BEGINNINGS

Singer Barbara Dickson, who releases a new album next month and takes up a United Kingdom tour in the late spring, talks about Dunfermline, the home town she has recently revisited.

Musicians, says Barbara Dickson, never claim a home. "They're wanderers. They call wherever they are home. But Dunfermline was my home until I was seventeen and left for Edinburgh. Like all moments in my life, the memory is blotted out. It's hazy. If it were a vivid recollection I don't think I would ever have the courage to try anything new again."

Apart from flying visits home, she never really lived there after that. By the time she was 25 even her parents had moved from the pleasant, comfortable home in Ochil Terrace to live in Southport, and with their departure all Barbara's reasons to go back were removed.

But she has been back, quite recently in fact, and loved every short moment of it. She left unknown and here she was, going back, a celebrity, without a doubt Dunfermline's own local hero, to open a new housing estate on the edge of the town where she grew up.

"It was enough of a visit to see that everything seemed much smaller. But that was an illusion. When I was small my father never had a car so we went everywhere by bus. It just took much longer to get from one side of town to the other, and therefore, to a child's eye, everything seemed so much bigger. It's still a beautiful town. The old walled part
remains preserved. There are, inevitably, a few new buildings but for all that it's still recognisable as my childhood home."

An ordinary enough life, outwardly an ordinary enough girl, but while she appeared to have average ambitions at Wood Mill High School - indeed recognisable ones ("Girls got married and then had children and were on the shelf if this hadn't been achieved by the time they were twenty") - inside she was secretly, romantically ambitious but continued to hug her dreams to herself.

"To reveal such ambitions would have been to expose myself to ridicule. Nothing like fame or success happened to people like me. I was very straightforward. That was my family for you. I have a dual background. Although my father is Scottish and I was brought up there, I also have a strong affinity with Liverpool because that's where my mother's family lived. I think I identified more with my mother's side of the family, because Scottish families are close but not demonstrably so. I preferred the open, more visible relationship that members of my mother's family had with each other."

In Ochil Terrace Barbara lived with her younger brother, a skilled carpenter who now lives in Canada and who is someone she misses a lot; her father, a quiet, thoughtful man and a former dockyard worker; and her mother, a seemingly realistic, outgoing woman who cared for them all.

"My parents accepted my decision to leave home when I was seventeen with perfect calm. They were not the kind who thought children stayed at home forever or that it was a betrayal to leave. They are very intelligent people. The only thing that has ever surprised me about my home life is that I never shared my mother's love of opera, which was played loudly all over the house."

"I always knew that I could sing. As a very little girl I was wheeled out whenever possible to perform, but only privately or at a purely local level, nothing professional about it. I hated piano lessons, and still think they are a positive disadvantage to a child wanting to play. You can either do it and want to, or you can't. It's one of the reasons why I always remember our music teacher at school, Sandy Sadler. He was really an early inspiration, introducing me to all kinds of music.

"My expectations were limited. I had a boyfriend at fifteen and vaguely supposed I would marry him - obviously I didn't. In retrospect, of course, I know I could have been a teacher. I liked school a lot, but I didn't shine. I left with three O-levels and went straight into the civil service as a clerk. I wasn't a girl with a mission in life. I just thought if I got the chance to sing, I would. What influenced me far more was the student movement, CND, wearing a duffle coat, playing a  guitar. It was an image that appealed to me, something in me, and I knew it wasn't to be found in Dunfermline. There weren't any students there.

"I know now that even then I was a socialist - a feminist, even - but I didn't have a description available to identify my feelings, just an image. If I were seventeen now I know I would be a punk."

The hugely successful grown-up Barbara Dickson now owns a house in a leafy, expensive suburb of London, and is living a polished and professionally energetic life which she manages to guard fairly carefully from public intrusion. Now 36, she is, physically and mentally, light years away from the girl who left the small town at 17. The long straight hair and unflattering rimless glasses have been replaced in recent years by a more glamorous, sexier image: tumbling curls and adventurous clothes, coupled with an ability to communicate ideas and feelings through her music.

She doesn't bother with coy, humble speeches doubting her talent, and she doesn't smile modestly at compliments. She's good and she knows it. If there is a hint of taking herself a little too seriously, well, why not, when her records sell effortlessly by the million.

She is still not, she says, a competitive person and has never been for an audition in her life. She used to be shy, but she isn't now. "When I came to London I really loathed the place. But now I've grown used to it and in practical terms it's where I should be. If I hadn't left Dunfermline, I suppose I would have stayed at home, married, had children, and been reasonably content. I wouldn't have expected anything else.

"The one thing I do know is that Scotland always has a place for me. People there care about me and I care about them. It might not be where I live any more, nor is it home. But whenever I go back, I always feel I really belong."



"Company" magazine, 1984. Interview by By Frankie McGowan
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