I like my lists. I have lists of books I want to read. Lists of places I want to visit. Lists of things I want to do before I die. For years now I’ve had a list of singers I wanted to hear live before they died: Leonard Cohen, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, BB King – all ticked off. The one I was missing, until last week, was Dolly Parton.
I can’t say the Odyssey in Belfast would be my place of choice to see a live act again, but there’s always a first time. It was a tightly controlled fully seated concert and if anyone stood up to dance, they were immediately asked to sit down. I’m not quite sure that Dolly knew what to make of it. I know I didn’t.
The woman looked amazing. As she said herself – she looks totally artificial, but she’s real where it counts. She’s on record as saying: ‘If I see something
sagging, bagging and dragging, I’m going to nip it, tuck it, and suck it!’ The woman is a testament to the powers of cosmetic surgery. She explained how she idealised the town ‘tramp’ when she was a kid and always wanted to look glamourous. Tipping around in her high heels with nails long enough to reach the remotest itch, she was all that, and more. And, man, does she like to talk.
We were treated to all sorts of anecdotes about her life, about her daddy and her mama, about her granddad and her husband (48 years married this year but as she tours so much, they’ve only been together for 3!). She told us about being raised as a Holy Roller and about the importance of being proud of our religion, whatever that might be. She thumped the bible so much that as we were leaving, I overheard someone commenting that she felt as if she’d just been to church. But that’s Dolly. I hadn’t realised that she’d recorded a gospel version of Jon Bon Jovi’s Lay your hands on me.
She played the harmonica, the guitar, the fiddle, the tin whistle, a washboard, a banjo, the piano, and even a mini-saxophone which she’d customised with rhinestones. ‘Twas all bling. Her nine-piece band (including one male backing singer) were dressed in black; the only piece of colour on the stage was Dolly. She was definitely the star of the show.
The one-liners kept me as amused as her singing kept me enthralled. I particularly liked: I’m a little too good to be real bad, and a little too bad to be real good. While it was Islands in the stream and 9-5 that got the crowd finally to their feet en masse in defiance of the security bods, for me, it was her Little Sparrow that made it all worthwhile. Fair play, Dolly. You’re one in a million.