Singer Barbara Dickson reveals ‘deep connection’ with history of Dunfermline in BBC Radio Scotland programme

Barbara Dickson with BBC radio host Nicola Meighan
Barbara Dickson with BBC radio host Nicola Meighan

Michael Alexander previews a BBC Radio Scotland programme which sees singer Barbara Dickson return to her Dunfermline roots where she reminisces about childhood influences.

She is one of Scotland’s biggest selling female artists who is remembered by many as the curly haired woman who sang with Elaine Paige on the 1985 hit song I Know Him So Well.

But as Dunfermline-raised singer Barbara Dickson takes a slow walk down memory lane on the BBC Radio Scotland series Somewhere Only We Know which airs on Wednesday June 19, she reveals it’s the “deep connection” with the history of her home town that drew her to folk music and inspired her to become what she would describe first and foremost as a storyteller.

The programme sees Barbara invite Nicola Meighan on a walk through the beautiful pathways of Dunfermline’s Pittencrieff Park known locally as The Glen.

They go in search of the park’s famous peacocks and explore the wilderness where Barbara would play as a child.

But it’s when they visit Dunfermline Abbey – one of the most important buildings in medieval Scotland – that Barbara reveals how personally significant the place has been in her life.

Dunfermline Abbey

As well as her parents being married there and she being baptised there, she’s always felt a strong emotional connection to the “unbroken” history of the abbey which still fires the imagination and which was also felt by her Liverpudlian mother who, as an outsider, could see the “beauty and majesty” of the place.

“Dunfermline Abbey is absolutely the most important building ever for me,” explains Barbara, who is fascinated by the near-1000-year history of the abbey dating back to Queen Margaret, King Malcolm Canmore and David I, and who talks about the importance of her faith.

“Because my mother had such respect for it and she wasn’t even from here, she had this thing about steps that had grooves in them worn away.

Barbara Dickson

“She was the first person to say imagine all the feet that have stood on that step and walked up and down those stairs.

“Hardly anyone would notice that, but she was very sensitive to the lives of people going back hundreds of years and kind of felt in touch with them, like an unbroken line.

“I think I’ve inherited it – and it could be their prayers are all stuck in the wall.”

Born in 1947, and attracting praise over the years from the likes of John Lennon, Ray Charles and Bjorn from Abba, Barbara describes herself as a “Scottish folk musician turned popstar actress and back again.”

Actress, singer and songwriter Barbara Dickson, aged 36

Her lifelong friend Billy Connolly describes her as a “one off”.

But despite having moved away to Edinburgh as a teenager and then later to London, the singer reveals how she would often return to Dunfermline and reminisce with her brother.

She recalls how The Glen is “part public park and part wilderness”. And she remembers how, as a youngster, she would come to look at the squirrels and, of course, the peacocks which used to stand in the middle of the paths and display their tail feathers.

One of the Pittencrieff Park peacocks

She also talks about the indoor and outdoor stage at the pavilion and reminisces about talent competitions in the 1950s. She didn’t take part because people “didn’t show off” in her family.

She reveals another family connection when she reaches the aviary, because it’s here that her grandfather James Dickson used to assist as a volunteer.

She would visit in the 1950s to see Billy the Cockatoo.

“He collected money for charity,” she laughs.

Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline

“He had a little slot on the front of the cage and all the children would put pennies in. Billy would pick up the penny with his beak and he would put them in a pile.”

If there’s one thing that does sadden her, however, it’s that Dunfermline has not been recognised in the same way as St Andrews – despite also being a site of major significance in Scottish history.

“My mother was from Liverpool so I didn’t have a particularly Scottish background,” she adds when asked about her early musical influences, and revealing in the programme about the pressures of appearing in the West End.

“My father was a Scot but my mother loved all sorts of music and used to play music on her radiogram.

“I do remember her singing along to stuff. She could sing harmony without any difficulty. My brother and myself were brought up with music in the house.

“My brother’s a great musician. He’s actually a sculptor by profession. The three of my sons can all plan and sing. One is a professional musician. The others aren’t. They can just do it because it’s always been around.”

*Somewhere Only We Know featuring Barbara Dickson airs on BBC Radio Scotland at 1.30pm on Wednesday June 19.