Legendary singer and Olivier Award winning actress Barbara Dickson has had a glittering career in the business that we call entertainment, with appearances on the West End stage - most notably as Mrs. Johnstone in Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers and Spend, Spend, Spend - and in television programs such as Taggart, Band of Gold and The Two Ronnies.
She's had numerous hit albums and singles and has just released Time and Tide, a new DVD called Into the Light and - to top it all off - she’s going on tour!
GaydarRadio’s Neil and Debbie chatted with Barbara about being a Dame, performing live, the singing bug and why it is important to look forward, rather than to look back.
I know you’re not officially a Dame yet, but let’s face it, Dame Barbara has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
You’re very kind. My friend Lez Brotherston calls me Dame Barbara. It’s fantastic and it does have a certain ring to it, but I’m not certain it’ll ever happen. I’m thinking I was very lucky to get an OBE, actually – I lead such a quiet life and I have such a low profile.
You’ve just released a new album, a DVD and you’re touring as well! Is there no stopping you?
I love doing live work, you see. I don’t work a lot abroad, I mainly work in the UK, so although it all seems like I’m constantly doing concerts, it’s actually not like that at all. I usually do a couple of concerts at the beginning of the year, but this year I’ve already done the whole of the month of February and we got interest to do more dates, so we’ve put more dates in
from the middle of April to the beginning of May. It’s actually about 6 weeks in total, but it had 6 weeks off in the middle.
Why do you like performing live?
I get to do the music I want to do and - generally speaking - that’s a wonderful thing. I do not have to fulfil anybody else’s opinion of me and what I am. I move forward and my new album is full of new and adventurous music and that’s what I like. I mean, I’m not in the nostalgia business, I don’t really like looking back that much.
When you are out singing live, do you see the people in the front row mouthing back at you?
No, I don’t, actually. For my DVD I had my very, very biggest fans of all time all along in the front row. They’d come a very long way because we did it in a very small theatre - very intimate - but they all had to really behave themselves! But it was lovely because it was such an intimate place. It was really the closest that I ever got to them while performing and the closest that they got to me, and it was lovely. They all got their names on the DVD as well which I thought it was a fantastic idea.
In general, I don’t know if the audience mouths the words because usually the theatres are so big and I can’t see anybody properly except if they’re in the front row. Also, my fans don’t tend to sit in the front row that much; they’re not that type. They tend to get themselves a little bit round the back so they can get a decent view.
Why are you so keen to look forward, rather than to look back?
I think it’s a dangerous move to look back. It’s as if you haven’t got anything going for you if you look back. It’s also as if all you’ve got to talk about is ‘I Know Him So Well’ or The Two Ronnies - which I’m perfectly willing to talk about - but it’s all part of the whole.
Significantly, when people ask me what the highlight of my career has been, I always say that I don’t know, because it hasn’t happened yet. It’s slightly mischievous of me, but it’s true. If somebody had asked me in 1985 what the highlight of my career was and I’d said, 'I Know Him So Well’, then I would not have taken into account Spend, Spend, Spend or I wouldn’t have taken into account getting an OBE and all these things that continue to happen to me.
As an artist, I think that if I was working in the field of Fine Art and I was painting or sculpting, I wouldn’t be expected to just talk about my blue period in 1983, you know what I mean? I want to be allowed to paint and draw and do whatever I want to do now. I see myself more in that kind of mould. Even though I’m 60, I develop with every year that goes by, rather than thinking about what I did when I was 30.
How did Band Of Gold come about?
I’ve no idea, really. I think the casting director had seen me in John, Paul, George, Ringo…and Bert where I didn’t even act, but she thought I should do something on telly. That was Carolyn Bartlett - a very fine casting director - who cast me in that role and it was a great success. They obviously took a very big chance on me, although I had done Blood Brothers by that time and all sorts of other things, but I think they were a bit concerned that I hadn’t done much television.
Nevertheless, the best compliment that I was ever paid as an actress on television was by Kay Mellor, who said that she didn’t really know much about Anita. She had written the character, but she didn’t really know much about her until she saw her, played by me. She then suddenly realised that Anita had come to life. Subsequently, when she wrote for Anita, she wrote for my performance. I felt that I’d sort of got into Anita’s shoes and gone clacking off down the road.
