Joan Armatrading: Apollo Theatre, Manchester

HER PEOPLE should market a badge that says, “JA From JA Is For Everyone”. The hack was expecting the worst – high feminism on parade, a polishing of medals, a reclamation of this particular night courtesy wall-to-wall dykes-and-dungarees. But the crowd was merely self-conscious. And merely unisex.

It is a continuing and a crying shame how the angry young feminists have patronised JA the entertainer and hung her out to dry. In person she carries an uncontrived beauty that her photographers have failed to get a hold of.

The new album, To The Limit, suffers if anything from a surfeit of hard rock – sounding not unlike Little Feat at times – and a lack of unpolluted JA pure and simple. But live, in performance, this band – different in the main from that on the album – manages to cut it all anyway. Good and deep.

JA’s strengths have always been her “sound” and her arrangements. Her own guitar playing, in short supply on the album, is in strong evidence on stage. And her musicians – Ricky Hirsch on guitar, Bill Bodine on bass, Red Young on keyboards, Art Rodriguez on drums and Earl Christ on sax – warrant some special mention. White and male though they may be.

A low moment came about halfway through the show. The white guys left the stage for JA to commit a solo spot. Something in the crowd – something with a problem – shouted, “About time too!”

JA may be black and female – the two great minority causes of our time – but when it all comes down to the bottom line, white males are free to cook in her hand. The brief solo spot did feature a mess of quintessential JA guitar playing – hard, soft, original, clever – and if To The Limit represents a direction on record, then it’s in concert that JA’s musicianship stands right out.

The presentation of the show on this first of two nights at the Apollo was well organised: a convincing look at the new material, climaxing, as you might expect, with the familiar favourites from the ‘Love And Affection’ collection, and a jazzy ‘Show Some Emotion’

Late in the show, putting her guitar to one side. JA took to strutting up and down the stage for the flashbulbs up front. At first out of character and then, and yet, with all the relaxed grace of a professional natural.

Foxy JA remains. And doubtless shall be.

This is a tougher, harder kind of JA, with a touch of fusion. And one of these days she is going to come up with the ultimate Joni Mitchell album. Or vice versa. Catch this tour.

© Idris WaltersMelody Maker, 10 March 1979

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