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’.
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‘The Parting Glass’: