Rob Dickinson back on a roll 

Is Rob Dickinson jinxed? The British belter certainly hopes not.

But the evidence is fairly ominous. From 1990 to 2000, his ethereal quasi-Goth combo Catherine Wheel produced five exceptional albums, yet mainstream success inexplicably eluded the group.

In 2006, touring behind his first solo set "Fresh Wine for the Horses," the Hollywood-relocated Dickinson had only made it as far up the coast as Portland when disaster struck. "Thieves broke into our rental car to steal the GPS system," he recalls.

"They totally destroyed the dashboard and then stole all of our stuff out of the back — guitars, laptops, luggage. I was borrowing a $3,000 Taylor guitar at the time, so it was a total mess."

A few weeks later, the singer got word that his label, Sanctuary, was in dire financial straits, and all marketing for his debut disc would cease.

Attempting to tour with a backing band proved equally disastrous, he adds: "I did seven shows in 10 days, made $18,000, but wound up spending $19,500 in expenses — I just couldn’t make it work."

The hex might finally be lifting. Dickinson, 43, will play San Francisco’s Café Du Nord solo on Friday, again backing "Fresh Wine."

But there’s an upbeat twist. The album was just saved from the scrap heap by Fontana/Universal, which reissued it in the U.S. and Canada with a sweeping new anthem, "The End of the World," plus a six-track bonus disc of acoustic country-western re-workings, including the classics "Crank" and "Black Metallic."

"And I’ve got more good news," he says. "I’m getting married soon! I went down on the old knee with an elastic band for a ring, and my girlfriend Tina said yes. I just hadn’t gotten the engagement ring yet."

Dickinson deserves a few breaks. His deep, gale-force voice — miles from the shriek of his cousin, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson — is one of modern rock’s great hidden treasures. And folks are starting to notice.

The DJ BT just featured his vocals on an upcoming single, "The Unbreakable," Canadian outfit Neverending White Lights currently has a radio hit with a Dickinson duet "Where We Are" and he’s been writing songs for the long-awaited comeback of Journey’s Steve Perry.

"I’ve been having some bizarre, strange fun," he says, "Just finding myself collaborating with people through no fault of my own."

Is 2008 Dickinson’s lucky year? "I am optimistic," he admits. "Because you rarely get second chances in this business, and now I’ve got a second crack."

IF YOU GO

Rob Dickinson

Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco

When: 9:30 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 861-5016 or www.cafedunord.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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