - -
1990 "Free" - - -
1991 "Love and Affection" (reissue) 91 - -
1992 "Wrapped Around Her" 56 - -
1992 "True Love" - - -
1995 "Everyday Boy" - - -
1995 "Shapes and Sizes" - - -

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