It’s a long time since she went to Dunfermline High School and lived with her parents in Dollytown, a prefab housing estate in Rosyth.
But Barbara Dickson is still writing, recording and singing her heart out with the passion for her craft that has been evident since she began developing her talents in a variety of folk clubs and bothy bars around Fife and Angus in the 1960s.
In those days, her work included albums with Archie Fisher, the first of which, The Fate O’ Charlie, a collection of songs from the Jacobite rebellions, was released in 1969.
However, Barbara has never been interested in being pigeon-holed, categorised or sticking to any one formula.
On the contrary, even a glance at her extensive CV demonstrates how she has appeared on Top of the Pops, excelled on the festival circuit and highlighted her acting skills on the stage and in TV series such as Band of Gold.
She loves the old Hollywood musicals and was acclaimed for her performances in Blood Brothers and Chess, the latter of which was co-written by Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus.
These last 18 months have been frustrating, but finally she is returning to the touring circuit with a series of shows and will be in Fochabers on October 6.
The venue is Gordon Castle, a grand setting for any comeback performance, and Barbara will be working with long-term collaborator Nick Holland on a diverse collection of different music.
There’s certainly plenty of material in her repertoire, whether it’s her own hits such as Answer Me, January February and I Know Him So Well, her connections to Scotland’s traditional music history, or the tracks from her new CD, Time Is Going Faster.
All the world’s a stage for Barbara
Her newly-released autobiography, A Shirt Box Full of Songs, has poignantly captured myriad facets of her journey from a working-class upbringing and playing folk gigs in spit-and-sawdust pubs to appearing on grand concert stages and flying out to an oil rig with Noel Edmonds to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Forties Field.
Barbara was also among the performers who lent lustre to the evocative work Far Far from Ypres, which was staged around Scotland in 2018, including at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre, Dundee’s Caird Hall and Eden Court in Inverness, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
In common with many of her generation, she is at her happiest when she is performing and working with other musicians and actors in a common artistic bond.
She has recalled meeting Willy Russell, who showed Barbara the first draft of what subsequently became the award-winning musical John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert – and he asked her to perform the music.
The combination of fine writing, a cast of young and largely unknown actors, including Antony Sher, Bernard Hill and Trevor Eve, allied to Barbara’s idiosyncratic interpretation of some classic Beatles songs, made the show hugely successful.
And this redoubtable individual has never looked back in the last four decades.
We caught up with her to talk about some of the tracks that have had the biggest impact on her life and career – and, unsurprisingly, she offered an eclectic selection.
Barbara said: “There are so many important songs across the genres.
“I have a vast and profound memory for songs and their place in my life.
“Here are a few favourites of mine.”
Tramps and Hawkers – Jimmy MacBeath
An itinerant worker and champion of the Travelling community, Jimmy was born in Portsoy in 1894 and died in Aberdeen in 1972.
This is one of his most haunting renditions.
Barbara said: “The great Jimmy MacBeath was a huge figure on the folk scene in clubs of the 1960s and I was very fortunate to hear him sing this brilliant song.
“It is possibly my favourite Scots song, away from the tradition”.
Look Over the Hill – Gerry Rafferty
Barbara was among the artists who performed at the Abbey Folk Club in Arbroath, which was also a venue that hosted Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly.
And she later contributed backing vocals to the Paisley-born singer-songwriter’s most popular albums of the 1970s, City to City and Night Owl.
She recalled: “Gerry was a titan of popular music and he happened to be a Scot so I’m very proud of him and to have called him my friend.
“We worked together a lot, but this song is one of the first I ever saw and heard him play in Glasgow in the late 1960s.”
Across the Universe – The Beatles
There’s no denying the connection between the Fab Four and Fife’s own Barbara.
She recalled: “The Beatles have been a huge influence on me and my career, as I was a massive fan as a youngster in the early 1960s when they first emerged, to being featured in a show, written by Willy Russell, about their life and work, called John, Paul, George, Ringo…. and Bert in 1974.
“I was then commissioned to make an album of their work in 2006 for Universal Music.
“I love many Beatles songs and work them up for parties and gatherings, but this is a profound example and John Lennon’s lyric writing at its best, in my humble opinion.”
Rock and Roll Doctor – Little Feat
Barbara’s choices have so far all been British, but her tastes are of the international variety and she had no hesitation in choosing an iconic US rock group.
She said: “I love American music and this song typifies my appreciation of it, in that Little Feat were a great fusion of styles but carved out a new style for themselves.
“They were one of my favourite bands ever and Lowell George is a great slide guitar player.
“It’s difficult to choose a track, but this is magic”.
La Mer – Charles Trenet
Barbara also selected one of the more wistful songs from a European perspective: a track that has been recorded by many others, ranging from Bobby Darin and George Benson to Robbie Williams, but never with the same intensity.
She said: “I have always loved this song. It brings shivers to my spine and I don’t know why.
“I think it’s filmic and Charles Trenet sings and arranges it so wonderfully.
“It has certainly got what we call a ‘big finish’, but it’s the melody that I love.”
The Folks Who Live on the Hill – Peggy Lee
There weren’t many better arrangers around in the 1950s – or full stop – than Nelson Riddle who worked with a range of singers, including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
But Barbara has chosen one of the most tear-jerking tracks he ever created with chanteuse Peggy Lee, who is most famous for her recording of Fever.
She said: “This is the great American Songbook at its pinnacle with singing by the great Peggy Lee and arrangement by Nelson Riddle: sad and beautiful at the same time.
“I never tire of the perfection of it. There’s no decoration in her singing, but there is massive drama at the same time. You don’t have to be loud to communicate.”
Barbara admits that she will be delighted to return to touring after more than a year of concert venues being closed because of the Covid pandemic.
And she will be doing her best to avoid shedding tears when she arrives in Moray.
She said: “My UK-wide concert tour for 2021 has been delayed until 2022 and that will bring me as far north as Perth with the band.
“However, I have five shows arranged in October and the first of these will be at Gordon Castle in Fochabers.
“It will be 20 months since I last played live with the fantastic Nick Holland in this more intimate line-up, so I can’t wait.
“I’m just hoping that I don’t start greetin’ when I step on to the stage on October 6, after being away for so long!”
- Details of all Barbara’s shows can be found at barbaradickson.net and tickets for the Gordon Castle event are also available from forteproductions.co.uk