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Barbara Dickson

   

Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Barbara Dickson began her singing career in folk clubs around her native Fife in the 1960s, which exposed her to a rich combination of traditional and contemporary music.

 

In the early 1970s, she sang at a Liverpool folk club, run by a young student teacher called Willy Russell. He showed her the first draft of what would later become the award winning musical, John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert and asked her to perform the music for the show live on stage. The combination of fine writing, a superb cast of young unknowns (including Antony Sher, Bernard Hill and Trevor Eve) together with her idiosyncratic interpretation of Beatles songs made the show a smash hit, and a lengthy West End run followed.

 

The show’s co-producer, Robert Stigwood, signed her to his record label, RSO Records, where she recorded the album Answer Me, the title track becoming a top ten hit in 1976. This led to her guest residency on the much-loved BBC TV series The Two Ronnies, which brought her singing to the attention of more than 10 million viewers every week.

 

Also impressed by her performance in John Paul George Ringo… and Bert were Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who invited her to record ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ from their new musical Evita, which went on to become her second hit single in 1977. Other hits including ‘The Caravan Song’ and ‘January, February’, followed in 1980.

 

In 1982, Willy Russell invited her to star in his new musical Blood Brothers in the pivotal role of Mrs. Johnstone. Although at first reluctant to accept, having never acted before, (not even in a school play!), she rose to the challenge, in the process garnering critical acclaim as well as winning ‘Actress of the Year in a Musical’ from the Society of West End Theatres in 1984.

 

Later that year, Tim Rice approached her to take part in the original cast album recording of the musical Chess, which included the song ‘I Know Him So Well’, a duet sung with Elaine Paige. Released as a single in early 1985, the song became a huge hit worldwide and remained at the number one spot in the UK singles charts for many weeks.

 

In the 1990’s, as well as pursuing her music career, she appeared in several leading TV dramas including Taggart, two series of Kay Mellor’s award-winning Band of Gold and, for the BBC, The Missing Postman opposite James Bolam and Alison Steadman.

 

Acclaimed writer and director Chris Bond created a new stage show for her in 1996 entitled The Seven Ages of Woman. Premiering at the Liverpool Playhouse, it went on to tour extensively in 1997 and 1998 and won her the Liverpool Echo ‘Actress of the Year Award’.

 

In 1999 and 2000, she starred in Spend, Spend, Spend, a new musical by Steve Brown and Justin Greene, based on the roller coaster life story of the infamous 60’s football pools winner Viv Nicholson. The show played in the West End to capacity audiences and for her portrayal of Viv, she was awarded ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ at the 2000 Laurence Olivier Awards.

 

As well as her acclaimed acting work, she has continued to concentrate on her first love—music. In 2004 she released Full Circle, which saw the beginning of her highly successful ongoing musical association with Troy Donockley who arranged and produced the album. Full Circle, which marked a return to her folk roots, earned her some of the best reviews of her career, with The Daily Telegraph noting: ‘it is no exaggeration to describe [her] as a great singer… without dismissing the work she has done in the other three decades of her career, this is Dickson at her most engaging’. She followed this in 2006 with Nothing’s Gonna Change my World, a specially commissioned eclectic collection of the songs of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

 

Her most recent album, Time and Tide, released in 2008, features both traditional and contemporary songs, and continues the Celtic themes explored in her musical partnership with Troy Donockley. She says, ‘this has been my most exciting musical venture for years. I have loved every moment of the creative process in making this album’. An accompanying live DVD, Into the Light, has also been released featuring her hits, together with some of her own favourite songs and tracks from her most recent albums.

 

2008 saw her celebrating 40 years as a professional musician and she marked the occasion with another lengthy sold-out UK tour as well as concert dates in Ireland. She also made a return to acting with a guest role in the BBC TV drama series Doctors.

 

Her long-awaited autobiography, A Shirt Box Full of Songs was published by Hachette Scotland in October 2009.

 

She has been made an Honorary Doctor of Music by Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen as well as a Fellow of Liverpool’s John Moores University and a Companion of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts bestowed by Sir Paul McCartney. In 2002, the Queen’s Jubilee Year, Dickson was conferred with an O.B.E. for her services to music and drama in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.  

 

As a multi-million selling recording artist with an equally impressive Olivier award-winning acting career, Barbara Dickson has now firmly established herself as one of the most popular, enduring and versatile performers in the UK. However, not content to look back on past successes—‘I’ve no time for nostalgia’ she says firmly—as she enters her 41 st year in the music business she shows no signs of slowing down. Asked about the highlight of her remarkable career, she says ‘I don’t know, it hasn’t happened yet!’…

 

 

 

Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?

A: No, I don't think lyrics are necessarily poetry, but they can be. It's not a requirement of songwriting.

 

Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?

A: I'm not sure that it is vital to have rhymes in all places throughout a song. Many of the best writers do, but I think that it's the overall “feel” of a lyric that's more important.

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?

A: I think in pop music the structure is important if you are looking for plays on the radio. The 3-minute classic was the template. But if the song is narrative, it can't be any of those things. It tells a story.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?


A: No, when I was at school, I learned poetry for what it is. I have a love of it still, because of that part of my education. However, I rather like when musicians put poetry to music and see what happens!


Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?


A: No, I work from direct experience in songs. Feelings and recollections are mostly my way.

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?

A: Marketing probably. Poetry is considered too difficult, but it isn't. Look at Roger McGough and John Betjeman. Easy when you know how.

 

   

 

 

 

copyright © Barbara Dickson