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The Bridge Interviews

Barbara Dickson

Barbara Dickson

June 2024

Coming fast on the heels of Burford Festival this summer is Guiting Music Festival running from 19-28 July. The line- up is varied, including jazz, classical recitals, an orchestral concert, and other musical entertainers. On the penultimate night, Barbara Dickson is giving one of her very rare Post- Farewell Tour evenings. Barbara’s career sweeps through an incredible arc of folk-song, pop songs, musical theatre and TV, performing in venues big and small the world over. But her attitude is so very grounded in family and in a straightforward view of her voice. It is a beautiful voice, attested by many awards and accolades, and she says of it “I have no special regime. All I do is have a sensible life style”. Now in her eighth decade, she says “you must expect the voice to change – even if you are a really good singer.

I was curious about what it takes to sustain such a varied career. Barbara believes creative people have a force inside them, a personal drive, which can’t be resisted. All she has ever wanted to do is to sing songs; she will sing even if no- one is listening. She admires both Ed Sheeran, a “one-off” whose musical career reflects such a drive, and is also a big fan of Paul McCartney – a “lovely man” unaffected by fandom. Barbara says “Singing is not about technique, but what is in your heart: that is the secret.”

Barbara began her singing career in her home country of Scotland, immersed in Scottish folk song, but informed also from her mother’s eclectic choices of music. A school music teacher was key to her early folk music career. Barbara’s pop career includes 15 albums in the UK albums chart starting in 1977, and four Top 20 UK singles. She’s also a two-times Olivier winner. The “Northern Circuit” was really important to establish her as a singer. With guitar it was there that she “learned my craft”.

A profound change came through an invitation to sing in the stage show “John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert”, when she was 27. Tim Rice had heard Barbara sing a cover of a Beatles song, and was captivated. From that success came a stint on the Two Ronnies Show, then the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber “Evita” soundtrack. Other films followed, including “Spend, spend, spend”. The people she worked with reads like the “Little Black Book” of the creative industry: Billy Connolly, Willy Russell, Gerry Rafferty, Maddie Prior – I could go on. Stage shows were very demanding, and ultimately she stepped away.

Her album, “Full Circle” released in 2004, shows Barbara back with her song-singing roots, working with Troy Donockley, an English singer and songwriter. That was an “extraordinary partnership”, she says. There have been many more recordings since.

And so to the Guiting Music Festival event: a partnership will be on stage, between Barbara and Nick Holland, another great singer and musician. The show is being opened by Anthony Toner, a singer of “great magnitude”, she says, based in Belfast but from Coleraine originally. For the show, Barbara will be playing her favourite guitars – either Martins or Fyldes. One will be standard tuned, and the other de- tuned to a specific pattern best suited to the atmosphere of some of the songs she’ll sing. Amongst the set will be “Caravan”, arguably her signature song, which includes the words “I will step out into the unknown, but I’m going to do it anyway”, written by Mike Batt. He came to one of her Farewell Tour Shows, and only then realised how much it meant to so many people. Barbara loves the intimacy of small shows, and is looking forward to discovering a little of the Cotswolds, an area she does not know. Reflecting on her career, Barbara said that she only became a “proper” songwriter aged 70; before that she was a successful singer, but of other people’s songs. So, we have a creative legend of immense experience, sustained fame and beautiful modesty, with a wonderful voice, doing just two festivals this year – it’s a must to get to our local one.

Ruth Reavley

Barbara Dickson
Barbara Dickson
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