“It’s not my last tour,” Armatrading insists. “I emphasized the word 'major' so people would understand what it is. It’s my last major tour. Some people have realized what I’m saying, and other people haven’t. I’ll still make records, so I won’t be retiring, and I’ll still tour. They just won’t be for such long periods of time. So whatever touring I do after this one will be much shorter. Maybe a month, but not much longer. That’s all it means."
Performed solo sans a band, Armatrading’s aptly titled "Me Myself I" tour is revisiting the highlights of a career that’s now more than 40 years old. It's a career that has produced 20 albums, a healthy number of chart hits in her native U.K. (“Me Myself I,” “Love and Affection,” “Drop the Pilot”), various Grammy nods and nominations for England’s prestigious Brit Award, several academic degrees, and an Ivor Novello Award. Still, it’s her collection of classic songs — a catalog that spans a remarkable variety of genres — with her gruff yet surprisingly sensitive vocals that stand front and center. Her music has always had clear connections to everyday emotions like love and longing.
“I’ve always been a very eclectic writer from day one,” says the 64-year-old singer/guitarist, who was born on the island of Saint Kitts in the British West Indies. “Even when I started out, I’d record a folk thing followed by a jazz thing followed by a pop thing followed by a reggae thing. I’m just interested in music really," Armatrading says. "That’s what I’m here for — to write songs and present them to people and help them communicate. People have always told me that there are certain songs of mine that have helped them express things that they’ve tried to communicate for themselves. I love hearing stuff like that.”
Though she admits she’s shy socially, Armatrading is insistent when it comes to her music. She refuses to discuss what to expect in the way of new music and says she has no interest in revisiting her early catalog via revamped string arrangements or by sharing the microphone for the sake of celebrity duets. She shrugs off the idea of an anthology or catalog reissues. Likewise, she refuses to cede control of her songs in the studio, either to a producer or the studio musicians, regardless of their résumés.
“This is what I was born to do,” Armatrading explains. “It’s all very natural. When I’m going into the studio, I know how I want the song to work. I already know how it will start, and I know how it will end up. I know all that stuff. I don’t rely on the producer or any of the musicians to tell me how the song goes. It’s something I was born with. It wasn’t something I had to learn. I can’t even take credit for my talent. I was just given this thing.”
If Armatrading seems somewhat matter of fact about her skills and sensibilities, she doesn’t take their impact on others for granted. “My songs come out of observation, but I write from the first person,” she notes. “I think that’s why a lot of people connect with them. The songs are written in a way that allows anyone to own these songs. I want everyone to feel like they can connect with my songs.”
As confident as she is when it comes to her accomplishments, Armatrading insists she’s not the type to tout them. The music speaks for itself, she says. “I’m not interested in writing a book,” she demurs. “I might consider it a few years down the road, but not at this point. I want people to hear my music, and when they do, I can only hope that it speaks to them. However, I’m not into doing any more than that.”
So what more does she want to do, considering all she’s accomplished so far? “I’m just doing Joan Armatrading,” she chuckles. “That’s all I’m interested in. I’m just concerned with making sure that I work.”
Joan Armatrading performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $37.50 to $57.50 plus fees. Visit ticketmaster.com, or call 954-462-0222.