the AU interview: Joan Armatrading (UK)

The legendary Joan Armatrading is returning to Australia for Bluesfest, and she took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to Larry Heath about the upcoming trip, supporting younger talent and much more.

I never envy when performers have to come to Australia because it's the worse jet lag.

You know, I actually don't get that. It feels like the day. It feels like the time just goes normally around the clock for me, and when I arrive it's just the day!

How long has it been since you were last in Australia?

It was either 2008 or 2010. I can't remember which year, but it wasn't that long ago I know that for sure.

You're getting ready for the Bluesfest shows with such an amazing line up. Are you looking forward to coming back and playing those show?

Yeah, absolutely. I've done Bluesfest before and I had a fantastic time. It was wonderful, so we're looking forward it. I know I'm definitely looking forward to it again. Absolutely. I think somebody said it's moved to a different location.

Yes, it moved in 2010 I believe. Peter Noble who runs the festival bought what's known as the Tygara Tea Tree Farm, and it's an incredible site!

Oh wow, okay, sounds awesome!

When you play a festival like that you must get to see a few familiar faces that you've seen over the years at other festivals and at other shows?

Um, no! [laughs] No, not really no. I might maybe see somebody I know occasionally but I don't usually see a lot of people I know. I don't know many people! [laughs].

Let's talk about some people that you do know. I read today about this opportunity that you've given to a couple of songwriters. There is going to be a documentary about it. Can you talk a little bit about that?

There were 56 winners, and I took them on tour in 2012 in the UK. Instead of one person travelling the whole tour with me, I told people in each city they'd play the gig in each city. I also did take one of the entrants around the whole tour, so there were three entries: A local support then the regular support and then they'd see me at the concert.

Then I took them all to Liverpool to meet each other - they were all singer-songwriters so that they could all meet each other because they obviously they wouldn't have been able to meet up, because it was a different support everywhere.

So from then on I put them onto this CD so each person has a song on the 3-disc set CD called Local Talents. Then last night BBC Radio 2 presented a program showcasing a few and then in a few days on the 18th, profiling the remainder of the. If people want to learn more about it, they can head off to my website and there's a link to all the details there.

It's a great initiative. How did that come about. Was that an idea you had?

Yeah, I did. Only because when I'm touring around I usually just take the one person, and I just thought "Hang on a minute, we are playing all theses gigs, and we could have up to 56 people to present themselves to the audience". I just wanted to see them get up there and say "I'm a singer-songwriter. I'd love you to know what it is I do and know what my music is about. I'd love you to know about me, and that I could go out and have a career in this industry."

I just wanted them to play to a bigger audience as well to get the word out there for them. That was the thinking behind it. Then the thinking behind them getting to actually put a song on the CD was to again just to get people to hear their music and to get into them that if they want to succeed, this was a way to do it.

I have this feeling that there was lots of talent out there that people can enjoy. A lot of it were guys and girls that were very very talented. There was this chap called Rory Graham who was this really really tall, about 6 foot. He's huge, so he's tall and big minded too. He's got the most incredible blues voice. There was another group called the Weird Naked Indian - a very raw rough energetic music. Really, really good stuff.

What a great way for them to get to discover new music of yours as well.

When I'm in the support slot it's a little bit weird. Somebody once told me that they felt weird watching me. Then when someone supports me, I always watch the support too, and they always think that it was strange me watching them! I think it's really nice. Why would I not want to watch the person before me on stage? It makes sense to me.

I had the opportunity to listen to your latest release Starlight today. Having the jazz element on this album, how did you sort out achieving that as the flavour behind the music?

I really have been talking about music in way a lot of chats and answered the question "oh what do you guys think of jazz?" a lot. This album is a part of a trilogy. A trilogy of blues, rock and jazz. That was just the thinking behind all that. I've written jazz-soul type music before but it's not really a blues style rhythm really isn't it, so I just wanted to experiment. But it's not like I'm thinking "oh, what should I do now?", but more "what should I do now to get inspiration to write the trilogy."

If you write or blues, the chord structure is very simple. Quite basic if you like. If you want to play an A chord, you just play, an A chord or a A minor or A major. Nothing too complicated. When you write jazz, everything is a complication! You just can't write an A chord. You gotta write an A minor seventh, or a diminished fifth, or a flattened third. It is a chore really when you write it all. You need to have a good minset to keep a momentum in writing jazz.

So I take it there's not going to be a sequel jazz record then?

Oh no, no, no! I have no idea, it may happen. I'm trying to make where to fit it and figure out in what to do next. I have it in mind to make these trilogies, and these three albums was quite a fun time. I don't know whether to do a focus-thing again or do just go back to being my blues-self and one song being the shared song from it.

I don't know whether I should go back to a band either. I'm just as intrigued as anybody else as to what's going to happen next.

Will the live show be a mix of everything, on will there be a new focus on the new record?

It will be a mix of everything. I think it's not fair to just play the new songs I have out there. I read somebody said that I was a one-hit wonder and I thought to myself "I wonder which of the hit albums he was referring to, or what song of those albums he was thinking of?"

Somebody else said once that a gig that I played all the new songs, and I said "which gig was that? Because I wasn't there!"

For me, that's the best way to about your show. To have a style, or a mixture of things, and to just not commit always to the new thing. You know, when I play the new stuff, it was very new to the audience, but for to me it's like an old favourite for me because I've reviewed it all the time.


Joan Armatrading is touring for Bluesfest over the Easter weekend and playing sideshows as well. Tour info is here: You can learn more about Local Talents at