How did it all start for you? Where did you get the singing bug?
I didn’t get a singing bug I was just born able to sing. I never had to learn and I never went in talent competitions. I wasn’t massively ambitious, I just could sing from a very early age.
Can you remember the first time somebody told you that you had a really good voice?
No, I knew I had a really good voice, but I didn’t expect to be well-known. I mean, it wasn’t that sort of thing. I sang because I was driven to sing. I wasn’t driven to be at the Albert Hall or to be on television. A lot of that came about because I had a very dynamic manager. He said, 'This person should be at the Albert Hall and this person should do this and this person should do that'. If I had been left to my own devices, I would have been working in folk music and quite happy because there’s no top and bottom there.
I’m not fiercely competitive, but I know my worth. I know what I can do. But I run a mile when people call me a celebrity, I find I’m quite insulted. I really think it’s an insulting thing to be called nowadays because I don’t really want to be a celebrity. I just want to be doing what I do and for people to appreciate my work. That’s what I like.
Are you a good cook?
Yes, I’m a reasonable cook. I just cook plain food because I have a family. I have three sons and the youngest son is 17, so I cook for the family. It’s quite traditional food like Shepherd’s Pie and roasts and that kind of stuff. Sausages, you know, stuff that’s kind of plain British fare – really good, really nice wholesome stuff.
Will you be doing any of that kind of thing when you’re on Ready, Steady, Cook with Elaine Paige?
I’ve actually done it! I can tell you what I did. I didn’t actually cook because the chef does the cooking, but I assisted him, and I was just telling my husband that it was interesting just to assist somebody who was taking all the responsibility for what was being made. All I was doing was just chopping things up for him and doing things according to what he said. He was wonderful and I did think it was very interesting. I also told my husband that there were these two lovely and very dynamic male chefs and an army of women – home economists – behind the scenes helping them.
If only you had that at home!
That would be great. It’s never happened to me, but I always wanted a butler. I would have liked somebody to come in the morning and ask me if I would like to have salmon for supper, and I would say, 'Yes, please, that would be marvellous'. But nobody’s ever done that and it’s never happened, so I am the cook and my husband does a lot of cooking as well. We share the cooking, but I’m the main cook. If I’m busy, he will get stuck in, which is good.
You strike me as the kind of family that would have dogs. Is that right?
We don’t, unfortunately. We’ve got one cat and he’s getting a bit elderly now. We did have another cat who died, but we’ve never had dogs because we go away. You can’t have dogs if you go away. At least someone can come in to feed your cats, but your dogs – you need to be around for them.
Your tour continues this month – you’re going to be in London and Nottingham, Scarborough, Lichfield, Northampton, Stirling, Potters Bar, Warrington and Lowestoft. The details are on the website, www.barbaradickson.net. What can people expect when they come to see the show?
They’ll get some of the old songs, of course - the songs that people remember from the 70s and the 80s. I do my big hits like ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, ‘I Know Him So Well’ and ‘Answer Me’, but I mainly do a cross-section of stuff. I do a song by James Taylor, I do a song by Bob Dylan - which I recorded in the 90s - and I do quite a lot of songs from the new album Time and Tide, which is a mixture of contemporary 20th century music and traditional music of the British Isles.
I do a version of ‘The Water is Wide’, which is a wonderful song. I also do ‘Going Back’, which is a song I learnt from The Byrds and written by Carol King. I’ve done a version of that on the new album. It’s really thoughtful music; it’s music to have a gin and tonic to, to sit back in a chair and listen, or to listen to in the car. It’s lovely, really. It’s got a sort of Celtic edge to it.
Are you going to be doing any more acting in the near future?
I’ve just done an episode of Doctors which went out in March, but I haven’t done any television drama for years, so I don’t really know. It depends on what is offered to me. I’m really happy singing and recording. That’s the thing that I like most. Unless I get offered to do something absolutely fabulous, I’m just not really interested.
"GaydarNation" website, April, 2008