It’s fair to say that for a select few Cara Dillon fans, the gig at The Islington in London will live long in the memory. This is the second showcase for the launch of the new album A Thousand Hearts and as well as the invited music industry types and press there are some genuine fans in the room. The decision to put a very limited number of tickets on general sale is looking like a very wise one, as the room is nicely filled out and as Cara and Sam take the stage they are treated to a warm reception.
You can sense the anticipation in the crowd and as the first piano chord hangs in the air, the rest of the room is instantly hushed, the focus on Cara as she delivers the first lines from River Run. The words, “No, please don’t go, please don’t leave yet,” spike the air with an almost unbearable sadness floating on a bittersweet melody. The collective goosebumpometer goes off the scale on a palpable wave of emotion.
Seeing Cara in such a setting is of course a rare opportunity and being so close to the performance is truly special, adding an extra frisson to a selection of songs that stir high emotions even in the bigger concert halls, which are the more usual venues for Cara and band. They do say that such proximity to the audience can be intimidating for the artist, but there’s no evidence of that tonight.
As the rest of the band, Ed Boyd (guitar), Jarlath Henderson (whistle and uilleann pipes), Niall Murphy (fiddle) and Luke Daniels (accordion), take the stage, Cara is straight into bantering with the crowd, noting a whoop for a mention of Donegal, from whence Jacket So Blue has made its way into her personal songbook. It’s swiftly followed by Shawn Colvin’s Shotgun Down The Avalanche, another bittersweet, but beautiful song, with just Cara and Sam through the first verse before the boys at the back join in.
At one point Cara apologises for the sadness of some of the song choices, but I don’t think you’d get even the first murmur of complaint from those gathered here. After all it’s been a beautiful sunny day and Cara notes that, “It’s like being on their holidays,” before launching into a story of wine spillage and a borrowed shirt. It transpires that Cara’s efforts to remove red wine stains with white simply left Niall’s clothes wet and in need of an emergency loan.
It gives a little insight into the good humour of the band and Cara even manages to give Sam a gentle ribbing about his refusal to sing. The rest of the band are praised for their recent efforts, although Cara also bemoans letting the stopper out of the bottle, complaining, “I can’t get them to shut up now,” through her twinkling smile. The boys show their chops too, singing on Bright Morning Star.
Cara picks up the whistle herself for the one Gaelic song in the set Érigh Saus A Stóirín and also for My Donald, which Cara describes as one of the saddest songs in the world. The switch to the Irish language prompts another humorous anecdote as Cara talks about her sons, who have grown up in Somerset with the steadily increasing realisation of, “You talk funny Mummy.” She assures, however, that they are getting into the spirit of things and now everything they do is, “For the craic.” The song itself Cara reveals is, “Just a drunken conversation really,” but she sings it beautifully and again the band shine with Jarlath swapping to the pipes.
Cara then recalls being driven around County Donegal, with My Donald as a regular on the car’s cassette player and thus it remains engrained in her consciousness. Niall’s fiddle hits a suitably mournful tone, with Luke’s accordion cleverly cutting across the melody and the band stretch out for a final section that ups the pace generating a whoop or two along the way.
The set concludes with another heartbreaker, I Roved Out and a romp through Moorlough Mary that once more demonstrates the instrumental skills and finely judged arrangements giving Cara’s gorgeous voice a the chance to work its spell. Taking a quick glance around the room all other eyes are on Cara in misty surrender, as she holds us all entranced. Unsurprisingly the conclusion of the set is greeted with a rapturous response and no small amount of noise, which quickly brings Sam to the piano and Cara back as the centre of everyone’s attention, for an appropriate encore of The Parting Glass.
As if to emphasise the relaxed atmosphere, Cara, Sam and band don’t rush off to the dressing room, but are all in the bar and happy to talk to all and anyone. A few quick pictures are posed, autographs signed and there’s a real sense of gratitude for a great show and a wonderful introduction to the new record. Cara seems to be in her element and it’s a shame that we can’t simply come back and do it all again tomorrow. Had everyone been signed up for such as they left it’s doubtful you would get any refusals.
Cara will be back on stage in London on the eve of the album’s release in May, this time at the much larger Blackheath Halls. I wonder whether it might be unreasonable to expect the same level of magic that this intimate evening has created. Were I a gambling man I wouldn’t bet against it. And you know what? I will surely enjoy finding out.
Review by: Simon Holland
Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman – Bright Morning Star (From TS 6 with Mary Chapin Carpenter Karen Matheson Tim O’Brien, Ewan McLennan):
1. Jacket So Blue
2. Bright Morning Star
3. My Donald
4. Moorlough Mary
5. Shotgun Down the Avalanche
6. River Run
7. Éirigh Suas a Stóirín
8. Eighteen Years Old
9. Táimse im’ Chodladh
10. The Shores of Lough Bran
11. As I Roved Out
Cara is on tour now…
23 – ORMSKIRK, Arts Centre (full band)
24 – SHEFFIELD, Memorial Hall (full band)
25 – SALTAIRE, Victoria Hall (full band)
02 – HANGER FARM ARTS CENTRE, WEST TOTTON (duo)
09 – THE MALTINGS, FARNHAM (trio)
15 – ARTRIX, BROMSGROVE (full band)
16 – WYCOMBE SWAN, HIGH WYCOMBE (full band)
17 – BLACKHEATH HALLS, LONDON (full band)
23 – BURNAVON, COOKSTWON (full band)
24 – ARDHOWEN THEATRE, ENNISKILLEN (full band)
You can also follow Cara on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CaraDillonSings
A Thousand Hearts is released 19 May 2014 via RED UK.