NPR

Joan Armatrading: A 'Charming Life,' Stripped Bare

Joan Armatrading's career has spanned more than 40 years, covering genres such as pop, rock, folk, jazz and reggae. Although her Grammy-nominated album from 2007 stayed within the confines of blues, her latest heads in a more soulful alt-rock direction. It's titled This Charming Life, and it features songs written, arranged, produced and performed by Armatrading.

Aside from drums and percussion, Armatrading plays every instrument on the album. But even if other musicians played on This Charming Life, she says it wouldn't affect her process.

"I write everything, I arrange everything, I do the demos, and then the musicians will hear the demo I have done," she tells Liane Hansen, host of Weekend Edition Sunday.

Armatrading's live performances with her band stay close to the arrangements she originally had in mind, but she says within that, she likes her band members to express their creativity.

"Love and Affection" is the 1976 song that launched the singer-songwriter's career. Armatrading has sung it all over the world on every tour she's ever done -- but all in keeping with the flow of a good concert, she says.

"As much as you might love a particular song, when you put it next to two songs on either side of it, something happens that interrupts that really nice flow and gives you a good concert," she says. "So you have to leave that out. Sometimes you try to find other places to put it, and you have to leave it out."

Armatrading has been in the music industry for decades. But in spite of all the changes, she says she's excited about online videos, streaming music, iPods and other music delivery systems.

"Because it's so accessible now," she says, "people must discover music that they hadn't thought to even explore before."

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Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Joan Armatrading has added another pearl to her long string of recordings. Name a genre, and chances are in her nearly 40 years in the music business, she's tried it. Her last CD in 2007, "Into the Blues," was nominated for a Grammy.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOAN ARMATRADING (Musician): (Singing) Mother likes this music good and loud, with words coming straight from the heart...

HANSEN: Joan Armatrading's new recording heads in a more soulful, alt-rock direction. It's called "This Charming Life."

(Soundbite of song, "This Charming Life")

Ms. ARMATRADING: (Singing) I live and love with you, this charming life. I live and love with you, this charming life.

HANSEN: Armatrading wrote, arranged, produced and sang all the songs on her new CD. She also played every instrument but drums and percussion. Her home base is England, but Joan Armatrading is on tour this month in the U.S., in support of "This Charming Life," and is making a stop here at NPR Studio 4A. It's very nice to finally meet you, Joan Armatrading.

Ms. ARMATRADING: Thank you very much.

HANSEN: You brought your guitar with you - we're very grateful. And you're going to play and sing. But I have to ask this first question:

Ms. ARMATRADING: All right.

HANSEN: Who's charming life is it, anyway - yours?

Ms. ARMATRADING: Yes. I wrote a song called "I'm Lucky;" I wrote a song called "Blessed;" and I've written "This Charming Life." And they're all saying thank you very much for the life that I've been given.

HANSEN: There is a song on "This Charming Life" - you're going to play it for us - actually, I think is proof that you have affection for America and American audiences. "Heading Back to New York City" - this one really rocks on this CD, but you're going to play it for us with your single guitar, one-man band.

Ms. ARMATRADING: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song, "Heading Back to New York City")

Ms. ARMATRADING: (Singing) I'm going back to New York City, to do the things I never did. I'm heading back to New York City, to see the things I never saw. I know I'm gonna find you, baby, yeah. I'm gonna search this town both high and low. I'm gonna go every place that New Yorkers go. See Staten Island, gonna take the boat. I'm gonna search every place 'til I reach zero.

Going back to New York City. You might be by those Asian trees. I'm heading back to New York City. You might be by those Asian trees. And if the devil has a playground, yeah, you wanna bet New York is a devil's swing. Shake, let, shake, let's make a deal. Bright lights city spread around the globe. (unintelligible) like New York.

I'm going back to the place I lost my heart. I'm going back to the place I lost my heart. I'm going back to New York City, to do the things I never did. I know I'm gonna find you, baby, yeah. I'm gonna search this town both high and low. Gonna search everyplace till I reach zero. I'm gonna see Staten Island, gonna take the boat. Search every place 'til I reach zero.

Going back to New York City. Going back to find you. Going back to New York City. Heading back to find you. Going back to New York City. Heading back to find you.

HANSEN: "Heading Back to New York City," performed by Joan Armatrading here at NPR Studio 4A. It's from her new CD, "This Charming Life."

