I imagine that most listeners that tune into our Roots stream will be familiar with the name Cara Dillon. I caught up with her recently for a relaxed chat about where she is now with her music and to reflect back on her last album “Hill of Thieves” which was released last year. Hill of Thieves has been making big impressions across the globe and pulling in new fans to the world of folk music along with rave reviews and a rapidly growing fan base. It won Best Album at this year’s BBC Folk Awards and Cara and her husband, Sam Lakeman, put on a cracking performance at the award ceremony with The Verdant Braes of Skreen. On the night, Cara and Sam’s face spoke a million words.
“It was fantastic. To be honest, we’d not got our hopes up for “Hill Of Thieves” to be nominated as our previous 2 albums weren’t nominated for anything and we’d got used to not being part of the process. It was a surprise to receive 3 nominations and an even bigger surprise to win. Performing “Verdent Braes Of Skreen” was an easy decision to make as I was on a flying visit with the “Transatlantic Sessions” and Sam was bringing our twin boys up to London to see me so I wanted to do an easy song that required no stress”
I always imagine that events like this, where you are amongst fellow musicians can be a bit nerve wracking but they both seemed incredibly at ease.
“Performing on Radio or TV is not something that bothers me anymore. Sam and I have done so many live TV and Radio recordings in so many countries now that it doesn’t phase us at all”.
The DIY ethic is something I’m very used to seeing with musicians on our Frukie stream where home recording is often easy to do due to the lo-fi aspect of some of the music but to record an album like Hill of Thieves is a bigger deal due to the bigger sounds that are going on. This didn’t seem to put Cara Dillon off. Hill of Thieves, was produced by Sam at their West Country home and her first solo album was recorded at Sam’s parents home.
“All four of my albums have been recorded at home by Sam with the exception of the orchestras, drums and concert grand pianos. We still impose some of the formalities that you find in professional studios, time management being the main one, and it is even harder now we have children to stick to some of those guidelines. Usually, recording at home means that the process is easier (and cheaper) but you also become far less critical of your own material because you’re in familiar and safe surroundings. Through experience we’ve developed a formidable “third ear” for instances such as this and so far have managed to produce material that we are proud of and less likely to regret in the future”.
I didn’t think I was the first to notice, but on on Hill of Thieves Cara sounded different, in a pleasant way, it would be hard to imagine her not sounding pleasant!
“Having children changed my voice and since the birth it has been almost a semi-tone lower. To the great delight of accompanists who no longer have to perform in C# and G#”.
Like most interviews you do a bit of delving beforehand and what I couldn’t get out of my mind was how Cara managed to juggle motherhood/life/work. It was clear that family values were important to both Cara and Sam.
“It is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. It can be a logistical nightmare as Sam and I want to be with our children all the time. We absolutely love doing concerts and we’re lucky that we’re at a stage in our careers where we can stipulate when, where and how many concerts or festivals we perform at. The boys have their own USA Visas and have been on tour to the States 3 times in the last 18 months. They think nothing of waking up in a new hotel every morning and eating in restaurants for every meal. We should be taking a bit of a breather in 2010 with only a handful of Festival appearances, so I’m looking forward to a relatively quiet year…(famous last words)”
Cara’s hometown is Dungiven, Derry. All musicians that I’ve spoken to from Derry have big musical roots and Sam Lakeman is also from a big musical family, as I’m sure many of you out there already know.
“My sister Mary is a celebrated traditional singer and was my main inspiration when I was growing up. My Grandmother was a fine singer, but died before I was 3 years old. There is so much music in the town of Dungiven and the surrounding area that, even if you were born into a family with no music, you couldn’t go through childhood without being exposed to it or encouraged to play or sing at some point”.
Hill of Thieves had a large focus on traditional songs, probably more so than any other album Cara had released. Maybe parenthood had something to do with it, or was it a return to her roots?
“It was two things. Firstly, our twins were born extremely premature and spent 3 months in hospital. As a result Sam and I retreated into as safe and secure home life as we could. Part of that was listening to some of our favourite music from our childhood which happened to be some of the classic traditional albums from the 70’s, this influenced us greatly. Secondly, as it was our first release on our own record label, to some extent we wanted to “play it safe”. We knew how much it costs to do a big commercial release and we weren’t prepared to put ourselves on the line to that extent especially so soon after the boys were born. It would’ve been far too stressful”.
Cara’s home is in the West Country now which, living and knowing the West Country myself isn’t a bad choice. There is a strong musical scene in the West Country which I’ve noticed a lot since running Folk Radio UK. Transplanting yourself from a place like Derry to the West Country is probably a gentler cultural move than diving into a city.
“To be honest the people round here are really quite similar. They share the same indifference towards the rat race that they do back home. I do miss the quality of local music that is back home in Ireland. But I get to see and meet so many amazing musicians and singers from around the world that it totally outweighs any negatives”.
No doubt the year ahead will busy for Cara and husband Sam. With another award under her belt the demands will no doubt increase.
“We have a selection of festival appearances over the spring and summer and will be releasing a new live DVD in May called “Live In The Grand Opera House – Hill Of Thieves Live”. It was filmed in Sept 2009 and feature all the musicians from the album. It was an incredible concert and has turned out better than I could’ve hoped for. The live arrangements have a whole different feel and some of them take on an amazing life of there own. It’s weird watching yourself performing a whole concert”.
“Throughout the year Sam and I are planning to start work on a new album. After being answerable to other people for so long it is a relief to be able to do things at our own pace for a change”.