Over 20 years, Cara Dillon has risen to become one of the finest exponents of traditional Irish songs. She brings her ‘Upon a Winter’s Night’ tour to the Sage, Gateshead this month so Damian Robinson caught up with her for a little chat.
Your new album ‘Wanderer’ has been gaining critical acclaim, including a 4-star review in the Guardian. How have you found the reaction to the album and is critical acclaim important to you?
I am absolutely thrilled with the response we’ve had to ‘Wanderer’. When we sit down to record an album I always think to myself “well, if I like this song then surely someone else out there will appreciate it too”. However, I would be torturing myself if I tried to imagine getting amazing reviews all the time – that’s a dangerous path to go down.
‘Wanderer’ is made up of original compositions and covers of traditional ballads. How do you pick which songs you cover?
Every time I complete an album I have this terrible fear that I may never find enough great songs to make another album. And when the time comes round to record it’s always because I have so many songs floating about in my head that need a voice. Songs always take me by surprise. Two songs on this album I’ve known since I was eleven years old and had totally forgotten about them until I found myself humming them while baking with my children one lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s almost like the songs rise to the surface when the time is right – they just find me.
And what inspires your original compositions?
I feel like I’ve suddenly found a new place in my head where lyrics and melodies flow easily and naturally, especially when I am out for walks as nature is so inspiring for the soul. ‘The Leaving Song’ was inspired by stories my mother told me about her great uncles emigrating to America. ‘The lakeside Swans’ is about the refugee and migration crisis throughout the Mediterranean and how easy it is to tar all with the same brush.
You’ll be bringing your ‘Upon a Winter’s Night’ tour to the region. What can we expect from the show?
Christmas is so important to me and our family. I was keen to record a Christmas album that would capture the true essence of Christmas; one that spoke to the listeners of a time of reverence and magic. So much of the real meaning of Christmas has been lost and it has become such a massive commercial enterprise. I wanted my children to know and sing songs like ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘ The Wexford Carol’ instead of ‘All I Want For Christmas’ and ‘Santa Baby’.
You’ve been an active artist for over 2 decades. What artistic aspirations still remain for you?
I’m extremely critical of myself (possibly to a fault) and I never like listening back to my vocals as I will pick pick pick. I’m all about the song and feel that it must transport you to a different time and dimension. Music is a sacred art for me: it’s healing and therapeutic both to the artist and the listener and so I hold myself to really high standards and do my absolute best at all times. I’ve been very lucky to have sung on a wide range of interesting and successful projects, but I suppose I would love to be able to bring a genuine sense of traditional music to the masses some day.
Cara Dillon plays the Sage, Gateshead on Friday 8th December. Tickets, priced at £24.00 in advance, are available from sagegateshead.com.