Tuesday 6th March
Joan Armatrading 1 The first of the biggies – and they don’t come much bigger than Joan. She really has been THE premier British female artist of the last fifty years – and I would go as far as stating, that for her longevity and her song-writing and performing and playing a multitude of instruments, hardly any other woman in the World comes close. Born in St. Kitts in 1950, her family moved to Birmingham when she was three. She taught herself piano and guitar and amazingly was fired from her first job for playing her guitar to workmates in her lunch break….so much for multi-cultural Britain in the Sixties.
She joined a rep company performing ‘Hair’ and met Pam Nestor. Together they wrote Joan’s first album, Pam the main lyricist. “Whatever Is For Us” was released on Cube records in 1972. And I bought it (I think I liked the cover and was intrigued by her name). And it is so wonderful that I would rate it along with Joan’s far more famous later releases. Every song is beautiful, and Joan’s singing is so clear and strong, and yet gentle too. She really is the most remarkable singer, no-one else sounds anything like her. She has also managed to meld into one, her black West Indian cultural roots, her black identity, her female identity – alongside a rock sensibility second to none. She comes up with original melodies time after time, and her songs are complex, moving through phases and time shifts. Her piano and guitar playing are wonderful too. Anyway, the album opens with “My Family”, and her family is all of us. Best songs are hard to choose, but I love ‘Visionary Mountains’ and ‘It Could Have Been Better’. One thing, which I only learnt much later, is that Joan is a lesbian -but as her songs (mostly about love) are almost all directed at ‘you’ it doesn’t make the slightest difference to the emotion. And emotion is just what she gets into those quiet love songs, in a direct manner rarely approached by others. I know she became famous a few years later, but this record is simply brilliant too.
Well, the partnership with Pam Nestor didn’t work out, neither did the contract with Cube, and she seemed to disappear for about three years. But she was busy plugging away at her song-writing ready to burst back on the scene in 1975.