Byline: Philip Key
YOU never know quite what to expect from Barbara Dickson. And that's how she likes it.
The Scottish-born singer of a Liverpool mother made her breakthrough from the folk scene with Willy Russell's musical John Paul, George Ringo...and Bert.
Since then she has been a pop star, appeared in TV specials, worked the theatre and cabaret circuit, sung in musicals and appeared in television dramas.
She's back in one of her favourite cities, Liverpool, on Sunday for a concert at the Empire. And it may not be quite what you would expect.
``It's a tour of only five dates, one of which is Liverpool, so it's quite strange,'' she tells me. ``I am back home between the dates spread over two weeks.''
Home these days is, incidentally, in rural Lincolnshire. She used to live in London. ``But many years ago I moved out when the kids (Colm, 15, Gabriel, 13 and Archie, 11) were very young. ``It's similar to East Yorkshire with lots of rolling open farmland with hills and a very nice part of the world to live in.''
Home life is important to her and she is back there as much as she can be.
So this mini-tour is perfect for her. ``Because it was only five dates I decided to do something different. People who know me know I never want to do the same thing twice.''
Never repeating herself has been very much part of her showbusiness pattern.
Her early days were spent in folk clubs doing all the traditional stuff. But Russell's invitation to her to perform at the piano in his Beatles musical proved the open sesame to a whole new life.
The show went to the West End and Barbara was soon caught up in the showbusiness world of pop and TV.
Another Russell invitation, this time to play the leading role in his musical Blood Brothers, brought more changes. Barbara had never acted before. In the event, the show and Barbara were triumphant when it opened at the Liverpool Playhouse and travelled to the West End again.
It also brought her to the attention of drama producers. She played a tough role in the Band of Gold series about prostitutes, appeared as a pop star in Taggart and opposite James Bolam in The Missing Postman.
For her stage shows she often called on the services of director Chris Bond, the man who had directed the original Blood Brothers.
Together they created a new piece of theatre, The 7 Ages of Woman, in which Barbara sang classic songs against the background of a woman at different ages in her life. It opened at the Playhouse again, touring to acclaim. There was another musical, Spend, Spend, Spend based on the life of pools winner Viv Nicholson, another triumph which took up much of her time last year on tour.
She managed a bit of a summer break but it was tough for her being on the road. ``To be honest, it's a real hardship being away from home for a long time unless I am doing something special.
``I wouldn't want to be in a production of What, no Pyjamas in Carlisle, you know. That's not what I want to be doing.''
Of course, she did return to Blood Brothers for a five-week Christmas run at the Liverpool Empire and despite a week of illness - ``I was pole-axed'' - she enjoyed the experience. ``I was able to spend a lot of time with nice people in a great city and it was a treat really. …