UPDATE: My review of Barbara Dickson's new album, Time is Going Faster, appears at https://www.salutlive.com/2020/10/time-is-going-faster.html
Twice so far this century, I have mistakenly remembered Barbara Dickson as a member of the Scottish folk trio Bitter Withy, who performed at one or both of the folk clubs I ran decades ago in my home town of Shildon, Co Durham and Bishop Auckland, three miles away.
In 2008, I put my faulty memory right with the help of Alan Clyde, who handles Barbara's promotion. She was never in Bitter Withy and must have appeared at my club/s solo or with Rab Noakes. Faulty memory can be resilient and had re-invaded my mind as I composed a set of questions for this interview. Apologies for the second time in 12 years. If we're both still around in 2032, I'll doubtless ask Barbara again to recall those Bitter Withy days.
Back to the present. After a fabulous career taking in music, the stage, the screen and print, Barbara has a charming new album out. It's called Time is Going Faster, a warm, relaxed and diverse selection of songs which I took a little time to embrace but now find irresistible. Having followed Barbara's work since those folk days, and remembering the extraordinary impact of her early collaboration with Archie Fisher (their 1970 album Thro' The Recent Years almost certainly survives in my loft-confined vinyl collection), I am delighted to find she is still drawn to material that would have been entirely in keeping as part of her folk club repertoire.
The album can be ordered at https://www.barbaradickson.net. and this is the result of our e-mail exchange, to be followed by a quickfire interview by phone ...
Who and what were the inspirations for the girl from a Dunfermline housing estate of prefabs - parents, a special teacher or someone else?
- Definitely my greatest influence at school, other than the self- discovery of the Everly Brothers, was Sandy Saddler, music teacher extraordinaire at Woodmill Secondary School in Dunfermline. He introduced us to the Kingston Trio and therefore, folk music. I had already had a slight nod to it with the Everlys' Songs Our Daddy Taught Us…
And what a career! From the folk clubs to the stage, the screen, the charts, an autobiography without trace of ghostwriter as far as I can see, and lots more. What, looking back at each element of your professional life, has given you the most satisfaction?
- The autobiography does have a considerable amount of help from John Abernethy, who "organised" the whole project for me. I felt the task was like standing at the foot of Ben Nevis and looking up! However, we got there in the end.
Did you have an inkling even when singing Scottish ballads in the folk clubs that bigger things, mass audiences might well lie ahead?
- My sideways step came from Willy Russell and through my friendship with him, I began to achieve a wider appeal. I didn’t want to have a change of musical style, but I understood that’s part of the deal. I also had a manager who was ambitious on my behalf.
Your admirers range from Billy Connolly to a writer who praises your singing of My Song is Love Unknown at Conservative Woman, a website he certainly wouldn't approve of any more than I (and I’d guess you). You've said celebrity is unimportant to you but what about recognition and appreciation?
- I think every artist wants recognition for their work. Celebrity is something else. Kim Kardashian is a celebrity. I don’t want to be associated with people like that. It makes me uncomfortable. I am happy for anyone from any publication, including Conservative Woman, to appreciate my work. They are welcome.
What was the thinking behind the new album? It’s a real mixed bag of your own songs, reworked traditional ballads and music from other sources that has simply meant something to you (eg the Incredible String Band and an Icelandic hymn).
- The music on the new album is the music I play all the time. If you see my perform you’ll see those influences; trad, original songs (more than in the past) and beloved songs reworked. It’s all more ambitious these days, as I’ve reset the two traditional feel songs myself. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to do that years ago, but now, I’m up for it.
What challenges did Covid-19 pose when making the album?
- No challenges were apparent, other than Nick Holland [the album's producer and arranger] and I had more time to concentrate on getting it right!
I feared on first acquaintance with the opening track, Good as Gone, that I wasn’t going to like the album. Oddly enough, that is now among my favourites, along with the title track and Barbara Allan. Assuming I am not a freak, is it natural to warm more gradually to Time is Going Faster than to your past work?
- It entirely depends on what of my work you heard last. A person wedded to musical theatre probably wouldn’t like it at all, ever. But those folks who’ve been bold enough to stick with me, will be delighted to hear those choices.
I imagine each track feels important to you for one reason or another but do you have a personal favourite, maybe Where Shadows Meet the Light, the choice for a single?
- I think my favourite tracks currently (and they change) are Lament of the Three Mary and Goodnight, I’m Going Home.
A couple of quick lockdown questions
1) Running until injury forced you to stop, cycling at speed through the streets of Edinburgh, still life painting and now a new album. Did you consciously decide lockdown wouldn’t get you down? You don’t appear remotely defeated by it.
- I hate lockdown. I really resent what its done to many people I know who’ve become fearful. I’m risk aware but will not be cowed by it. I only stopped running for a week. I run five days a week and today ran 5K.
2) Everyone seems to want their own Jacinda Ardern. Viewed from Scotland, how has Nicola Sturgeon handled the crisis?
Nicola has been much the same as the Westminster crowd, in my opinion, but more visible. Nothing in Scotland is any better than the South.
How much do you recall of the old folk days, going to places like Shildon and Bishop Auckland (where I ran clubs and you performed), singing with Archie Fisher and so on and do you keep with folk chums?
- I love my memories of the folk revival. I played with Archie Fisher and Rab Noakes in the early 1970s. I also, when I began, sang with Jack Beck, who’s also still a good pal of mine, living in Virginia and who invited me on three occasions in the last 10 years to play over there. I loved that. I can still do probably an evening of traditional based music entirely on my own playing guitar and piano, but I don’t choose to do that in the UK. I love having another player at least and when I’m on tour four other musicians with me. I play guitar and piano all the time now as well.
You still include folk songs in your repertoire, and material that would fit comfortably in an open-minded folk setting, but do you listen to much folk these days? If so, who particularly impresses you?
- I’m a fan of Kris Drever and I like Lankum very much.
Buy this classic at the Salut! Live Amazon link
What was more fun (or rewarding if you prefer): John, Paul, George, Ringo ... and Bert, Blood Brothers, Spend, Spend, Spend or The Real Marigold Hotel?
- These are all so different that I really couldn’t choose a favourite, but Real Marigold doesn’t really count as it’s a TV show. I loved being in India, having said that, but the prep that goes into a project in the theatre is enormous. The investment made is huge and the commitment to be somewhere eight shows a week is immense. I can’t say I look forward to doing that again! So I would prefer to spend time with concerts and recording.
Apart from painting and cycling, any other ways to relax?
- I am working on another song so sitting at the piano is currently my go-to. I love Edinburgh so walks are always very educational. Travelling is curtailed just now, but I do love discovering places in Scotland I knew nothing about. That’s a treat for me.
In troubled times, how do you see us all moving forward and what do you think the future will look like?
- I daren’t think of the future. I’m not scared at all, but I’m depressed at the effect this pandemic is having on my fellow human beings, both physically and psychologically. I’m optimistic that I have more to offer and I’m hoping to live to see a grandchild arrive!