Belfast Telegraph

Joan Armatrading: I don't drink, smoke or swear, I'm pretty boring

The Conversation

By Staff Reporter

Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading talks about performing with her eyes closed, studying for a degree in history and learning to fly a helicopter

Q: You're currently on your last major concert run. Do you find it hard to adjust to  normal life after a long tour?

A: No, I don't have a routine for anything. Apart from when I'm on tour and I have to get up every day to go to a different city. I don't get up at nine and write till five. If I wake up at three in the morning and feel I want to write, I write. If I don't feel like writing for three months, I won't write. Whatever guitar that works with the song, that's what I use, and I like to move around the room while I'm writing.

Q: You've previously said that you write through observation. Do you write things down as you go?

A: Sometimes I write things down and think: that is so powerful and strong, there's no way I'm going to forget that - and then you forget it. On this tour, I wrote all these little lines and different ideas - and the iPad that I wrote them down on, I don't know what happened, but it's all gone. It's very frustrating, but I think some of it will come back to me.

Q: You were the first internationally successful female UK signer-songwriter. Who were your role models?

A: I never thought about that. I was just doing my own stuff, writing my own songs. I didn't even know that people didn't write their own songs.

Q: You still get nervous when you play live. Has the stress of that ever made you think you'll give up performing?

A: No, all you've got to do is walk on stage, face the people, and you'll be fine. I want people to hear the songs and people want to hear the songs. You'll be over that nervousness in the first few bars. The audience react and applaud - and as long as that's happening, you know everything's going well.

Q: What goes through your head when you are performing?

A: The song. In order to make the song work, you can't be thinking, what am I going to eat when I leave the stage, or, I hope my hair looks good. Otherwise, you'll be distracted - you've got to be in the song. Certainly, for me, if you see me singing and my eyes are closed, it's because I'm listening to what I'm saying and what I'm playing. I need to hear that and be a part of that to make it work.

Q: You never touch alcohol or coffee. What are your vices?

A: I've never drunk alcohol in my life. I don't smoke. I don't swear. I used to drink tea and coffee - but 50 years ago - and I don't eat meat. I'm pretty boring really.

Q: That's quite un-rock 'n' roll. But you learnt to fly a helicopter?

A: I had one lesson. This is one of the reasons I never tell people what I'm going to do, because you'll be asked all the time, did you do it? I took a university degree in 2001, and got a BA honours in history, and I never told anybody - not even my friends or family. The guys on tour knew, because I did it while I was on tour. It was only after I got my degree that I started to talk about it. It was the same when I did the New York marathon. I was 58 and I didn't tell anybody.

Q: You're known for being private? It sounds like you're private in your personal life, too?

A: Absolutely. This is how I've always been. It's not something that I learned to do once people started to know my name. To me, it's good to have some privacy. I always ask people, and I will ask you, if you have 10 friends, do you tell each of those 10 friends exactly the same information about yourself? Do you?

Q: I suppose not. So why did you feel the need to get a degree?

A: It's just something that I've always wanted. Not for any reason. Also, the initials for my name spell Jaba - Joan Anita Barbara Armatrading - and now I have my degree, I am Jababa.

The plug

Joan Armatrading (64) has had hits including Love and Affection and Drop the Pilot. Born in St Kitts, she came to England aged seven and began writing songs in her early teens, on the piano at her family home, in Birmingham. This week, she began the last UK leg of her final major world tour.

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