Sometime in the near future, Joan Armatrading will need to commission a whole new wing for her English-countryside home just to house the trophies she keeps accumulating.
To date, the 56-year-old, St. Kitts-born folk singer has nabbed plaudits including the Ivor Novello Award; several Brit and Grammy nominations; an MBE, or order of the British Empire; honorary degrees from universities in Vienna, Liverpool, Birmingham and Northampton; and even a nod from VH1, who listed her as one of the Hundred Most Influential Women in Rock.
But there was one honor missing, Armatrading admits. It bothered her so much she finally righted the wrong.
After five long years of on-the-road study, she says, “I got my own B.A. to go with all those honorary degrees. It’s in history, it’s from the Open University, and it wasn’t easy. Especially if, say, you’re in Australia and trying to get a term paper back to England when they wouldn’t let you e-mail anything out of the country, so you have to find a way to turn it in, get someone to print it out and then post it. It was quite a palaver.”
Why history, specifically the years between World War I and World War II? “Because we are history, and it’s all around us,” she replies. “People will say ‘I’m not interested in history’ and then go ask theirgranddad about what things were like 50 years ago.”
Armatrading unearthed startling historical facts along the way, but found the most interesting aspect of getting a degree simply the discipline of learning. She says, “… Because you couldn’t just write your work in a flowery way or go off on your own little tangents. There was a style and a word count, and I found that discipline very interesting because, as a songwriter, I’m used to writing whatever I feel and framing it however I want.”
That may account for the creative license she took with “Into the Blues,” her latest all-R&B experiment for the 429 label; she comes to San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on Tuesday to support it.
With fluid ease, she slips into sultry grooves of originals like “Mama Papa,” “There Ain’t a Girl Alive” and the declarative confessional “A Woman in Love” (but she won’t say with whom; she never reveals much about her private life).
“But I’m happy to have discovered that the blues isn’t one-dimensional, not just 12-bar,” she says. “Because when I started this, I was thinking ‘How am I gonna do this, because I’m no good at playing just one thing. I have to be eclectic.’ But I could be eclectic with the blues, and it was really nice.”
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 885-0750 or www.gamh.com