Sleight of Hand (album)

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Sleight of Hand
Sleight of Hand Joan Armatrading.jpeg
Studio album by Joan Armatrading
Released 12 May 1986
Recorded Bumpkin Studios
Genre Pop
Length 40:28
Label A&M
Producer Joan Armatrading
Joan Armatrading chronology
Secret Secrets
(1985)Secret Secrets1985
Sleight of Hand
The Shouting Stage
(1988)The Shouting Stage1988

Sleight of Hand is an album by the British singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading. It was her tenth studio album and was recorded and produced by Armatrading at Bumpkin Studio, her own purpose built studio in the grounds of her home. The album was released on 12 May 1986 by A&M Records.


Armatrading began work on the album in November 1985, following the release of her ninth studio album Secret Secrets in February of that year. She had planned for some time to produce her own albums and had gradually assumed control of many aspects of recording and production. However, when approaching the project of producing her very first album, she was nervous about the possibility of her record label, A&M, refusing to release the album[1] (A&M had initially refused to release her eighth studio album The Key on the grounds that it was not commercial enough, and had asked Armatrading to write some additional, more commercial material).[2]

To deal with this possibility, Armatrading decided to have a dry run, and record and produce samples that would eventually become Sleight of Hand. To do this, she asked bass guitarist Steve Greetham and keyboardist Alex White, who toured with her following the release of Secret Secrets, to come to her studio and record songs for her new album. This was unusual for Armatrading as she normally kept her studio and touring bands separate, using different musicians – on this occasion she wanted musicians around her that she knew and felt comfortable with, and who would be supportive during her first attempt at production.[3] They drafted in drummer Geoff Dugmore with the plan that the three musicians, plus Armatrading playing all guitars, would record some songs – with Armatrading also producing, to see how it went. Steve Greetham noted at the time that it was "very unusual" for Armatrading to ask members of her touring band to record with her, but said he and Alex White "were very pleased to be able to do it."[1]

Armatrading had already recorded some demos on her own, with a drum machine, guitar and keyboards; and during November and December 1985 the quartet recorded some songs based on those. Armatrading then decided her recording equipment "wasn't good enough"[3] and had it upgraded with a twenty-four track tape machine and better musical instruments. From January 1986, she drafted in Mark Wallis to engineer the new album and she and the band re-recorded, calling in session musicians to do some overdubs, and asking guitarist Eddie Golga to play on one track – "Laurel and the Rose". Armatrading recorded her vocals in seclusion, as she had done since the album Back to the Night, being too shy to record in front of other people. After the recordings were complete, she asked Steve Lillywhite, who had produced Walk Under Ladders and The Key, to do the mixing.

In a 1986 interview, Armatrading said that she considered it to be one of her best albums and that it was "an overall rock album as opposed to a jazz song here and another bit there. It's a complete album in terms of sound and songs."[4]

The songs[edit]

Cover of the single "Jesse".released from the album Sleight of Hand

Armatrading gave an interview to Tracks magazine in June 1986 in which she explained the background and thoughts to the various songs on the album.

"Reach Out" was released as a single. It is a Motown referenced song, referring back to the Four Tops' 1967 hit single "Reach Out I'll Be There" and their album Reach Out.

The idea for "Angelman" came from a film script Armatrading was sent and also from the fact that her younger brother, the actor Tony Armatrading,[5] had appeared in the TV series Angels.

"One More Chance" carries overtones of Princes' album 1999.

"Jesse" is also based on a film script, though in an interview in 1988 with broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, Armatrading stated that she came to "hate" the song.[6] The song was also released as a single, with its 'B' side "The River's on Fire" – not available on the album.[7]

"Don Juan" was Armatrading's favourite track because it is "romantic … a nice, soppy love song … and I like that."[8]

"Kind Words (And A Real Good Heart)" was released as a single in May 1986 but entered the UK Singles Chart for just one week, at number 81.[9] It also reached number 37 in the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.


