The Ulster Hall, Belfast
29th October 2018

There’s been a trend among artists of a certain vintage in the last few years. A gig is divided into two sets, the first will consist of their most famous album played in its entirety in track order, and the second set will be a greatest hits selection, from the rest of their cannon. Joan Armatrading put her own spin on this idea, by playing her new album, which few in the audience would appear to have heard, in sequenced order for her first set, and a trawl through some deep cuts and a few hits thrown in for good measure, for the second.

It was a risky gambit but, judging by the reaction of the audience, one that worked.

The new record, ‘Not Too Far Away’ is a very strong one, which can rest alongside some of Joan’s 80s and 90s albums. Her deep, rich, resonant voice has lost none of its ability to draw the listener in, and the record is a vibrant collection of her ruminations on love, both in and out of, as all of her work is. Among the standout tracks on the new album are ‘No More Pain’, with its razor-sharp dissection of a relationship on the rocks:

This pain is my protection. It tells me to run. This pain is what you gave but it’s making me strong. You might be the author of my wounds but I’ll decide, I’ll decide, I’ll decide just how this story will end.

‘Cover My Eyes’ could have been a single from the ‘Me Myself I’ album with its catchy riff and lyrics in which the lost lover longs for another chance.

Joan outlined the gig as the first half is like the support act and the second, the headline. And so it proved. A trawl through Joan’s impressive legacy of 21 studio albums went by much too quickly. ‘Down To Zero’, ‘Drop The Pilot’, and ‘Rosie’ were interspersed with lesser-known tunes such as ‘Kind Words’ and ‘Mama Mercy’ and the crowd seems to mind not a jot.

Quietly humorous between songs, with, no doubt, lines that have been used a thousand times, her delivery is to the point, letting the listener decide what the song means, rather than spoon-feeding the audience with explanations.

What does come across live are Joan’s incredible guitar skills, which have been overshadowed by her songwriting and voice in the past. Tonight it is on point as her fingers glide across the fretboard, and her feet seem to work almost as fast, triggering loops and background tapes.

When you can end a gig with an encore of two nailed on classics in ‘The Weakness In Me’, and the evergreen ‘Love and Affection’, sending the crowd home happy is a given.