Joan Armatrading was the singer who helped make it happen for Lisbee Stainton when she started out, straight out of college.
“I was lucky I got thrown out of the frying pan into the fire in a good way”, says Lisbee who performs at Chichester’s Chichester Inn on Wednesday, March 25 (tickets on 01243 783185). “I had a publisher I got while I was still studying (on the popular music course at Goldsmiths in London). We were encouraged to begin gigging while we were still studying, and my publisher got me on a tour supporting Joan Armatrading. I went straight into touring with her for four months. I know of quite a few artists who have been helped by Joan. She is unique. I have such a lot of respect for her. She taught me such a lot. She is so giving to young musicians. She gives you the kind of experience that is usually reserved for people that are already experienced or have got a big-money label behind them. She takes unsigned artists out on the road with her, which is a real testament to her faith in music. I did 75 gigs with her. It was fantastic. It was the first tour I have ever done and maybe the biggest I will ever do!
“I think I knew the rules and ropes of performing because I had done a lot of gigging by then, but she was brilliant. I had never been into that concert-hall situation. We were playing venues I could only ever dream of playing and still dream of going back to, places like the Royal Albert Hall.”
There was much to learn. They started out in Germany and moved on to Switzerland where one particular gig stands out in memory: “I was screwed by the promoter who opened the doors as I came on stage rather than letting people get to their seats first. It was a bit mean. I suppose it depends on people’s perceptions of the support act. Some people see the support act as a chance to go away for half an hour. Other people see the support act as a chance to be exposed to new music.”
Lisbee suspects the promoter on that particular night was in the first camp: “But it was doable. As a performer and a musician, you have got to be able to deal with whatever happens. It doesn’t stop it being soul-destroying, though, but the show must go on.”
And no, you really can’t say anything directly to the audience at that point: “Your relationship with the audience is non-existent! All you can do is just try to capture as many people as you can.
“Joan came up to me afterwards, and she knew. She knows everything that goes on. That’s why she is called Queen Joan. She sees everything. And she said to me ‘Did you enjoy that? And I said ‘Yes, surprisingly I did.’ Joan said to me ‘It really doesn’t matter if you are playing to one person or 10,000 as long as you have got that one person listening to you.’”
It was an important lesson: “She was right. It was Joan who really set me on my path ever since.”
Helping set up her, though, was that course at Goldsmiths: “It was an amazing course. It was unique. It really focused on creating individual artists and letting them mould their careers to their own particular skill set. It is about opening up your creative horizons. They really did take the full range of people. That’s what I loved.”