Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Joan Armatrading on being born to write music and her love of comedy

 

By Ralph McLean

With a career stretching back almost five decades and with 21 acclaimed albums and a trio of Grammy nominations to her name, you'd have to say singer Joan Armatrading's life in music has been a huge success.

Ask the writer of much-loved hits like Love & Affection and Drop The Pilot what her childhood ambition was, though, and her answer might surprise you.

"I love comedy," she tells me. "I love to laugh. Comedy, apart from writing, is my favourite thing. When I'm in my dressing room it's always a comedy thing I've got on. I love Family Guy. I'm either watching a film that's comedy or stuff on YouTube or just listening to Ricky Gervais. The list is huge."

That list, she tells me, includes the likes of Mickey Flanagan, French and Saunders and Chris Rock and her passion for the world of mirth-making goes way back.

"When I was young, about 14, I used to write funny little jokes and limericks and funny little stories, so I was always interested in comedy," she says.

"People say what music did I listen to growing up and I tell them it wasn't bands, it was old comedies like Round The Horne and those kind of things".

Her love of classic comedy doesn't mean she can't stomach the more modern stand-ups, however, even when their language does gets a little bit colourful.

"The swearing can be a great punctuation mark," she says with a chuckle. "It can really lift it. I don't swear myself, but you might say I can appreciate swearing."

Comedy aside, writing is the one thing that has remained constant throughout those four-and-a-half decades at the very top of her game.

"I'm absolutely sure it's what I was born to do and it's my job to do it to the best of my abilities," she says firmly. "I love writing songs. I'm at my happiest doing that. I'm relaxed and feel I've a lot to look forward to when I'm doing that."

Those heading to see her at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 29 can rest easy in the knowledge that plenty of her classics will be revisited alongside tracks from new album Not Too Far Away. "I've sung Love & Affection at every single concert I've ever done," she says. "That's the song that got me known all over the world. If I didn't play it, that would be like saying I don't appreciate that you like this. That seems like nonsense. I don't understand other artists who complain about having to sing the song that got them famous. That seems like a very strange thing to me."

Born in Saint Kitts in the Caribbean but raised in Birmingham from the age of seven, music didn't play a large part in Joan's life until her mother impulsively brought a piano into the family home.

"Mum thought it was a great piece of furniture to put on the wall," she tells me.

"She had the wall picked out. She wasn't thinking of anyone playing it, she couldn't play it, but as soon as it came through the door I started writing songs."

These days she finds the lure of the road isn't quite what it used to be though.

"I'm 67 and I don't want to be on the road for 18 months anymore. I love to play to audiences but I wanted to stop touring so extensively as it got to the point where I didn't enjoy it."

n Joan Armatrading plays The Ulster Hall on Monday, October 29. Tickets from www.ulsterhall.co.uk

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