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Cara Dillon - Nettlebed Folk Club, Nettlebed, 29/2/2016

  by Owen Peters

published: 15 / 5 / 2016

Cara Dillon - Nettlebed Folk Club, Nettlebed, 29/2/2016


Owen Peters marvels at the vocal dexterity of Cara Dillon at her recent Nettlebed Folk Club gig, but is left with regret her set didn't have more of a mix to it

Nettlebed Folk Club on the outskirts of Henley On Thames began life in 1975, becoming an institution in its own right over the last 40 years. The folk club moved location in 1991, and has since hosted plenty of iconic folk performers - the likes of Ralph McTell, Show of Hands and Fairport Convention. Tonight without a spare seat in sight, Nettlebed Folk Club welcomes the award winning Irish songbird Cara Dillon, accompanied by her husband Sam Lakeman. Dillon has become a well-known and respected artist throughout the world. She released her eponymously titled album in 2001 and by 2002 was already winning BBC Folk Awards for Best Traditional Song (Black is the Colour) and the Horizon Award for Best Newcomer. More success followed with the albums ‘Sweet Liberty’ (2003) and ‘After the Morning’ (2006). With the onset of parenthood the husband and wife team decided to scale down their travel and concert commitments. They also took the opportunity to take ownership of their musical direction and distribution, moving from Rough Trade to set up their own Charcoal Records. Dillon’s first album release on Charcoal, ‘Hill of Thieves’ (2009) was a huge success, winning yet another BBC Folk Award for Best Album of the Year. More success came knocking in the form of Disney for which she agreed to record the title track for the movie Tinkerbell and The Great Fairy Rescue. The current tour covers towns and cities throughout the UK with a mixture of full band, trio and duo, the latter being the format for tonight’s Nettlebed gig. Dillon opens with ‘The Snow that Melts the Soonest’ with Sam on keyboards. Although the song doesn’t require her full vocal range it’s apparent this is a woman with an extraordinary voice. Lakeman switches to guitar for ‘Jackets so Blue’. As the set continues they share some banter which the audience thoroughly enjoy. The story of Lakeman being heckled in Weston-Super-Mare by a woman requesting he “stop talking and let the lady sing” is told with good humour and excellent comedy timing. Lakeman and Dillon have a nice balance to their storytelling along with a line of self-parody throughout the evening. The set continues with ‘Shotgun Down The Avalanche’ which comes from the 2014 album ‘A Thousand Hearts’, and ‘Garden Valley’ from the 2006 album ‘After the Morning’ which she dedicates to those caught up in the refugee crisis. Both are heavy heartfelt ballads. “This is one of the first songs I learned as a child”, Dillon explains as she offers up ‘The Maid of Culmore’. It’s faultless and polished, with neat, tight chord arrangements. Her voice is like hearing the ripples from a pinged decanter glass: pure, clear, note-perfect. This could have easily been the soundtrack for the recent film blockbuster Brooklyn, such is the resonance of the story of a young girl yearning for her home. However, this point also brings a predictability to the set. The audience want a change of pace. Anyone who has attended a folk night knows it’s about participation. Besides being entertained we also want a bit of hand clapping and foot-tapping (or in most cases foot-stomping). So maybe it’s all to come in the second half. That half opens with ‘Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue’ and ‘Black is the Colour’ which is perfection in motion. Control, emotion, timing, confirming a duo in total control of their music. Dillon references back to her childhood and memories of Northern Ireland. ‘There Were Roses’, written by Tommy Sands, covers the interlocking lives of two boys - one Protestant, the other Catholic - at the height of country’s troubles. It’s beautifully written, covering death, hatred and hope with simplicity and understanding. I’m sure few would disagree if I said that just to hear this one song was probably worth the entrance fee alone. Probably a perfect time to get the audience involved, shift tempo from here on in... But it doesn’t happen. It’s like watching a magician perform a very impressive trick, then having the same trick repeated again. The theme of leaving families behind is explored again with ‘The Shores of Lough Bran’ which as Dillon explains is “a wake for the living dead. A going away party for those about to leave for new shores. They don’t say goodbye, they simply slip away from the gathered party to take on a new life.” Sure enough she transports the audience to a small town gathering with enough sincerity that you’re left checking the door for the person slipping away into the night. The audience finally get their foot stomping moment, that being part of a raucous request for an encore. The final song is... yep, a ballad: ‘The Parting Glass’ which while yet again beautifully delivered and faultless seems a strange choice to end proceedings. I’m sure the same set with a full band would have a different feel with interludes from a violin, piano or cello. But as a duo the seat shuffling, coughs and arm folding indicated that the audience wanted a more upbeat mix to the evening.

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Cara Dillon - Nettlebed Folk Club, Nettlebed, 29/2/2016

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