... remarkable voice and her soulful lyrics which tell the truth about love and life. Her subtle and sublime music has touched millions of people all over the world. Armatrading became the first-ever female UK artist to debut at number 1 in the Billboards Blues charts and she became also the first ever female UK artist to be nominated for a Grammy in the blues category. In March 2010 she will release her new album "This Charming Life" and will go on a massive world tour. AVIVA-Berlin talked to Joan Armatrading about her way making music, her new CD and how she became involved with the "Women of The Year Foundation".
AVIVA-Berlin: How do you find your inspiration to write songs? Do the lyrics come to you first or the melody?
Joan Armatrading: It depends on the songs. Some songs they both come together, some the lyrics first, some the music first, some just the riff. It just depends. I have no control over it. Some songs are written on the piano, some songs are written on the guitar. The songs that are very melodic need to be written on the piano like "The Weakness In Me" and some songs that are very kind of rhytmic like "Me, Myself, I" or "I Drop The Pilot" that would be written on the guitar.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is there any musician you would like to perform with?
Joan Armatrading: No, Not really [laughs]. No, I`m not a big collaborator. I like writing songs and I think of myself as a songwriter. I really enjoy writing my songs and doing the arrangements. I`ve worked with Mark Knopfler and I worked with other people like that but in terms of singing with people, so far not.
AVIVA-Berlin: You are a solo artist, so your band has changed a lot during your career - could you tell us what has never changed during all the years you have been on stage?
Joan Armatrading: Me! [laughs] I`m pretty much the same - I mean, I`m less shy obviously these days than I would have been say when I started first, but I`ve always written about emotional things, things that affect people, how I see people react to each other, how the thing affects them.
So the things I write about - set these as the "confumans" I could say - that`s what really changes, and how people react to a certain situation, like you get two people, six people in love and those three couples react with each in a different way. They`re all in love, and all people feel very different so you got quite a lot of different things to write about with concerning love. Or you got a lot of different things to write about concerning betrayal or stuff like that because when somebody betrays somebody it`s not always the election for another person because of this reason, it could be several reasons for different people. So there`s always different things to write about even if it`s the same kind of subject.
AVIVA-Berlin: When you`re on stage what emotions are usually running through your head?
Joan Armatrading: Well I`m usually thinking about the song and making sure that first of all can I remember it [laughs] and then making sure that I`m having the right emotion or connection to it myself so the audience could enjoy my song and then unusually completely enjoying playing and listen to the other musicians. So it`s, well, it`s quite a selfish feeling because it`s all about me enjoying myself and then that will translate to the audience.
I think if the person on stage isn`t enjoying themselves, the audience will never get to enjoy it.
AVIVA-Berlin: In 2005 you became the president of the "Women Of The Year Foundation". What was that like for you and how did this honourable award/job come to you?
Joan Armatrading: Well I`ve been involved with "Women Of The Year" for quite a while. I`d been asked to be president by the founder of "Woman Of The Year" and then members voted on it, so I became president. It was great, I absolutely loved doing it because you get to meet women who are doing some absolutely remarkable things. For instance one of the women that we gave an award to was Sister Frances Dominica, who founded the first children`s hospice in the world 25 years ago, and you would think that would be a much much older established organisation, something that the government came up with or something, you know, but this was one woman thinking that "do we need it, this particular kind of care" - 25 years ago!
You got people like Tabatha Khumalo who campaigned for sanitary towels in Africa and for that was raped by 28 men, beaten, tortured, imprisoned, you name it, she had it, it was done to her just for trying to get this sanitary protection for women. But she just carried on and was able to make that difference to the women. It`s people like that you would meet.
And then one of the other people was the woman who brought the Sultan`s Elephant to London which was a massive puppet elephant which walked through the streets of London and I think it had a million people [laughs] on the streets of London looking at these elephants and big puppet girl - I don`t even know how they managed to make these things move - it`s just a great and spectacle thing.
Â© Joel Anderson
AVIVA-Berlin: Now let us talk about your new Album. In March 2010 you will release your new CD called "This Charming Life". What is this album all about?
Joan Armatrading: Well the last time it was blues. This album is rock with kind of rock-pop that people like - "Me, Myself, I", "Drop The Pilot" and stuff like that, they really like this - and the title "The Charming Life" is really saying: "I think, there are lots of things to be very positive about" - I`m a very positive person. We might be in strange times, in times of economy and things like that but most of us, most of us have a lot to be grateful for. Sometimes it is nice to just sit back and acknowledge that.
And we`ve got Haiti which is completely devastated. But if you look at all the miraculous lifesaving that`s going on and you know the picture of the little boy they were just taking out and the look on his face, it`s so happy - and then there`s another picture of a little girl who is pulled out the building and is looking around but could not see her parents and then she suddenly sees her mother and her face lights up - It`s fantastic! Those people will feel good about themselves, I think for the rest of their lives they`ll feel like lucky people. One child was pulled out and said he`s so grateful that he was pulled out and now he dedicates his life to God. That is somebody who is just really really happy to be alive.
