Wednesday 25 April 2018

'I'm no diva,' says million-selling Barbara Dickson

A pop star for a decade, Barbara Dickson has no interest in fame - she just wants to sing, writes Liam Collins

TORCH SINGER: Barbara Dickson opens her intimate Irish tour in Mullingar on November 7
TORCH SINGER: Barbara Dickson opens her intimate Irish tour in Mullingar on November 7
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

It's a little difficult to reconcile the demur woman with the Scottish burr sitting in front of me with the pop star who had two No 1 hits in the British charts and sold millions of records from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.

"I'm just a normal person," says Barbara Dickson. "I couldn't be more different from the image they tried to build of me, I am not some kind of diva."

The hit single Answer Me and a slot on The Two Ronnies television series (which was watched religiously by more than nine million people a week) catapulted the former folk singer to stardom, something she never really understood and doesn't understand today as she prepares for a series of intimate gigs in small venues around Ireland next month.

Born in Dunfermile, Scotland, the daughter of a tug boat cook in 1947, she began playing the folk circuit from the age of 16, getting to know Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and Willy Russell, who changed her life when he insisted she sing The Beatles repertoire in his musical John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert.

That, in turn, led to meeting promoter Robert Stigwood and composers Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote the hits she is most associated with - Another Suitcase and Another Hall from Evita and I Know Him so Well from Chess.

"To be honest, they made me sing Another Suitcase in the voice of a 14-year-old girl and I've never liked it," she says, sitting in the Gibson Hotel in Dublin, promoting her upcoming Irish tour. The mother of two grown-up children, she is married to a BBC producer and she is currently living in Edinburgh, waiting to move into a new house.

Despite the hits and appearing in television dramas such as Taggart and The Missing Postman, Dickson is remarkable sanguine. "I don't really know where the television work came from, it just happened. I like acting, but I could never be on the stage."

As to her period of international fame, it is not something she either misses or regrets.

"I have always wanted to work," she says, "I didn't see that part of my career as climbing to the top, or staying at the top. I would still be singing if nobody is listening to me. It is my consolation and my guilty pleasure. It is what I am," she says, comparing herself to artists who feel compelled to work rather than having to.

Oddly enough, like many performers, she admits that she is not a confident person, but is transformed when she goes on stage. "As a person, I have always been afraid and fearful, but I always had confidence in my ability as a performer," she says.

"I have never been able to pace myself. I give it a thousand per cent onstage. I've always been like that."

In her November shows, in intimate arts theatres around Ireland, she will leave most of her regular band at home, and on stage, it will be just Barbara Dickson on vocals and guitar, along with her keyboard player Nick Holland.

"I need to feel like I give everything. I do believe in my own ability and what I am doing," she says of the show, which will include old hits, songs by her friend Gerry Rafferty and a couple of songs she has written herself.

"I know I will give audiences something they will enjoy very much."

I ask what she thinks of The X Factor and such shows. She's not a fan. "I don't like The X Factor or Strictly Coming Dancing - in fact, I don't watch popular culture on television at all.Everything is so hysterical, I just turn it off."

Instead, she gets by on a diet of BBC Four, news and Scandinavian noir thrillers like The Bridge. 2015 has been "the busiest year ever" and Dickson has no intention of slowing down.

Barbara Dickson plays Mullingar Arts Centre on November 7; Riverside Park Hotel, Wexford, November 8; Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, November 11; The Venue, Rathoath, November 13; and Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise, on November 19

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