I read an interview with you that you are excited, you're happy about the music delivery systems - the iPod downloads, online videos. I mean, because they freed you up from, let's say, radio programmers who aren't quite sure, you know, what box to put you in.

Ms. ARMATRADING: I don't know if I know that it freed me up because I'm not the person who markets myself and has to get myself into record stores and onto radio, and stuff like that. So I was talking really more about just people in general having good access - that before, if you wanted a certain piece of music, you'd have to physically go down to the record store, ask for it, maybe not find it, order it, go back. You know, all of that's gone. You just go to iTunes, Amazon, wherever you go; you do a search. Up it pops and you download it and - hopefully, make your payment and download it.

HANSEN: Yes, yes, we mustn't forget that part of it. But I would imagine with digital delivery there, people going through your own discography and downloading, you know, tunes that they've loved of yours over the years.

Ms. ARMATRADING: Absolutely, yes. And because it's so accessible now, people must discover music that they hadn't thought to even explore before. Because if they went into a record shop and they were looking for a rock thing, they'd just head straight to the rock thing. And all the other racks would just be kind of invisible to them.

Whereas now, I think, because when they go to iTunes, the page brings up - and it's no kind of big deal for them to click on something on the way to what they were looking for. And I think they probably discover things.

HANSEN: You're going to do a tune for us that actually comes from your - we'll call them the Armatrading archives - a tune called "Love and Affection."

Ms. ARMATRADING: "Love and Affection," yeah. "Love and Affection" is the song that got me known all over the world. So I've sung this song every single tour since it was written. I still like doing it.

(Soundbite of song, "Love and Affection")

Ms. ARMATRADING: (Singing) I am not in love, but I'm open to persuasion. East or West, where's the best for romancing. With a friend, I can smile. But with a lover, I could roll my head back. I could really laugh, really laugh. Thank you. You took me dancing 'cross the floor, cheek to cheek. But with a lover, I can really move, really move. I can really dance, really dance, really dance, really dance. I can really move, really move, really move, really move.

Now, if I can feel the sun, in my eyes and the rain on my face. Why can't I feel, feel love? I can really love, really love, really love, really love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love.

Now, I got all the friends that I want. I may need more, but I should just stick to those that I have got. With friends I still feel so insecure. Little darling, I believe, I believe, you can help me a long. Just take my hand and lead me where you will. No conversation, no wave good night. Just give me love. Make love, with affection.

Sing me another love song, but this time, with a little dedication. Sing it, sing it. That's what I like. Once more with feeling. Give me love, give me love, give me love. Love. Make love, with affection. Sing me a little love song, but this time with a little dedication. Sing it, sing it, sing it, sing it, sing it, with affection. With a little dedication. Once more with feeling. Give me love, give me love, give me love. Love.

HANSEN: "Love and Affection," performed by Joan Armatrading here in Studio 4A.

You know, you and I actually share one thing in common. They call me a host on this side of the pond; you're a presenter on the other side of the pond for a BBC music program. Tell us about your show.

Ms. ARMATRADING: I do. I came up with this idea for a series, and I was thinking, well, I'm going to write to the BBC and say, you know, what do you think about doing this? And then out of the blue, I got a letter saying, would you like to present a series? So I thought, okay, well, that's working. And so the first thing that I did was kind of based on this thing that I was going to approach them with, which was to do with music and how people in the different jobs relate music to what they do.

So, spoke to, like, an architecture and painters and poets, and those kinds of things. That was a really good program.

HANSEN: Yeah. Hey, it sounds like a great job. Some - similar to the one I've got.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Can we coax another song from you? But I have to say, before you play, thank you so much for coming in and doing this with us today.

Ms. ARMATRADING: It was my pleasure, my pleasure.

HANSEN: Joan Armatrading's new CD is called "This Charming Life." And if you're lucky, she may just be coming to a music hall near you.

(Soundbite of song Two Tears)

Ms. ARMATRADING: (Singing) I've cried two tears, and it's for the last time. I've cried these tears for you. I've cried all night, and I promised myself I won't ever cry this way again. Just like the sun follows every rainstorm, and night gives way to dawn. You treat me bad, try to drag me right down, but from here I can still see the stars. My love just changed. Once I open that door, I am never gonna take you back.

Thanks America, time just stood still so I could watch (unintelligible). And what a shock. What a revelation. This is life-changing...

HANSEN: That's Joan Armatrading, playing "Two Tears" in NPR Studio 4A. You can hear more from her NPR recording at our website, NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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