CARA DILLON – Live at Cooper Hall/2

Cara Dillon

This is the modern world. In August, Cara Dillon performed live at the Cooper Hall near to where she and Sam Lakeman live in Somerset. Last night, Thursday October 15th, saw her second performance. Both were streamed concerts to a virtual audience. Like many, Dillon has had to cancel several months of touring plans and this concert is intended as a gift to fans who have missed out on an opportunity to see her perform live this year. It’s a gem of a gift.

The set is simple, a small hall filled with wood giving a warm ambience. The set-up is professional – lights, a couple of microphone stands and the hall floor sparse other than piano, a couple of acoustic guitars…but no audience to mingle with and to give the murmuring hum of a pre-Covid live gig. This is the at least short-term future for watching professional musicians – and for the musicians to perform in.

And in the first ten seconds I realised two things: even though it has had to transfer from a hall in Somerset to the hifi amp and speakers plugged into my computer in Nottinghamshire, Cara Dillon still has the voice of an angel prickling the back of my neck; and secondly that somewhere there is an audience – of tens? hundreds? thousands? I don’t know, but it deserves to be the size of a concert hall.

I quoted The Jam in the opening sentence; for as long as we are compelled not to attend live music, I can only quote Lincoln Austin Steffens, “I have seen the future and it works”. This is not a given for on-line concerts, is a tribute to Dillon, Lakeman and their invisible team – and why I’ve spent some time stressing how good it is.

And the concert itself? The opening song which prickled the hairs on the back of my neck was Dougie Maclean’s ‘Garden Valley’, a song written from the point of view of a Scottish emigrant longing to return home – even if the details are very different, it is an emotion in sync with current circumstances.

It’s followed by ‘The Water Is Wide’ and the stunning ‘False False’, beautiful from the first notes on the piano. I’ve long thought that true skill in playing (music, sport, acting or whatever) is the ability to be invisible until someone makes a conscious effort to think how well you are playing. Dillon stops to introduce the next song and there’s suddenly chance to realise that the concert and its absorbing sound is created only by Dillon’s vocal and Sam Lakeman’s equally captivating piano and acoustic guitar.

The two take you further into the concert: ‘The Verdant Braes Of Skreen’, ‘She’s Like The Swallow’, ‘The Maid of Culmore’ and then a heart-stopping version of ‘The Snows They Melt The Soonest’. While the album version features an orchestra there’s a precision and beauty to this simple arrangement which tingles not just the neck but the whole spine. ‘As I Roved Out’ keeps the mood

Next is ‘Come Flying With Me’, dedicated to those watching with babies and wanting to get them to sleep. It was written for Dillon to sing at the close of the Disney movie Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue. Mellifluous is an understatement

Tommy Sands’ song ‘There Were Roses’ follows – as powerful now as when It was first written. I’m surprised to find that Dillon’s singing of a world governed by the principles of an eye for an eye is still capable of bringing a prickle to my eyes nearly twenty years since she first recorded it and even longer since the Good Friday Agreement.

The concert moves to an end with ‘Bright Morning Star’ and the penultimate ‘The Shores Of Lough Bran’, a traditional song about a living wake [A living wake was a farewell occasion for an emigrant on the night before they left Ireland, often on a one-way ticket to North America. It was expected that this would be the last time that the soon-to-be-emigrant would ever see their family and friends.] I’ve loved this song since I first heard Dillon play it some years ago. ‘Dubhdara’ closes the concert as it did Dillon’s last album.

I miss the ripple of a smile to an introductory comment and the sound of applause after a song – but I bet Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman miss it more.

I was delighted to be able to ‘attend’ the concert. More widely, it shows how gigs are going to need to be produced for the next months. We are so used to film and television that sound and, to a lesser extent, video are going to need to be at this standard. The set up here nailed it.

Most of all though, Live at Cooper Hall is a lovely Cara Dillon concert at a time when tours are being cancelled and we can’t get to see her play live. If she’s new to you, you can expect a great voice, great playing by Sam Lakeman and a varied choice of songs off Dillon’s albums from the past twenty years; if you’ve seen her before and/or have the albums, this won’t disappoint.

There is one added bonus – the one thing you can’t do with a live concert is repeat it or go back in time to see the gig if you couldn’t get to it. In the modern world, Live at Cooper Hall is on YouTube. If you missed it on Thursday, catch it now.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

You can stream the concert below:

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