Joan Armatrading at Perth Zoo in 2007. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

Joan Armatrading likes to keeps her audiences guessing about the songs based on herself and the many more written about other people.

Over 22 albums, the British singer-songwriter has built a fortress of mystique when it comes to identifying the subjects in her music.

Single Life, the opening track from new album Starlight, is a two-sided argument on the virtues of singledom but don't ask if that's a world she inhabits.

Famously dubbed "Joan Armourplating" by journalists who have dared to probe too close, the 62-year-old gives little away when it comes to discussing intimate matters.

"I like to have a personal life and I like to know that when I'm by myself or with another person that time is just for us," Armatrading says.

"The world doesn't need to know what colour my bedroom walls are."

While eventually revealing that Single Life is based on the experience of friends ("I know a lot of single people and that's the story you hear all the time") she quickly checks that the confession has no relevance to her own status.

Spread over a 35-year career that includes three Grammy nominations and an MBE, most of Armatrading's songs have been written about other people or the occasional book or film.

One of her finest observational compositions, the title track from her 1988 record The Shouting Stage, was inspired by an argument she witnessed in an Australian restaurant.

"There was this couple arguing furiously and all of a sudden the guy stormed out and left the woman there," she recalls.

"It made me wonder what got them to the stage where their relationship must have been so broken he had to walk out. Moments like that captivate me."

While Armatrading admits other songs have been penned on personal experience, the autobiographical examples she namechecks are of the optimistic tilt - Me Myself I, I'm Lucky, Blessed - which you sense is deliberately so.

"The songs about me are pretty obvious and there are songs like Blessed because I do feel very blessed," she says.

"I have a great life that allows me to travel and meet different people.

"I play these amazing shows where hundreds of people applaud at the end and I get to write and record music."

Born to Caribbean parents and raised in Birmingham, Armatrading strolled into the pop charts in 1976 with the deceptively angsty ballad Love And Affection.

Initially seen as a feminist, due in part to the male-baiting Show Some Emotion, she emerged as an artist capable of turning her hand to a number of styles.

Her last three albums, Into The Blues, This Charming Life and Starlight, are a trilogy spanning blues, rock and jazz with Armatrading playing every instrument and arranging every song.

A versatile workaholic, she continues to plays around 100 shows a year and takes a keen interest in her audience and breaking musicians.

On her last UK tour she held a competition for unique support acts to play over 56 nights and meticulously trawled through every entrant.

She also discovered the joy of performing to a diverse age range at the Isle Of Wight Festival and is excited at the prospect of playing Australian festivals, saying her latest tour has found her more open than ever before.

"It was one of best tours and I think it's because I was always living in the now.

"Sometimes you've got so much else going on that you can play a gig and it's fine but your attentions can be elsewhere.

"On this tour I was really present and relaxed."


  • Joan Armatrading will tour Australia with shows on:

March 23 - The Forum, Melbourne

March 24 - Enmore Theatre, Sydney

March 25 - Evan Theatre, Penrith, Sydney

March 27 - The Tivoli, Brisbane

March 28 - Bluesfest, Byron Bay

March 29 - Bluesfest, Byron Bay

The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West