Cara Dillon recently released her seventh album, "Wanderer" with longtime musical partner, producer and husband Sam Lakeman. With a winter and spring tour in support of the album it seemed like a good time to catch up.
Whilst preparing for the interview I came across an old interview I did with Cara at Cambridge Folk Festival back when she was preparing to leave her first band Oige and replace Kate Rusby in the Equation, where she would meet her future husband. I asked her back then about a career in music and thought it would be interesting to ask her about it looking back.
Once over the short surprise of being reminded of those times, she replied, "I always thought it was possible, the singers that I grew up admiring when I grew up in Northern Ireland, Mary Black, Delores Keane, all had long careers, I think folk music is a genre that can make things like that happen, so I knew it could happen. I'm a believer in fate and I think there have been times where the right choices have kept me on the journey."
It's a journey that has taken Cara to some unexpected places and working on unexpected projects, such as Children In Need and also with Disney, two areas not always instantly associated with folk music and, particularly with the later as a globally recognised brand. Does working with organisations like that put you under any additional pressure?
"It wasn't something I worried about at the time", Cara recalls, "I think I was already in the studio before I really thought about it. Disney may not have been thought of has being folk, but they have always thought about the music they use. It wasn't until a year after the recording that I really started thinking about how it had happened and more the pressure of the film's release. Some unexpected things come your way and I find it easy to accept that. It's only later when I look back that I realise that steps that got it there."
It seemed like a good cue to talk about Cara's new album, "Wanderer", which to my mind is the most thematic album Cara has done to date, I wondered if that caused any particular problems in putting the album together?
"Actually, it was one of the easier albums to do with it having the tighter focus. A lot of the songs for the album became quite easy choices and the two songs that we wrote for the album came at the right time. I was out walking and found the words coming to me."
One of the two songs that Sam and Cara wrote is "The Leaving Song", which is unexpectedly the third song on the album, which took me a couple of plays to get my head around, before it suddenly seemed to click into place, the album is signed off by the only cover version, "Dubhdara".
"Getting the order right on an album is a difficult thing to do. You start playing it to close friends and you have thoughts and whispered conversations about what songs should go where. "The Leaving Song" moved around a few times. "Dubdara" was always more for the end of the album, it moves away from traditional song structures and has more of a dreamy, filmic quality to it that lets you drift away."
"Wanderer" is also one of the most sparse albums that Cara has released to date. It has Sam Lakeman moving from behind a guitar to in front of a grand piano and whilst the album does feature many of Cara's band and guest appearances from John Smith and Kris Drever, the songs do have a light, but atmospheric touch. When is an album finished has always been a curiosity of mine, particularly when the instrumentation is used sparingly.
"It is something that's difficult" Cara responded. "We always knew that we wanted a sparse feel to the album and we knew what we wanted of each song, but John Smith lives near us and comes round and the band stay at the house and there was always the suggestion of a little more acoustic guitar here or the offer of a little more fiddle there." She paused reflectively, "I think when you have great musicians the temptation is there. Sam has been working mainly with picking his guitar and it was good to hear him work piano again. One of the things about the tour is playing places that have got a grand piano."
The tour has been split into two legs, a concentration from the end of November through December and then into a more relaxed schedule across February and into the Spring. With a young family does that make touring difficult?
"We've just comeback from a tour of China where we have quite a following", Cara goes on to explain, "My first albums are used as part of the English curriculums over there and we've toured there several times. We've been asked to do longer tours there, two months, or even one month, but at the moment it wouldn't work even in the school holidays. When we tour over here, Sam does all the driving and the car is one of the places that I get to listen to music, really listen to it and lose myself in it. I find myself arriving in places or back home."
It's that mention of home that brings me back to the album and particularly the other song the dup penned for the album, "Lakeside Swans".
"It's a song about people fleeing injustice and poverty from around the Mediterranean. Why shouldn't innocent people be allowed to move away from conflict and starvation, migrating from danger and starvation is a very natural instinct."
We reflect on the nature of past migrations, including those from Ireland and it leads me to wonder if that's why "Wanderer" has got so many songs with connections to water.
"I don't think we planned it that way. I think that when you leave Ireland or any island the natural migration is across water. The traditional songs are from times when water and ships were the only way to move. Even "The Tern And The Swallow" follows the waters."
Thank you for talking to Fatea and its readers, good luck with both the album and the tour.(Dates below).
A review of Cara Dillon's new album, "Wanderer" can be found here.
29-Nov-17 BURY ST EDMUNDS THE APEX
30-Nov-17 LONDON UNION CHAPEL
1-Dec-17 MILTON KEYNES THE STABLES
2-Dec-17 LOWDHAM ST MARY'S CHURCH
3-Dec-17 CANTERBURY GULBENKIAN
6-Dec-17 BRISTOL ALL SAINTS PARISH CHURCH
7-Dec-17 BROMSGROVE ARTRIX
8-Dec-17 GATESHEAD SAGE GATESHEAD
9-Dec-17 MANCHESTER THE STOLLER HALL
10-Dec-17 SHEFFIELD CITY HALL BALLROOM
14-Dec-17 ARMAGH THE MARKET PLACE THEATRE
15-Dec-17 DUN LAOGHAIRE PAVILION THEATRE
16-Dec-17 DERRY MILLENNIUM FORUM
17-Dec-17 BELFAST ULSTER HALL
19-Dec-17 CHELTENHAM PITTVILLE PUMP ROOM
20-Dec-17 BASINGSTOKE THE HAYMARKET
21-Dec-17 FROME CHEESE & GRAIN
CARA DILLON WANDERER TOUR
8-Feb-18 BELLAGHY SEAMUS HEANEY HOMEPLACE
13-Feb-18 NORTHAMPTON ROYAL THEATRE
14-Feb-18 NOTTINGHAM LAKESIDE ARTS
15-Feb-18 LIVERPOOL MUSIC ROOM
16-Feb-18 LEEDS LEEDS COLLEGE OF MUSIC
17-Feb-18 BRADFORD-ON-AVON WILTSHIRE MUSIC CENTRE
19-Feb-18 NETTLEBED NETTLEDBED VILLAGE CLUB
22-Feb-18 LONDON KINGS PLACE
24-Feb-18 KINGS SOMBORNE VILLAGE HALL
6-Mar-18 CARDIFF ST DAVID'S HALL
14-Apr-18 ZAANDAM ROOTS AAN DE ZAAN
19-Apr-18 DURHAM GALA THEATRE
20-Apr-18 PRESTON GUILD HALL
12-May-18 SHOREHAM BY SEA ROPETACKLE ARTS CENTRE
24-May-18 NEWBURY ARLINGTON ARTS CENTRE
26-Jun-18 BROMSGROVE ARTRIX