The album reached number 34 in the UK album charts, number 70 in the US charts, and number 39 in Australia.[10] It was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry for sales in excess of 60,000 copies.

Steve Hochman of the Los Angeles Times said that the album conveyed a "tough, vulnerable stance" through its melodies, rhythms and lyrics, and said that Armatrading had "found the best producer for her distinctive work: Joan Armatrading".[11]

Dave Connolly of Allmusic referred to Sleight of Hand as "a well crafted album [with] uncluttered production [and] expressiveness and energy", singling out the tracks Russian Roulette, Don Juan and Laurel and the Rose for special mention, and giving the album a star rating of 3 out of 5.[12]

Hugh Fielder of Sounds magazine said in a 1986 review that the song "One More Chance" was Armatrading's "most stunning song since 'Love and Affection'".[13]

Bass player Steve Greetham noted later that "[Armatrading's] acoustic guitar is amazing – absolutely amazing", and gave the opinion that if she focused on that instead of electric guitars and other instruments, she'd sell "a bucket-load".[3] In this he echoed the sentiments of Mike Howlett, who had produced Secret Secrets.

The Tour and After[edit]

Steve Greetham and Geoff Dugmore, who played on the album, were invited to tour with Armatrading, but declined. Geoff Dugmore had other work projects and Steve Greetham "couldn't face another six months on the road.".[14] Armatrading felt let down that the pair declined to tour with her. The tour ended badly for Armatrading when she collapsed with exhaustion after coming off stage, and she couldn't complete the tour – many of the American concerts were cancelled as were the Australian ones.

The feeling at the time was, according to Greetham,[15] that Armatrading had reached a low point, she'd been pushing herself too hard and her albums weren't selling as well as they used to. She decided to take a year off and planned in future to cut her touring down.

During her year off Armatrading stayed away from "anything to do with music".[15] She bought a stud farm near Hindhead as a business venture in case she could no longer make a living from music[16] and spent the rest of her time in the garden, or sleeping and watching TV. She said: "I didn't play my guitar, I didn't write, didn't listen to much music or anything."[15]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and arranged by Joan Armatrading.

Side One

  1. " Kind Words (And A Real Good Heart)" – 3:46
  2. "Killing Time" – 3:54
  3. "Reach Out" – 4:15
  4. "Angel Man" – 3:41
  5. "Laurel and the Rose" – 3:46

Side Two

  1. "One More Chance" – 5:14
  2. "Russian Roulette" – 4:33
  3. "Jesse" – 3:26
  4. "Figure of Speech" – 3:25
  5. "Don Juan" – 5:14



  1. ^ a b Mayes, p. 141
  2. ^ Mayes, p. 118
  3. ^ a b c Mayes p. 142
  4. ^ Matsumoto, John (7 August 1986). "Armatrading Works Her Own Magic". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  5. ^ Tony Armatrading on IMDb Retrieved 8 May 2013
  6. ^ Mayes, p. 145
  7. ^ Images for Joan Armatrading – Jesse, Discogs, Retrieved 9 May 2013
  8. ^ Mayes, p. 144
  9. ^ "Official Charts: Joan Armatrading". Official Official Charts Company. Retrieved 21 August 2016. 
  10. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (Illustrated ed.). St. Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 19. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  11. ^ Hochman, Steve (29 June 1986). "Summer Album Roundup : Armatrading Produces". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  12. ^ "Sleight of Hand", Allmusic, Retrieved 8 May 2013
  13. ^ Fielder, p. 22
  14. ^ Mayes p. 146
  15. ^ a b c Mayes, p. 147
  16. ^ Mayes, p. 169


  • Sleeve notes: Sleight of Hand, 1986, A&M Records (AMA 5130)
  • Fielder, Hugh (24 May 1986) Sounds, Spotlight Publications, London
  • Hardy, Phil, Laing, Dave, (1990) The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, Faber & Faber, London. ISBN 0-02-919562-4
  • Mayes, Sean (1990). Joan Armatrading – A Biography (unauthorised). Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-571-16865-5.