CARA DILLON – Live at Kings Place, Kings Cross, 22 February 2018

Cara Dillon
Photograph by Mike Wistow

The venue was stunning. Clean wooden floors, a delicate bar, someone selling programmes (for Barry Cryer in Hall One), what I can only call an ‘older audience’. There’s a civilised aspect to folk in a place like this that I’m simply not used to. This was a Christmas present. A trip to London with tickets for Cara Dillon in concert. A fascinating experience in that I normally watch folk music in small halls/arts centres or in fields at festivals. But it felt good.

And the music, ah the voice. Three of the band walked on stage, Cara Dillon in the centre, a couple of empty microphones either side, then piano to the left and violin to the right. And a voice like an angel, prickling the back of the neck, even when it became the voice of a lonely angel. About four songs in there was a wee technical hitch, which left Dillon to sing an impromptu unaccompanied solo while they fixed it. If anyone in the sold out hall had dropped a pin you’d have heard it, so rapt were the audience by the song.

By now the stage was full – a bass and second guitar giving a deeper sound to the music. ‘The Leaving Song’ written by Dillon was a delight, the story of a living wake (a ‘wake’ for those alive but being seen for the last time before they left for America or elsewhere) with gems of detail such as hobnail boots sparking on the stone floor as they danced and then the quiet as the family realised Dillon’s great great uncle, who was leaving, had slipped quietly out the back to avoid final farewells.

The second half had no technical hitches and took off into the skies. Dillon returned from break with ‘Both Sides The Tweed’ and the live version knocked the socks off the recording on the new CD. ‘Lake Side Swans’ was written after seeing the posture of the refugee boy a couple of years ago face down on the beach. Dillon said, “The image stayed with me and I wrote this”. This is what we need our folk singers for – to capture those moments where we share our humanity else we’d otherwise forget it in a world of instant electronic images supplanted one after another.

The set moved on with ‘Blackwater Side’, ‘If I Prove False’ – a stunning duet with John Smith and a refrain you couldn’t help but join in gently with “Who’s gonna kiss your pretty little lips……if I prove false to thee”. Then 2009’s ‘Hill of Thieves’ and the powerful ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair’ from 2002.

If the first half lost a little of its flow because of the technical problems and clicks on the guitars, the second half showed us why Cara Dillon, with band, is one of the classic folk singers of the modern age. She finished with two more songs from the new album, Wanderer, before concluding appropriately enough with ‘Parting Glass’.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website:

‘The Parting Glass’:

THE FLYING TOADS – Warts ‘N All (Own Label)

WartsWarts ‘N All is the second CD by the Flying Toads to come my way. I reviewed the older CD In Stitches a couple of years ago, and it was reviewed by the late Pete Fyfe for this site (and we both liked it a lot). And I can clear up one point he raised: the name Flying Toads is a spoonerism of ‘The Flowing Tide’, an Irish tune featured in the set of hornpipes that makes up the second track on this CD. (The other two tunes being ‘Cooley’s’ and ‘The Wonder’)

The main focus here is on Celtic music, much (but by no means all of it) Irish, and most of the twelve tracks are sets of tunes displaying the band’s ability to bring an impressive range of instrumental skills to bear, taking full advantage of the expanded opportunities the recording studio offers for swapping instruments and counter-melodies within a set.

The band consists of:

  • Val Marciandi – vocals, concertinas, tenor banjo
  • Brian Hirst – cittern, fiddle, vocals
  • Keith Whiddon – tenor banjo, bouzoukis, vocals
  • Erik Faithfull – Uilleann pipes, flute, whistles, vocals

Roger Philby contributes bodhrán to several tracks, as do Nancy Ketchen and Michael Probert on one track each. The main vocals are once again provided by Val, whose strong, rich singing voice is a perfect match for the versatility of the instrumental work within the band.

Since the performances here are consistently excellent, here’s a track-by-track summary rather than a blow-by-blow (or pluck-by-pluck) analysis:

  1. A set of jigs: ‘Stan Chapman’s’, ‘The Black Rogue’, and ‘Australian Waters’.
  2. A set of hornpipes (as listed above).
  3. ‘Bonny Portmore’, a song from 1796 by Ulster harper Daniel Black that has inspired numerous subsequent variations, one of which was the basis for Burns’ ‘My Heart’s In The Highlands’.
  4. A set of slides (a slide is somewhat similar to a jig, but in 12/8): ‘The Miller’s Maggot’, ‘This is my love, do you like her?’, and ‘Micho Russell’s’.
  5. The next track is a set of reels: ‘The Templeglantine’, and ‘Jenny Picking Cockles’, ‘Lillies in the Field’.
  6. Three jigs follow: ‘Palm Sunday’, ‘The Donegal Lass’, and ‘The Handsome Young Maidens’
  7. ‘Wild Rovin” is a Scottish version of a rather well-known song. It takes a certain amount of courage to sing ‘The Wild Rover’ anywhere these days, let alone record it, but this version certainly deserves a listen. For a start, it doesn’t use the overfamiliar “and it’s no, nay, never [thump thump thump thump]” tune, but a rather charming minor melody. The song goes straight into ‘A Bruxa’ (‘The Witch’) – a Galician tune by Antón Seoane – and ‘Medraina’, a “lively dance known as a muñeira … learned from Asturian band Xéliba“.
  8. The next set consists of three Scottish reels (though the first seems to be related to the Irish ‘Blackberry Blossom’): ‘Roddy McDonald’s Fancy’, ‘Islay Rant’, and ‘Barney’s Balmoral’.
  9. This set consists of slip jigs and reels: ‘The Cock And The Hen’, ‘The Humours Of Whiskey’, ‘Tommy Peoples”, and ‘The Lady On The Island’
  10. Track 10 links the polka ‘Ger The Rigger’ with the song ‘Peata Beag Do Mháthar’.
  11. Next comes a set of jigs: ‘Mrs Galvin’s’, ‘Paddy O’Rafferty’, and ‘Pay The Reckoning’.
  12. And finally, another longstanding folk-club favourite, ‘The Parting Glass’, sung with an accompaniment a little more rhythmic than I altogether like for this song, but it does set up Sandy Mather’s reel ‘The Repeal Of The Poll Tax’ nicely.

If you’re familiar with the band’s previous CD or have heard them in concert you’ll expect adept instrumental and vocal work delivered with charm and energy, and that’s exactly what you get. My only slight disappointment is that there are no modern songs this time round. (The earlier album included songs by Archie Fisher and Woodie Guthrie.) Hopefully that side of Val’s vocal talents will continue to be featured in her duo work with Keith as Bouzatina, now that they’re based in Shropshire.

David Harley

Artists’ website:

‘The Parting Glass’ live: