Joan Armatrading performing her Not Too Far Away tour at The Stables Milton Keynes on Monday 10th September 2018

Review by Kevin Cooper

Walking onto a minimalistic stage adorned with just a couple of guitars, a keyboard and a piano, Joan Armatrading looked decidedly uneasy at the rapturous applause that greeted her at The Stables in Milton Keynes last night.

Touring to promote her nineteenth album, Not Too Far Away, she explained that this concert would be one of two halves; the first consisting of many unknown songs as she delivered the new album in its entirety, and the second some of her numerous hits. Appearing without her customary band, this was solo Armatrading exploiting an array of effect pedal specification which at times seemed to challenge her and did her music few favours.

Opening with the appropriate I Like It When We’re Together which segued into the spiritual introduction of Still Waters, she captivated the audience. Whilst mainly sticking to the guitar she did garner applause when she moved to the piano for Always In My Dreams.

With the first half brought to an end with album finisher Loving What You Hate, Armatrading proved that she still has a voice that has undoubtedly aged pretty well. But of course delivering material that some of your audience may not have heard before amounts to a hard sell and this was no exception. Whilst it was a well received performance, it didn’t consistently ignite until the second half.

After the interval she started with an accomplished rendition of one of her most celebrated songs, Down To Zero, and she immediately grabbed everyone’s attention. Travel So Far and Empty Highway were given an outing and whilst she sometimes appeared a little lost on stage and her between song banter seemed strained, she was forgiven as she belted out fans favourites All The Way From America, I Really Must Be Going and Mama Mercy.

Finishing the set with Drop The Pilot, it was arguably a case of applauding the singer and the songs which have become part of people’s lives, rather than the performance itself. But back on for one of her most emotionally affecting songs, Weakness In Me, she concluded the evening with the richly complex and beautiful, Love And Affection which served to reward her fans for their loyalty.