Fifer Barbara Dickson sings Paul McCartney’s praises as Beatles icon turns 80

Barbara Dickson can still recall the frisson of excitement when she learned The Beatles were performing in Kirkcaldy in 1963.

At that stage, the Fife teenager, who later achieved fame in her own right, had heard enough about the four blithe boys from Liverpool who were creating an entirely new sound that she was determined to watch the gig.

As Barbara recalled: “I cycled from Dunfermline to try to get tickets but learned when I got there that you had to apply by post!

“However, I got them.”

The Beatles show was a smash hit

It was the start of what has developed into a lifelong passion for the melodies of the Fab Four, whose legacy is undiminished more than half a century after they went their separate ways, while Barbara became one of the pivotal performers in Willie Russell’s John, Paul, Ringo, George…. and Bert.

The combination of fine writing, a cast of young and largely unknown actors, including Antony Sher, Bernard Hill and Trevor Eve, allied to Barbara’s idiosyncratic interpretation of some classic Beatles songs, made the show hugely successful and paved the way for her to record a string of chart hits.

And she is among those who have saluted the gifts of Paul McCartney as he celebrates his 80th birthday.

Barbara Dickson
Barbara Dickson has been a fan of McCartney since watching the band in 1963.

She said: “I think Paul McCartney, apart from Bob Dylan, is the most important musical figure in the world. This excepts classical music, of course.

“He is legendary, and rightly so, for his contribution to music and popular culture.

“He was part of the greatest rock and roll band ever so, yes, he is marvellous and he is truly amazing.

“He is also a very nice person.”

Barbara speaks from experience because she finally came face to face with her “teenage heart-throb” in 2005 when Paul presented her with the prestigious Companionship of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

She recalled: “We had a brief chat, but we didn’t discuss John, Paul, Ringo, George…. and Bert.

“What I did tell him, in front of the assembled audience, at the Graduation was that I still had in my possession a big picture of him from 1963 that used to hang in pride of place above my bed in Dunfermline.

“I think he was impressed, although he did look a little alarmed when I asked him whether he thought it might be time I took it down.”

As one of the leading cast members in the play, Barbara fell in love with many of The Beatles hits from the 1960s and marvelled at how the often beautiful simplicity of McCartney’s unforgettable ballads was complemented by John Lennon’s wistful and mesmerising lyrics.

So she found it difficult to pick out any one song that defined why the duo have entered the annals as the greatest in the history of pop.

Barbara told me: “The songs in JPGR and Bert were chosen by Willy Russell for the show and I had lots of favourites.

“But my all-time classic Beatles song is Across The Universe, which has John Lennon’s fingerprints all over it.

“Having said that, Paul’s songs, such as Blackbird and Mother Nature’s Son, are beautiful. And his sense of melody is matchless.”

The Beatles
The Beatles performed gigs across Scotland during their early years as a band.

It’s a long time since she went to Dunfermline High School and lived with her parents in Dollytown, a prefab housing estate in Rosyth.

But Barbara is still writing, recording and singing her heart out with the passion for her craft that has been evident since she began developing her talents in folk clubs and bothy bars around Fife and Angus in the 1960s.

And, just as McCartney has dabbled in all forms of music and broadened his horizons in the aftermath of The Beatles taking the world by storm, so she has made a big impact in plenty of different mediums since those early days when she climbed on her bike and travelled to watch the Liverpool quartet.

Paul McCartney.
McCartney has remained at the top of his game for the past six decades.

Indeed, even a glance at her extensive CV demonstrates how she has appeared on Top of the Pops, excelled on the festival circuit and highlighted her acting skills on the stage and in TV series such as Band of Gold.

Her recently published autobiography, A Shirt Box Full of Songs, poignantly captures myriad facets of her journey from a working-class upbringing and playing folk gigs in spit-and-sawdust pubs to appearing on grand concert stages and flying out to an oil rig with Noel Edmonds to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Forties Field in the North Sea.

Barbara was also among the performers who lent lustre to the evocative work Far Far from Ypres, staged around Scotland in 2018, including at Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre, Dundee’s Caird Hall and Eden Court in Inverness, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

In common with many of her generation, Barbara is at her happiest when she is working with other musicians and actors in a common artistic bond.

And the affinity between her and the music of Lennon and McCartney stretches all the way back to that concert in Kirkcaldy almost six decades ago.

No wonder she is ready to raise a quiet toast to Macca!

More like this:

The Beatles: Dundee promoter Andi Lothian took Long and Winding Road to Bridge of Allan in 1963

John Lennon’s son Julian told mum Cynthia that his dead grandfather saved him in Highland car crash

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Kirkcaldy – The Courier