Barbara Dickson: Time Is Going Faster – Glasgow Music Walking Tours Guest Blog
We are big fans and admirers of Barbara Dickson here at Glasgow Music City Tours and reckon she is one of Scotland’s greatest but also most underappreciated singers, who is equally at home with the folk ballads she grew up on, the melodic pop hits for which she is best known and the storytelling of musical theatre.
We were chuffed to score an interview with her ahead of her latest tour and forthcoming gig on March 31st at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to discuss her varied career, including her roots in Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s folk scenes, where she was often the only woman in the room, and the return to songwriting during lockdown which inspired her latest album Time Is Going Faster. “I can talk for Scotland,” she says. So here’s Barbara…
On the art of singing
I couldn’t even remember when I first starting singing, but it’s like cleaning your teeth, it’s there all the time in your life. If you can imagine this vat of liquid feelings inside your torso and that is what you tap into to sing and play music. It starts bubbling away at the thought of doing it again and then the straw goes in and you drink it and fill it up again.
On Gerry Rafferty
I think about going into the Scotia bar in Glasgow in the late 60s and hearing Gerry Rafferty sing for the first time. Gerry probably had a pint in front of him and a fag in the ashtray and he was singing and playing like an angel, because it was second nature to him, that’s just what he sounded like. He was a gorgeous musician from the get-go.
On her Sandy Bell’s apprenticeship
A younger friend asked me what was it like at the session in Sandy Bell’s – we didn’t have a session in Sandy Bell’s, we just stood at the back and sang! There was nobody sitting around the room playing the fiddle, unless Aly Bain was there and we’d made space for him to play the fiddle, but nobody else would have been there playing an instrument, we just sang. So it was instinctive – you got your pint, you stood with your friends and suddenly someone would just start singing. It’s not showing off or saying ‘listen to me, I’m so special’. It’s to do with the joy of sharing this experience and also the prospect that other people will join in.
On what she did during lockdown
I started running, and running is very good for my brain because I tend to bubble over quite a lot. I’ve got a very fertile imagination and I can get upset by things or anxious, but I haven’t felt like that – for once I’ve felt okay. I think it’s something to do with getting out every single day and running three kilometres. I find it clears my head. I can think about things I want to do, I can say my prayers if I want to do that and I’m completely on my own, wrapped up in my own world and it is actually good for me. I’ve never been a physical exercise person, I’m much more happy sitting telling stories and being in company than doing all that. But I have discovered the joy of it at my age and as long as I can do it I will. If someone wants to sit and have a Toblerone on the sofa, that’s fair enough. I will not be saying to them ‘you should be getting out’. But for me it really worked, and it made this creative stuff much easier. I concentrated more, I found I was sleeping less but I wasn’t so anxious.
On writing songs again
I wrote the best work I have ever written during the pandemic while singing and playing on my own. I shut the door so nobody could bother me, I sat at the piano or picked up a guitar and worked on my own.
I have always seen myself as a singer/musician. I came out of the folk scene where everybody was a singer/songwriter. When I spent time with Michael Marra and Rab Noakes I really did feel I was in the company of great songwriters. I didn’t describe myself as that because I had no confidence in my songs. I’ve always thought if I can’t write songs like Randy Newman I don’t want to write songs at all.
However, a light went on for this album. Now some kind of door has opened in me and I’ve got the technique. I’m not being emotional here, I’ve got a technique of how to write and how to pare my thoughts down so they are much more artistic in the way they read. I’ve always been able to write tunes, the tunes look after themselves, but I’ve always been afraid of lyrics. Maybe I’m afraid of revealing myself but now I think I reveal things that will go across the footlights and will mean something.
Barbara Dickson plays Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on 31 March. Time Is Going Faster is out now