'HMV CHOICE' - July/August 2006 (Review by Helen M Jerome)

Now perhaps best known for singing on Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals like 'Evita', Barbara Dickson originally cut her teeth in the music business as a first-rate folk songstress.

One year after recording her 1969 album 'The Fate o' Charlie' (subtitled 'Songs Of the Jacobite Rebellion') and having extensively toured the north of England, she made her first solo album - 'Do Right Woman' - one half of the value-for-money, two-for-one re-release here, along with 'From The Beggar's Mantle'. The earlier album comprises favourites like the classic Dan Penn/Chips Moman-penned title track made famous by Aretha Franklin, plus traditional numbers all arranged by the singer, including 'The Blacksmith', 'A Lover's Ghost', 'dainty Davie' and 'The Garton Mother's Lullaby'. You can see why this was the beginning of a four decade-long success story.

Four more trad songs are sprinkled through the companion album, gathered from traditional ballad collections, including 'The Recruited Collier', most recently dusted off by Kate Rusby. A fine re-mastered re-release.


At least some of the music on this two-on-one-CD reissue of Barbara's first couple of recordings (originally released on the Decca label) may come as a surprise to listeners.

Many people only know of Barbara from her later highly successful post-folk-singer career in musicals and popular music, indeed. But, as Rosie Hardman's brand new booklet notes to this reissue so perceptively remind us, these two LPs provide a salutary memory-jogger as to the often highly eclectic nature of the material that was sung at folk clubs and festivals at the time.

1970's Do Right Woman album opens with Easy To Be Hard, a song from the musical Hair, then moves on via contemporary compositions by Rab Noakes and Allan Taylor to a peerless (and seemingly effortless!) rendition of the traditional Dainty Davie.

Dave Goulder's Long And Lonely Winter and the traditional Lover's Ghost are further highlights of this brief set, and even the country-tinged title track is more than acceptable in context, although some may find Barbara's sprightly version of The Blacksmith a little insubstantial, while one or two of the other tracks (like Returning) would come perilously close to easy-listening if it weren't for Barbara's exceptional vocal performance.

Contributing musicians include Archie Fisher, Rab Noakes and a string sextet under the direction of Alex Sutherland.

Archie also appears on From The Beggar's Mantle..., as well as providing three key compositions on that album including the epic Witch Of The Westmorelands. To my ears that 1971 set sounds more consistent (it's also more intimately scored); its other high points include fine renditions of The Recruited Collier, the lengthy ballad Lord Thomas Of Winesberry, Allan Taylor's deeply moving The Morning Lies Heavy On Me and Alan Hull's Winter's Song. Not forgetting a spicy, distinctly Steeleye-soundalike arrangement of The Orange And The Blue!

And folk connoisseurs will note that also appearing as backing musicians on the album are Nic Jones and Darryl Runswick.

Barbara's special qualities as a singer have always been a care in phrasing allied to a glorious tone, and a wholly natural empathy for every song she chooses to sing.

Hearing these LPs again after a long interval just reinforces those qualities, which almost entirely overshadow, and amply compensate for, any shortcomings or dated qualities in the arrangements on the first of the two albums. Remastering of both is excellent too, by the way.



With so true and warm a voice, Barbara can't do much wrong in my ears, but I dare say some of her folk-music admirers may be perturbed by this essay into pop territory, with strings and comtemporary things.

Have no fear, for Archie Fisher and Rab Noakes are here to lend strong acoustic guitar support, and Barbara covers just about as wide a range of material as one singer could contemplate: from the "Hair" number, "Easy To Be Hard," to the traditional "Garten Mother's Lullaby," where, incidentally, Fisher and Noakes chip in with some wide-awake, rock-a-bye guitar.

Barbara's best moments probably come in James Taylor's pop-ish "Something's Wrong" and the traditional "Lover's Ghost," where the strings are held low and steady instead of being allowed to prance around in a distracting backdrop.