Joan Armatrading tells Rachel Rickard Strauss about her visit to York.

JOAN ARMATRADING feels she is ready to search the roots of her sound with a new album Into The Blues, after more than 30 years of recording and touring.

"Blues is the roots of all popular music, " she softly explains. "I've always felt that at some point this would be something I'd want to explore.

I've dabbled in blues with tracks such as Lost The Love, but a blues album is something I've always known I'd do."

This album is a departure from her naturally diverse mixture of genres and styles. "Usually I'm very eclectic; I play a bit of blues, a bit of pop, some soul.

But this album is all blues; whether it is swamp blues, rock blues, it's still all blues."

On February 22, Joan brings unreleased material from her new album and classics from her back catalogue to the Grand Opera House, York.

"Because the album hasn't been released yet, there will be some songs that people won't know at all. That's how I think it should be. But, of course, I'll be playing Love And Affection as well. That song got me known all round the world so there is no way I'm going to stop playing it. And I still enjoy performing it."

Joan's music is renowned for its honesty; her songs have been described as confessions whispered into the listener 's ear.

This album could be her most intimate yet. As well as searching for the core of her style and influences, she made the record on her own.

"There was something very relaxed and easy about this album. I made the whole thing myself; I play everything apart from the drums on the album and recorded it myself as well.

Then I could complete it in my own time, without having to be shy about anyone else listening, and with no distractions at all."

Since Joan is notoriously evasive about her personal life, earning her the nickname 'Joan Armourplating', this album may be the closest we can get to understanding who this quiet singer is.

The tour shares the intimacy of the album. The band consists very simply of a drummer, bassist, guitarist and a keyboard player. This is her second tour with a minimal band, a set-up she prefers since it is very relaxed.

It is surprising to hear Joan confess to being shy and to hear how softly she speaks. She has toured for more than 25 years and has rarely been out of the limelight.

She played for Nelson Mandela on his 70th birthday, received the Ivor Novello award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection, and was nominated as one of the 100 most influential women in rock in the VH1 poll in 1999.

All this alongside recording numerous platinum, gold and silver albums, each met with popular and critical acclaim.

Joan is prepared to put aside her shyness for causes she believes in.

She is involved with the work of the Prince's Trust, is a trustee of the Open University and hosts a lunch every year of her tenure as President of Women of the Year in the UK.

She explains: "The Women of the Year honours those women who go that extra mile; the high achievers. Uniquely, women of all genres are united, whether they are a shepherdess, journalist, politician, artist and it is an honour to invite them to a lunch to recognise them for the extraordinary things that they do.

"Take for example Jane Tomlinson. She suffers from an incurable cancer, now one of the most common diseases. I know many people with cancer and many who have died from it.

But Jane manages to do two marathons a year, and cycled across America.

"When you see her she's really very frail, quite small and weak and she's often on the verge of giving up. But she doesn't and she raises a lot of money her cycle alone raised £1,125,000 for cancer and children's charities."

Asked about her favourite current artists, Joan's quiet voice suddenly pipes up. "Leona from X-Factor! She's very talented. People compare her a lot to Mariah Carey but she's still very much Leona."

Did she vote? "I absolutely did!

She deserved to win and could have whatever sort of career she wants. She could be round for a long time."

X-Factor winners are not renowned for their longevity but I'm inclined to believe Joan; if anyone knows about maintaining a long, successful singing career, it's Joan Armatrading.

Joan Armatrading, Grand Opera House, York, Thursday, February 22, 8pm. Tickets at £24.50 on 0870 606 3595.