We need sometimes to just appreciate the things that we`ve got. Sometimes you can think everything is bad. But then you need to think about the good things as well.
AVIVA-Berlin: You usually play all the instruments by yourself while recording in the studio. Was that the case on "This Charming Life"?
Joan Armatrading: Yes, with the last three albums I played everything.
AVIVA-Berlin: What is the difference between your new album and previous LPs?
Joan Armatrading: I certainly feel each album is different, the first album was in 1972 and was called "Whatever`s for Us", the next album was "Back to the Night" and that was very different to the other ones - the songs were different, I was in a different place and I generally just felt different - and then the "Joan Armatrading" album came after that and that`s got "Love and Affection" on it so I felt very different because "Love and Affection" got me out all over the world, so each album has a difference in terms of the way the songs are: the arrangements that I`m using, the feeling of the songs, the sound of the general album - so they all feel and sound different to me. This one is just continuing that. It`s not like this album feels like I`m absolutely thrown off into a whole different thing. I think that big difference with this and the last one is that I was concentrating on one genre. The last one was just blues - on this one it`s rock-pop.
AVIVA-Berlin: And do you have a favorite song on your new album?
Joan Armatrading: Oh it`s so difficult, it changes all the time! One minute I think it`s the title "This Charming Life" and then the next minute I think it`s the song called "Heading Back To New York City", next minute I think it`s the song called "Cry", next minute I think it`s the song called "Promises" cause it`s got a really good intro, very melodic. So it changes, it just depends on - I don`t know. [laughs] It`s hard for me to rate it, it`s very difficult.
AVIVA-Berlin: Your last CD, "Into the Blues" which was released in 2007 was, in your words, "the CD I`ve been promising myself to write for a long time". What about "This Charming Life"? Is this album also the completion of a long time promise?
Joan Armatrading: Well this one is almost the continuation cause what I usually do when I`m write the songs for the CD`s is I write a bit of blues, a bit of jazz, rock and pop, country, folk and all of those get right on the CD. When I did "Into The Blues" I decided only to concentrate on blues. So when I did this one I decided to only concentrate on rock. That`s the difference and that`s the feeling that I had for doing this particular CD.
AVIVA-Berlin: If you listen to all your previous albums, what would they say they tell you and your fans about yourself and your experience so far?
Joan Armatrading: Well I would think the main thing that is said I would say is that I`m a very positive person because I can always see the good in things, I can always see that things can be better and things can either be better or they are not as bad as they see and encourage people to help themselves to be positive about where they can be if they want to be at that place - that`s the general feeling I think is in all my records. Sometimes you might get lyrics that are saying one thing but the music will always left to you, there`s always something up. For me that`s what I get from it.
Â© Joel Anderson
AVIVA-Berlin: You`ve been performing for nearly 40 years now. Do you feel you`ve still got a lot of songs left to write?
Joan Armatrading: Oh yes, I will write until I die [laughs]. I never gonna stop. I love to write, I absolutely love to write songs, I love to arrange songs, I love to make all these things up so that`s not gonna stop. It`s like I said before, it`s lots of subjects but because people react to them in different ways and things are new to people sometimes - just like one day in the train, I heard a bunch of young people talking and one of the girls just discovered an olive, she just disovered how olives taste and i just thought that is so cute cause she was so totally into it, how she just discovered this taste. She was really up and bright - so there is always something new for people.
AVIVA-Berlin: How will you celebrate your 60th birthday in December?
Joan Armatrading: Oh I don`t know I love birthdays. I feel very special on my birthday. I don`t need any cards or presents, i don`t need that, I don`t even need people to say "Happy Birthday!" because I feel special just on my own. That`s when I came into the world so whether I have spending time on my celebration or not, it will be a very nice day for me.
AVIVA-Berlin: What`s the most important thing you want to say to all your fans?
Joan Armatrading: First of all: Thank you for being fans! You hear often artists say this but it`s not a clichÃ©, it`s the absolute truth. Without fans there is no career, so thank you! And of course I`m looking forward to doing the shows and I really hope that the people will like this CD - I love it, I really like it and I hope the people will like it the same way. I`m so looking forward to the shows and I think the songs are working really well so I hope when the people come to the shows they will really enjoy it, the songs and the show.
AVIVA-Berlin: Could you tell us about your future plans?
Joan Armatrading: I think I just concentrate on the tour right now cause that`s all I wanted, doing the tour. It starts in March and I think we will end in December so that`s enough to think about for me at the moment [laughs] - because it will be a quite eventful and exciting summer.
Thank you so much for your time and a fabulous interview!
Read more about Joan Armatrading and her tour dates at:
Read also our review to:
Joan Armatrading - Into The Blues