As Joan Armatrading nears the end of her farewell world tour, the 64-year-old U.K.-based singer/songwriter wants to make something clear: She is not retiring from music, just the road.
“I feel very lucky to know exactly why I’m here,” she tells Billboard. “I’m here to write songs. It’s a gift and I have to do it to the best of my abilities. ‘Til I’m not here it’s my job and my favorite thing. I love writing. I’m inspired all the time, like looking out my window when I’m in Chicago, seeing the beautiful blossoms on the trees and naked branches and people walking. Who knows what I’ll see that will inspire a song.”
The West Indies-born artist, raised in a suburb of Birmingham, England, has been touring since Sept. 20, 2014, when she began a three-month sweep of the U.K. She also toured Australia and New Zealand in December 2014. And after a recent U.S. leg that ended in Los Angeles, she returned to the U.K. for eight more dates. The tour resumes July 3 in Cape Town, South Africa.
“My tours tend to be like that all the time, very long and intense,” she said. “At the end of the year I’ll be 65. I don’t want to be on the road for a year after I’m 65.” But that doesn’t preclude doing live shows. “I’m just not going to tour as extensively as I’ve done,” she explains.
The farewell world tour is a solo show with Armatrading as the only person on stage, playing her own guitar or piano. “If I did a last major tour with a band, I would still want to do a world tour on my own,” she said.
Displaying her playful sense of humor on stage, Armatrading teased her audience at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on May 9, explaining that she has been singing her 1976 hit “Love and Affection” for 40 years — which is why, she said jokingly, “I’m not going to do it tonight.”
In reality, as she told Billboard before her show, “It’s the only song in my repertoire that I’ve sung at every single concert. I love that song. Wherever I go, people know ‘Love and Affection,’ all over Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand. People seem to love it even more than when it came out.”
Despite its popularity (it’s her biggest U.K. single, peaking at No. 10), “Love and Affection” never made an appearance on The Billboard Hot 100. Her only single to register on this chart was “Drop the Pilot,” No. 78 in 1983.
On previous tours, Armatrading had three different set lists to choose from. Not this time. “When I’m on my own, I don’t get to rest,” she said. “I didn’t want to give myself any more pressure that I need to. On this tour I just wanted one set list.”
After more shows this summer in the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Norway, Armatrading will return to the U.S. in September for additional dates. Asked how audiences here compare to other countries, she replied, “It doesn’t matter which country I’m in, I always answer, America is my favorite place to play. On television in the U.K., I answer America. I love the enthusiasm of an American audience. They show it if they like something, or if they don’t like it. It’s great for an artist.”
Armatrading has been enjoying the farewell world tour and how audiences have been reacting. “It’s a bit of a selfish thing,” she confesses. “I wanted to give myself a memory. That’s happening. What’s been real nice is people have been writing me that it’s given them a strong memory as well.”