To Bexhill-on-Sea for a concert at the De La Warr Pavilion by Miss Joan Armatrading. The DLWP 1935 designed by Eric Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff is perhaps the finest 1930s modern movement building in the country. It has two galleries usually featuring stimulating modern art, a roof terrace used for events in summer, and a 990 seat concert hall. It usually features various rock music shows though I have also seen opera there. Among others I've seen Kean, Loudon Wainwright, Elvis Costello, and Alison Moyet. I even spent "An evening with Michael Portillo" there. Half politics, half trains - since you ask.
Before the concert, dinner with Mrs. M.A.E (not to be confused with Mrs. May) at the light and airy Trattoria Italiana - or should I say "high tea". We were advised to arrive at 5.45 due to the large number of pre-concert bookings. We were seated on the glass fronted balcony which gave us a bird's eye view of the restaurant working at full speed. Our own service was still efficient from two staff members just looking after the balcony. We began by sharing a platter of salami, coppa and prosciutto with pickled vegetables - particularly toothsome crunchy carrots. I followed with Gamberoni Thermidor. Six king prawns, tails on, firm and tender, in a cream sauce with rice. I would have preferred it a little more piccante, with extra Worcester sauce, brandy and perhaps some chilli. Mrs. M had tagliatelle with prawns and courgettes, perfectly al dente. Moist chocolate cake with cream and caramel ice cream for me (I know), Raspberry sorbet for her. Two generous glasses of Pinot Grigio and two of New Zealand Sauvignon. £67 before service. A good value, reliable friendly restaurant. a sound bet if you are going to the Pavilion or find yourself in Bexhill for other reasons. (****).
On to the concert. Joan Armatrading is now in her sixties, but (unlike many an ageing vocalist) has kept her voice: that rich contralto, hot chocolate with just a hint of Brummagem metal. Not one to order from your favourite barista, but in a singer it works superbly. And for the high notes she leaps octaves with a true falsetto. She is self-deprecating in saying she isn't one for complicated patter between songs, yet manages to keep her audience rapt with little asides like "I usually get applause when I sit at the keyboard", which everyone does from then on of course. It is a solo performance with no band, just her and a guitar or keyboard, filled out with various foot pedal gadgets. Mostly this works well though just occasionally her own backing vocals become a little wearing. The first half (no "support" which is good if the main act is on form, as here) she devotes entirely to a complete rendition of her new album "Not too far away" which is both deeply personal and universal. It deserves further exploration. It continues her life long exploration of love in all its ups and downs. After a short interval a perfect blend of her hits (particularly fine versions of "Me, Myself I", and "Rosie" come to mind) and less remembered songs were greatly appreciated by an audience of devoted fans, most of whom remembered her at the start of her career, as you might expect in Bexhill. (A bit rich that dig coming from an Eastbourne resident, you might say).
The only negative aspect of the evening was caused by some "younger" audience members in my row who insisted on calling out "go Jo" and stamping their feet at the most inopportune moments and who had to be told to "calm it down" by a steward to which they replied "calm what down?". If they didn't know, everyone else around them did. I say younger as when Armatrading said a song was from 1975 one called out "that's when I was born." I was tempted to ask her what she had learned in her 43 years, but, of course, didn't.
An excellent evening (****).