Joan Armatrading: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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Joan Armatrading

Joan Armatrading

Seeing a true legend in the flesh, Getintothis’ Emma Walsh has butterflies, goosebumps and all the Love and Affection for Joan Armatrading.

As she took to the Philharmonic stage on her last major world tour, Joan Armatrading told an enthusiastic crowd that she was now on the “116th or 117th night of the tour” and “I’m getting pretty tired, I thought we might cut this one short tonight… so this’ll be my last song”, much to an impassioned and amused charge from the audience.

Having opened with City Girl, only three songs in to the set Armatrading had already established a comfortable line of patter with her adoring fans, and no wonder, she and they have clearly been dear friends for many decades now. There’s an easy warmth and a ready wit to Armatrading’s stage presence, alone in the spotlight with only her guitars and piano at hand. It’s a delightful surprise to someone seeing her in the flesh for the first, and perhaps only, time. Armatrading may well be the first eminent musician to have stirred awestruck butterflies in our belly at the mere sight of her in real life, one does not need to have been an avid follower or fan for decades to appreciate the legend of Joan Armatrading.

Floating smoothly from one classic to another, such as More Than One Kind of Love and My Baby’s Gone, Armatrading had told us as she took to the stage that as it was her last major world tour she’d been thinking of doing something special, “like playing a track from every one of my albums“. While half the audience agreed wholeheartedly, the other, perhaps wiser, half gave a gleeful snort of laughter, “we’ll be here ’til Christmas!” cried one delighted fan. Armatrading admitted we didn’t quite have time for all that but she’d try her best.

Her open chatter with the crowd, welcome as it was, did invite several indecipherable shouts from one particular inebriated man who became public enemy number one in the stalls. Having heard but not quite caught the remark, Joan paused for a moment before replying dryly “I thought I told you to wait in the car?” We’ve been witness to several disagreeable heckles over recent months, predominantly at female artists, and there’s no doubt that Armatrading’s lively replies have been mastered over years of experience. The goon in question was rather forcibly removed a little later.

Taking time mid-show to talk the crowd through some of her favourite photographs over the years, a brief potter through an illustrious career, Armatrading stands almost as a lone female figure among the male contemporaries in the shots. While the names and influence of Elton JohnBob Dylan and Eric Clapton may be more forthcoming to a wider audience down the years, the impact of Armatrading’s songwriting is underlined by one quite unremarkable photograph in the collection.

Alongside star studded group shots and intimate shoots by Annie Leibovitz there is a darkened shot of Joan with four regular looking people. “These people” she tells us “were in prison with Nelson Mandela. When they used to hold their meetings, they did so in secret, they crossed the border into Swaziland, and they told me that when they drove they used to take my music with them”.

Wow. Imagine having written the albums that soundtracked a revolution. We’d be showboating the fact with much less dignity and much more snugness than Armatrading. Yeah! Have that Elton!”

Not that she has to show off really, just watching the woman shred guitars is a jaw dropping experience in itself. Just when we thought we couldn’t admire the woman any more she goes and gives us goosebumps with our personal favourite Down to Zero. And there was something for everyone, Rosie, Me Myself and I, and despite her teases to admit it from the set, the glorious Love and Affection. Having satisfied the adoring fans, many of whom seemed to be reliving a gloriously misspent youth, Armatrading decided it was time to satisfy herself.

We know what happens at this point of the show, the artist goes off, the crowd cheers and whoops and stomps and claps, and the artist comes back on again. Well I’m not going to do that. I’m going to stand here and enjoy it” and coaxing the crowd into raucous applause.

Closing with Willow to standing ovations and still persistent calls for another encore, Armatrading slipped off stage and we simply floated down Hardman Street with butterflies still in our belly. What a woman.

Photos by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth:

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