Please note: This post was originally published on October 9th but strangely vanished - curiouser and curiouser. Anyway, for anyone who didn't read it first time around, here it is again.
It’s always a bonus when you purchase a various artists compilation and discover a song that you like, but don’t recall from when it was a chart hit. Barbara Dickson’s 1980 hit ‘January February’ was one such gem that I uncovered via its inclusion on a Time-Life CD series I was collecting back in the 1990s. It’s a song that I’ve revisited regularly in the years since, and its appeal hasn’t waned over time. I can recall Barbara Dickson's role on the major 1985 hit duet 'I Know Him So Well' with Elaine Page, but didn't really know much beyond that.
Barbara Dickson began a career in music immediately after leaving high school during the mid 60s. She began performing regularly at folk clubs in and around her home region of Dunfermline. Over the course of the next few years she worked as a civil servant (government employee) by day and sang professionally at night and on the weekends. From 1967 to 1969 she made her first recordings via several tracks contributed to folk album projects featuring Archie Fisher. She was signed to a recording contract with Decca during 1970 and released a folk album in partnership with Archie Fisher.
By 1973 Barbara Dickson decided to pack her suitcase and head for England, still looking for her big break. It came via her winning a role in the play ‘John Paul George Ringo…and Bert’, which ended up becoming a major hit in London’s West End. Dickson’s first single release in 1974 was a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Here Comes The Sun’, lifted from the show’s soundtrack. Over the course of the next year theatre musical gurus Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice attended several performances of Dickson’s play and liked what they heard. Dickson was offered a singing role on the studio album for the upcoming 'Evita' production, and was also signed up to RSO Records (becoming a label mate of the Bee Gees).
In early 1976 Barbara Dickson debuted on the U.K. singles chart for the first time with the single ‘Answer Me’, with the song eventually going on to peak at #9. A year later Dickson’s song contribution to the ‘Evita’ soundtrack, ‘Another Suitcase In Another Hall’ travelled to #18 on the British charts, whilst her sophomore album ‘Morning Comes Quickly’ reached a creditable UK#58 a few months later. Before the end of 1977 the multi-talented Dickson added another string to her performance bow when she landed a role in the film musical ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, alongside Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. With a whirlwind schedule, before the end of the 70s Barbara Dickson found time to record another album ‘Sweet Oasis’, place third in the Tokyo Music Festival, record the title track for the movie ‘Caravans’ (in which she also appeared), tour Europe and Australia, and begin work on another studio album with producer Alan Tarney, but she was only just starting to hit her creative stride.
The 80s began well for Barbara Dickson, with ‘The Caravan Song’ (from ‘Caravans’) reaching #41 on the U.K. charts early in 1980. Soon after Dickson scored her biggest hit single to date with the aforementioned sunny-side up pop song ‘January February’. The radio friendly song found a date at #11 on the British charts, #12 in Germany, #29 in Holland, whilst it must have received some airplay in Australia too where it reached #64 (albeit in June/July rather than January/February). ‘January February’ was lifted from ‘The Barbara Dickson Album’ (by Barbara Dickson in case you were in any doubt) which achieved a gold status in the U.K. (#7), but the follow up singles ‘It’s Really You’ and ‘In The Night’ (UK#48) failed to consolidate Dickson’s place among the pop fraternity.
By now Barbara Dickson had established herself as a consummate professional across a number of performance medium. Over the course of the next few years she released a platinum album ‘All For A Song’ (1982-UK#3), two more top forty albums in ‘You Know It’s Me’ (1981-UK#39) and ‘Heartbeats’ (1984-UK#21); continued to play to packed concert halls, captured on the 1982 live album ‘Here We Go’; starred in the London West End musical ‘Blood Brothers’ (which earned her a ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ award); added the television medium to her resume with involvement in several BBC productions - with time for tea and cucumber sandwiches at three.
In late 1984 Barbara Dickson flew to Stockholm, Sweden to record a vocal track at ABBA’s Polar Studios. The song was ‘I Know Him So Well’, a ballad from the proposed musical 'Chess'. It was written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, in partnership with lyricist Tim Rice. It was the tenth British #1 hit the ABBA pair had been involved in writing, and was the second hit taken from the ‘Chess’ soundtrack, along with ‘One Night In Bangkok’ by Murray Head (see future post). ‘I Know Him So Well’ debuted on the British charts in January ‘85 and reached #1 during (you guessed it) February, where it set up camp for four weeks. In the process it became the biggest selling hit in Britain, to that point, by a female duo. The other vocalist on the track was Elaine Page, who like Dickson had a substantial heritage in musical theatre, though due to conflicting schedules they recorded their respective vocal contributions separately for ‘I Know Him So Well’. 1985 proved a benchmark year for Dickson with her latest solo album ‘The Barbara Dickson Songbook’ (someone was getting paid overtime to come up with these album titles) reaching #5 on the U.K. charts.
The second half of the 80s saw the touring continue, the television work continue, the awards continue, though the hit singles didn’t. The 1986 album ‘The Right Moment’ (UK#39) realised Barbara Dickson’s final foray into the British singles charts with a song tackling the difficult subject matter of animal cruelty, titled ‘Time After Time’ (#78). During the first half of the 90s she scored another two top 40 albums, with 1992's 'Don't Think Twice It's All Right' (#32) and 1994's 'Parcel Of Rogues' (#30). In 1993 Dickson reprised her stage role for a 10th anniversary season of the play ‘Blood Brothers’, and became a regular in dramatic television roles throughout the mid 90s, with the British shows ‘Taggart’ and ‘Band Of Gold’. In 1997 she finally got to star in the stage musical of ‘Chess’, appearing in the Australian production.
Turning fifty didn’t slow the frenetic work schedule of Barbara Dickson. Between 1997 and 2007 the balancing act between theatre stage, recording studio, concert stage and television studio continued without abate. In recognition of her achievements, the awards and honours kept coming, including an O.B.E. in 2002. Now in her early 60s, Barbara Dickson is showing no signs of winding back her professional endeavours. During 2008 she released her latest album ‘Time And Tide’ and further touring across the U.K. is scheduled for, you guessed it again, January and February 2009.