Joan Armatrading’s one of those slow-building legends. Having grown up with a guitar in her hands in industrial Birmingham, the soulful blues-rock singer went on not only to make a series of popular albums, but also to play a prominent role in women’s rights and refugee activism along the way. At the age of 59, she still performs with an offbeat charisma, throwing comic patter into the gaps between songs and grinning manically throughout.
Joan packs an impressive punch live. Many of her tracks are reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s -Live And Let Die’ era, in that Joan’s generally quite a laid back vocalist, but occasionally throws an unexpected punch into her live show – backed with columns of flashing light – that keeps the audience on their toes, being simultaneously boisterous and melancholy.
There’s a clear -pecking order’ for tracks in Joan’s shows, though. Her style shines a light on her husky, soulful vocals and sparklingly subtle guitar licks, but a full two hours of her content can seem a little similar after a while, and everyone’s waiting for the big ones. For a 59 year old to perform for two hours at all is an impressive feat, of course, but the highlights are the same two or three tracks we all knew they would be at the start, and the rest of the set – whilst of substantial quality – lacks the variety it would take to lift Joan into the stratosphere.
Still, the beautiful moments are truly stunning. The encore – which starts almost two hours into Armatrading’s set – is lit up by the heartfelt vocals of downbeat fans-favorite -Willow’. Midway through the set we’re treating to a gentle rendition of perhaps the most touching song ever written about an illicit love triangle, -The Weakness In Me’, which has been opened up to an entirely new audience through Sister Hazel’s movie-featuring cover. It’s the kind of track that a singer could almost get away with performing twice. The other obvious highlight comes in the form of top single -Love And Affection’, a spirited ballad that lifts the hall into a full minute standing ovation just over an hour in. All in all, Joan Armatrading is artistically beautiful, vocally alluring but just a touch less mottled than you might hope over the course of a two-hour set. One thing is extremely clear, however: she’s quite a character.