Babs - Back In The City!

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When I started doing live music articles at the beginning of 2017, Barbara Dickson's gig at Perth Concert Hall was my second ever review.  My mother is a huge fan and to say she was keen to go is a bit of an understatement.  It was a great show.  Barbara was in fine voice and although I'm not the biggest fan of musicals I even found myself loving the songs from her theatrical career.  I was also really impressed by the quality of her band, particularly her smooth and funky bass player Brad Laing and a very talented multi-instrumentalist named Troy Donockley, who played everything from guitar to penny whistle, and from uilleann pipes to an awesome digital wind instrument called an aerophone.

After the show, we talked with Barbara and when I shared the review with her on Twitter and Facebook she seemed to really like it.  Although she did say Troy was a little miffed that I compared him to Bill Bailey.  I remember being really touched at the time that someone famous would take the time to actually read my review and offer me encouragement.  Due to my work schedule, I found myself unable to review subsequent shows in Pitlochry and at Inchyra.  However, I was thrilled when I realised I wasn't working the night of her Concert Hall gig.  Better still, my girlfriend Jo had a night off too.  Any couples that do shift work will tell you that organising quality time together can be a logistical nightmare requiring precision military-style planning.

Arriving in Perth from our new home in Abernethy, we take advantage of our time together to enjoy a Blend.  Our love of Blend Coffee shops Chai-lattes and flat-whites has become so great that we now use the shop name as a verb.  As in, "Fancy a Blend?"  Although Jo's first love is Heavy Metal and Rock, she is open-minded and always appreciates great musicianship and enjoys live music regardless of genre.  As we sip our brew's and share a massive bit of shortbread, I assure her that although there is unlikely to be any moshing, she is going to love this concert.

Although Barbara has played shows since I last saw her, they have been smaller This is all topped off by some nice harmonies from the whole band, and, of course, a cracking vocal from Barbara herself.scale affairs accompanied only by her own guitar and keyboard player Nick Holland.  Tonight she is back with her full band and they don't muck around, launching straight into the jaunty Gerry Rafferty track, 'Royal Mile'.  Although this 2019 tour is in its infancy, Babs and the band are already gelling nicely.  Drummer Russell Field is on great form, providing a solid but soulful backdrop for Brad Laings melodic fretless bass and Troy's squealing guitar.  This is all topped off by some nice harmonies from the whole band, and, of course, a cracking vocal from Barbara herself.

Barbara is a huge Beatles fan and the last time I saw her she played two of their songs.  'Fool on the Hill', penned by Paul, and 'Across the Universe, a Lennon composition.  Tonight though, George gets a little bit of attention as his fantastic song, 'Nothings Gonna Change My World', gets an airing.  The band give it a slightly trippy treatment with Troy's mystical sounding bouzouki riff a particular standout.  It's at this point that Barbara lets us into a little secret.  She's suffering from the flu.  "I just don't want people saying, 'I went to see that Barbara Dickson and she was rubbish.'  I'm not rubbish... I'm just temporarily rubbish."  But, of course, she isn't.  She perhaps plays a little less theatrical material than last time, but she sounds in fine voice.

Her choice of folk material is top notch and includes a track from her 2017 EP, entitled 'The Laird of the Dainty Dounby'.  It's unusual amongst traditional Celtic songs in a couple of respects.  First of all, the female protagonist gains the upper hand, and secondly, it has a happy ending.  It also gives Troy Donockley a chance to break in his all-new, all-metal Uilleann Pipes.  They produce a sound so good that Barbara says they are 'a little bit cheeky and naughty'.  He gets to show them off to even greater effect on an epic arrangement of King Orfeo.  With its distinctly different sounding sections, great keyboard work and tasteful harmonies, it is almost like a Celtic 'Good Vibrations'.  Jo whispers; 'this would make a great metal song.  It reminds me of a band I love.  I've got their CD, I'll play it to you when we get home.'

Between a tearjerking song from Willy Russell's Blood Brother's and a bravura performance of Mike Batt's 'Caravan Song', she lets slip that Troy has been very busy recently as a member of the Finnish symphonic metal group, Nightwish.  'Oh my God!', Jo whisper screams, 'That was the band I was talking about.  I love Nightwish!'  Turns out Nightwish are a pretty big deal in the metal world.  Jo has all their albums and has seen them live three times, the last time in 2008 when Troy had just started to play with them.

Babs and CocoaAll the way through a rousing instrumental encore featuring the otherworldly sound of Troy's Uilleann pipes, Jo looks amazedly at the stage.  Every so often she repeats: 'I can't believe that's one of Nightwish!'  After the show, I excitedly queue up to get my programme signed and my picture taken with Barbara.  I'm really impressed that she still takes time to chat with fans even though she must be feeling pretty lousy.  Jo's a bit gutted that Troy doesn't pop out to say hello.  Maybe next time.  Either at the next Babs gig or the next time that Nightwish plays Scotland.


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