❉ It’s clear the extraordinary Dana Gillespie has lost none of her verve, writes Stuart Douglas.
“(T)hese are excellent rocky blues tracks, with great guitar work to the fore, but the main attraction is, of course, Dana’s voice, which has only gotten more smoky and expressive over the years – like her contemporary Marianne Faithfull, her singing just seems to get better as she gets older.”
Like many people, I first came across Dana Gillespie via David Bowie, listening to her marvellous version of his Hunky Dory track, Andy Warhol, on, first, dubious tape bootleg and then, later, on lovely clean CD (The album on which it first appeared, Weren’t Born a Man, returned to CD as part of Cherry Red’s 2019 MainMan anthology What Memories We Make).
At that point, Gillespie was more a folkie than a blues singer, but there no mistaking the power of her voice, as she turned Bowie’s arch and knowing tribute to the American pop artist into a song of significant power and sweeping range. Over the five decades since then, she’s carved her own very distinctive channel through the music scene, starring as Mary Magdalene in the original production of Jesus Christ Superstar, releasing albums of pop, rock, blues and folk (as well as a slew of Indian devotional albums, following her discovery of the teachings of Indian Guru Sai Baba in the early seventies) and organised a long running blues festival in Mustique in the Caribbean, all of which she looked back on candidly earlier this year with her memoir, Weren’t Born A Man. (Hawksmoor Publishing, ISBN: 9781838099046)
She is, it’s fair to say, a woman of extraordinary drive and talent, and one possessed of a very singular and personal creative vision and this is the latest LP in an impressively long and varied career, and from the off it’s plain that she’s lost none of her verve.
She sets out her stall straight away, with the titles of the two opening tracks, Beat Of My Own Drum and We Share the Same Sky, serving as about as good a (seemingly contradictory, but in fact entirely compatible) summary of the paths her life has taken, and the attitudes she has, as I can imagine. Like the rest of the album, these are excellent rocky blues tracks, with some great guitar work to the fore, but the main attraction is, of course, Dana’s voice, which has only gotten more smoky and expressive over the years – like her contemporary Marianne Faithfull, her singing just seems to get better as she gets older.
For some fans, the most interesting song was clear as soon as the album was announced – Now You’re Stardust, with its obvious reference to the late, great David Bowie. In truth, it’s not the best track on the album, but the lyrics (‘you know I’ll always love you, wherever you are/You always said you wanted to swing upon a star’) are heartfelt and sweet without being cloying (‘Now you’re stardust/I’ll always bear the scars’) and the inclusion of a sax section and an undeniably Hunky Dory influenced guitar solo are nice touches.
Other highlights include In Times Like These, where she proves she can sing about more than the usual bluesy pre-occupations, as she tackles lockdown and how strange life has been recently, and Up Yours, in which she gives some errant lover both barrels in no uncertain terms (I suspect that many listeners will be reminded of another great female singer, Poly Styrene, and X-Ray Spex’s Oh Bondage! Up Yours – which is no bad thing!).
The band sign off with Putting My Dreams on Hold, a slow, reflective blues in which Dana considers the strange times we’re living in, and decides that, if she can’t believe everything she’s told, it might be time to take a step back. It’s a gorgeous song, with the best lyric and vocal on the album but, to be honest, I doubt that Dana Gillespie has ever believed anything in her life just because someone told her it. On the basis of this lovely record, I really do hope that’s the case – there’s still so much more for her to do and so many more songs to bring to life.
❉ Dana Gillespie: ‘Deep Pockets’ (CDCHD 1600) is out now on CD from Ace Records, RRP £11.50. Buy Now: https://acerecords.co.uk/deep-pockets. This product is also available as an digital download: Deep Pockets (MP3), RRP £7.99.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas