By Ver Hyk
Some say that it all began when Joan Armatrading’s father forbade her from ever borrowing his guitar again. This caused the young Joan to turn to the piano, which was designated by her mother as ‘a piece of furniture’. She began experimenting by adding tunes to her limericks. This experimentation continued, for the next five decades – and still goes on.
Now touring the UK, the threefold grammy-nominee sang her heart out in Brighton Dome, marking her 46th year as a recording artist.
Smartly dressed in a suit, steadfastly wiggling her knees, her pulsating smile emphasising the rhythm. As she effectively swoops the audience into a heaven of nostalgic awe and slightly bemused relaxation. From time to time, a speck of light deflects off her shiny guitar as she flexes it – catching my eye. The following verses I spend tracing purple, blue and green dots across the stage. Beautiful, and slightly psychedelic.
My judgment gradually starts shifting, as I ponder the lyrics:
“Oh Rosie don’t you do that to the boys
Don’t you come on so willing
Don’t you come on so strong
Can be so chilling when you act so willing
And your warmth sets like the sun”
Firstly, I feel disappointed and downright annoyed: all these catchy melodies and this sumptuous voice deserve more than an array of moralising love songs. As I try to re-orientate my judgment, she continues with the next song. “I’m so in love with you”, she cries, I cringe – and she goes on:
“I’m loving what you hate
That you trust everyone”
I’m surrounded by heartfelt ‘wow’s from the audience.
Then I realise it. Her genius lies in her ability to grab some clichés, linger on them long enough to cause slight provocation and then go on to make something new and stunning out of them. She radiates relaxation with a slight hint of sarcasm which makes me feel at ease, as does the rest of the audience. Although, her infectious calmness is contrasted by her voice as it gets increasingly strained throughout the performance; for every song, she gets coarser, and her falsetto is less precise and audible. During the first song, her voice is at its absolute peak: suave, swift and minute in its dynamics. Yet, it’s never weak.
Musically, it’s not particularly surprising. These are the same chord progressions and melodies you’ve heard so many times that they practically function as Deja vú-triggers. Yet, every now and then, a special effect is added to her guitar or voice which gives me an impulse to go and search for the origin. A twangy sound echoing across the auditorium was just the sound of her plucking the guitar, played in reverse. A deep vibrato grows into falsetto, and the timbre of her voice readjusts itself to match the musical glissando sneaking in on the same note, increasing in volume until it completely overtook her voice – this was both exciting and eerie.
The way she holds herself on stage reminds me of men singing about women. Her confident body language, the way she carelessly thrusts her body and guitar back and forth instead of just gently swaying around. She allows herself to be somewhat startled at the lighting display. As she sits down by the piano and the light splashes down on her, her head sharply tilts backwards in surprise.
At the end, she returns to the stage accompanied by the roaring audience and gives a brief, pep talk. She, eventually, closes the show with her classic track – ‘Love and Affection’
After an international tour comprised of 60 concerts, she added an unexpected original twist to Brighton. Whilst I’m waiting for her next performance to come around, I browse through four decades of Armatrading including her newest album ‘Loving What You Hate’, which I’d recommend you listen to as well.