Forty-six years ago I tuned in to the Old Grey Whistle Test to catch a piece on Led Zeppelin and their long-awaited movie – The Song Remains the Same.
After his chat with Robert Plant, Bob Harris introduced Armatrading who played two songs – the ubiquitous “Love and Affection” and my favourite Armatrading track – “Down to Zero”.
As teenagers in the 70s we were prone to making assumptions based on our limited awareness, so when Bob introduced Armatrading and I saw a black female with an afro and an acoustic guitar I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The female troubadours of the day tended to look like Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt or Carly Simon.
As she played the opening chords to “Down to Zero” any preconceptions evaporated and were replaced with… ‘wow, where’s she been hiding?’
It was one of those eureka moments which had maximum impact as she was an artist that not many people knew anything about.
In fact it seemed like everyone who saw her OGWT performance that evening rushed out to buy the album, (which had already been on the record shop shelves for several months), so, overnight you had 100,000 people all claiming to have ‘discovered’ her.
Of course, we would later learn that Armatrading had already done the hard yards, paying her musical dues for ten years before the OGWT ‘breakthrough’.
The album was beautifully produced with Armatrading’s vocals and guitar at the front of the mix, however at the time I don’t remember it registering with me that the man on production duties was the prolific Glyn Johns.
Johns’ resume includes production & engineering chores on landmark albums for The Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Eric Clapton. So, it was quite a compliment when he said that the Joan Armatrading album is “the best he’s ever been associated with”.
Armatrading’s second song that evening would become her signature tune, the classic “Love and Affection”, with the killer opening line…
“I’m not in love, but I’m open to persuasion”
The haunting saxophone solo on the track was provided by Gallagher & Lyle sideman Jimmy Jewell and the baritone backing vocal was provided by Clarke Peters, better known to some as Detective Lester Freamon from The Wire.
Grammy nominated, Armatrading, in her own quiet way has gone on to cultivate a long and fruitful career, doing things her way, still successfully touring and recording with a newly released live album and book of selected lyrics.