Joan Armatrading

Venue: Civic Theatre
Town: Darlington
Date: 23/7/15

As this will be Joan Armatrading's last full world tour, it was exciting not only to have the opportunity to see her play again, but to do so in a venue I have never visited before.

The Darlington Civic is a beautiful, well utilised theatre in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, this particular night, it was plagued wth sound issues, which delayed the performance starting and interrupted Joan on several occasions. That said, she handled it with aplomb and it certainly didn't stop it from being a great night of music.

After a brief opening set by a local singer songwriter, Joan took to the stage, looking smart in a black ensemble. Her sense of humour was instantly apparent still, despite this now being the 106th show of the tour. As she quipped."I came out here to do something...I can't remember you ever find that you go into a room,come out and still can't remember why you went in? So, what are your plans for this evening?" she instantly had all present failing and chortling. Laughter was again juxtaposed with music for the whole evening, as Joan joked throughout the set; "I'm making my way over to the piano now....I've arrived!" and teasing the audience three songs in that she was rather tired and thought she'd end the show there, are just two examples of previously heard jokes which still made me laugh out loud, as big a gift in itself, as her music.

Throughout the set she accompanied herself on both guitars ( acoustic six and twelve strings Abs an electric) and piano. No need for a band. Specially created for this tour, behind her, was a screen projecting images and clips from her music videos, which gave many of the songs an extra nuance of emotion and of meaning. The smile on her face, the light of enjoyment sparkling in her eyes and the power of her vocals completely belies her sixty four years. Incredible.

Over the course of the night, highlight songs for me included All The Way From America, More Than One Kind Of Love (so true ) These Are The Times (the images on the screen made this incredibly emotive), Drop The Pilot, Love and Affection, Right on Target and Rosie. Even during the more heavy blues numbers, which aren't so much my style, I was completely mesmerised watching her fingers jump across the guitars.

Her stories from her career to accompany her specially composed slideshow, as she humorously and movingly shared some of her memories and highlights from a rather remarkable career.

Choosing to abandon the traditional encore, she opted instead to good naturedly enjoy the rapturous, well earned applause, teasing us all with, "I'm sure we all know what happens here, the artist leaves the stage, the audience claps and cheers and the artist comes back. I'm just going to stand here while you do all that." I can't help but feel that despite her success, she doesn't take any of it for granted. Ending the night with Willow, she asked us all to sing with her, then to sing a chorus for her; enjoyed by both equally.

A truly wonderful night of music, a much needed escape In These Times. Come back soon, Joan!

Helen Mitchell

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