It’s a wet and windy day in the wilds of Northumberland and So So Gay is awaiting the arrival of Sam Dickinson for a photo shoot and interview. Sam is making quite a name for himself as a singer and performer and is no newcomer to our site, having been featured as part of the now defunct band, The Fletchtones. When he arrives at the studio, Sam is clutching a selection of outfits and accessories that would make Elton John jealous. We love him already.
Having spent over an hour taking photos in a tiny church, we sit down with Sam to discuss his plans for his appearance at this weekend’s Newcastle Pride and his upcoming Summer of Soul tour.
We begin by asking Sam how important performing at Newcastle Pride is for him, to which he readily responds; ‘I love Pride, absolutely love it. I’m not just performing at Newcastle Pride this year, I’m playing at other events too’. In terms of concrete plans for Pride, Sam is clearly keen to stand out from the crowd; ‘I’m the only act bringing a band on stage with me so it’s making that 20 minutes of the day completely about live music, trying to bring more of that into Pride. For the final song, I’ll have a choir, Northern Proud Voices, on stage with me. They’re a fantastic community choir who performed last year and are appearing again this time round’.
The song the choir is going to perform with Sam is one close to the singer-songwriter’s heart; ‘The song is called ‘Lift Your Head’, which is quite a sad song but it’s also uplifting in its lyrics – the message is about holding your head high and not forgetting to live your life without regret. It’s all about picking yourself back up when life kicks you down’. Is this a message Sam feel is particularly suited to Pride? ‘Absolutely. I think the whole point of bringing it into Pride is that, you know, people who might be unsure of their sexuality or are scared about how people might react to it – telling them to pick themselves up and avoid becoming a victim. I think that’s the mentality you have to try and get into and that’s the message I’m trying to get across with the song’.
It’s a forceful message. We wonder if Sam, as a relatively young, out performer feels a responsibility to be a kind of role model. He replies eloquently; ‘I think it’s about getting everything out in the open. It’s not necessarily just about going out on the drink every Friday and Saturday night; there are other things you can be doing as part of our community. I wouldn’t say I feel obliged to be a role model as such but whenever I do interviews or performances, I always try to be as professional as possible with what I’m doing’.
We dig deeper to see if Sam means that he has a wider interpretation of what it means to be a ‘role model’; ‘Yeah, when I write a song, I try not to write it exclusively for a gay audience. It’s more about situations which people in general might face. It’s almost deliberately ambiguous in the sense that I want someone to listen to one of my songs and think ‘ah yes, that was me, I know exactly what he’s talking about. I know someone who’s been an absolute bastard to me’.’[pullquote_left]I’m just proud of the fact that there are people, any people, who want to come and see me perform[/pullquote_left]So what kind of audience is attracted to a Sam Dickinson gig? ‘I seem to appeal very much to the lesbian market and to 25+ gay men. I’m not 100 per cent sure why. I might be on dodgy ground here but it could be that younger music fans prefer their Rihanna and their dance music. To be fair, I’ve remixed some of my songs to appeal to that’. We are curious to know what it is about Sam’s music that appeals to lesbians. He tells us, laughing infectiously; ‘Because there are some ‘fuck you!’ songs on this album, I think that’s why!’. On a more serious note, Sam clearly has a very loyal local following in the North East and we are keen to know just how important that is to him; ‘It’s tremendously important’, he answers without any hesitation, ‘I always remember someone saying to me ‘Oh well, a Sam Dickinson gig is just single gay men and lesbian couples’. And I thought, you know, I’m just proud of the fact that there are people, any people, who want to come and see me perform. I don’t care who it is’.
Looking beyond Newcastle Pride to Sam’s Summer of Soul tour, we ask for a sneak preview as to what he has up his sleeve for the dates; ‘A full 90-minute show with a five piece band. It’s all about soul and jazz music and just people having a good time. I’ve chosen venues specifically because they’re ‘interesting’. We’re not just talking about bars. For example, one of them is a converted church in Darlington, there’s the hottest jazz and soul club in town forNewcastle and I’ve chosen a theatre in Stockton. I spent a lot of time selecting the venues I wanted’. Sticking on that theme, Sam tells us about his personal priorities when choosing a venue; ‘The location is essential. Then the size; I’ve always been told to pick smaller venues than you think you are able to sell out, the theory obviously being that you’re more likely to look popular when you’ve filled the place’, he tell us with characteristic humour.[pullquote_right]It’s all about soul and jazz music and just people having a good time[/pullquote_right]There is an album in the pipeline, a project Sam describes as ‘working with what I call a ‘collection’ of songs to try to blend them into an album’. We are curious to know what the ‘thread’ running through the album is; ‘Soul and jazz’, responds Sam, somewhat vaguely. ‘I had a meeting a few weeks back where I played my own songs followed by a selection of songs which I wanted my album to sound like and they were totally different. But because all of my songs are autobiographical, all written at a certain time in my life, I have a solid base. What I’ve started to do now, what you’ll here at Pride and on my tour, sounds more like a coherent album. I now just need to get it recorded and put it out there’.
All photographs courtesy of the author.