From her earliest days as a guitar player, Joan Armatrading has walked her own path.
A songwriter first and foremost, Armatrading’s distinctive acoustic guitar style has been a feature of her timeless recordings ever since the debut album, Whatever's for Us (opens in new tab), dropped nearly 50 years ago in 1972.
Though her father owned a guitar he forbade the would-be singer-songwriter to play it.
However, rather than dissuade, this merely served to encourage the determined teenager and she soon acquired her own instrument.
“I found my first guitar in a pawn shop,” Armatrading recently told Guitarist.
“It cost three pounds and I said to my mum, ‘Can I have it?’ She said, ‘Well, we haven’t got the money, but if they’ll swap these two prams for it, you can have it.'”
Teaching herself to play guitar and piano, Armatrading immediately set about writing songs.
But rather than taking her cues from other guitarists, she quickly developed a style all her own.
Devoid of inspiration from records and gigs, Armatrading honed her craft in a musical vacuum.
“Everything I did back then was self-taught,” she recalls.
“I wasn’t buying any records and I wasn’t going to any gigs. So there wasn’t an ‘anybody’ playing the guitar to influence me – apart from my father, who didn’t want me to play it!”
Although Armatrading later found an appreciation for other guitarists (she cites Mark Knopfler, Leslie West and Jimmy Page among her personal favorites) she maintained a staunch individuality all the way up to her first live performance.
“When I played my first gig at Birmingham University, aged 16, I didn’t know anybody else’s songs,” she remembers. “I just wanted people to hear my songs – which hasn’t really changed over the years.
“Being onstage isn’t the be-all and end-all for me. I mean, I go onstage and I do really enjoy it, but what I’m enjoying is the audience’s reaction to the songs, not, ‘Oh, look at Joan.’
“That connection with the songs is what I’m interested in.”
And in this incredible rendition of "Woncha Come on Home" – the opening track from her 1977 Glyn Johns-produced album Show Some Emotion (opens in new tab) – Armatrading shows us exactly why audiences new and old continue to connect with her spellbinding live performances.
Browse the Joan Armatrading catalog here (opens in new tab).
Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab), Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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