From ‘She’s Like The Swallow’ from her very first album released, incredibly, some eighteen years ago through to songs from her 2017 album The Wanderer, folk singer Cara Dillon treats the audience to a beautiful and varied selection of songs tonight.
I’ve enjoyed seeing Dillon performing live several times now, the last occasion being at Hastings’ St Mary In The Castle with a full band. Tonight, however, it’s just Dillon, her voice, a little bit of Irish whistle-playing and her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman, accompanying her on piano and acoustic guitar. There’s nothing bare-bones and basic about tonight’s performance, though, nor indeed about the setting. The ultra-modern Birley Centre theatre space at the private Eastbourne College, lavishly equipped with a Steinway grand piano, is clearly a gift for Lakeman to perform at tonight, as he compares the Steinway to some of the more battered instruments he’s had to play on elsewhere on the tour.
Whether it’s her interpretations of traditional songs or her own writing, Dillon’s Irish roots and County Derry upbringing are never far from the surface. ‘The Leaving’ is a song she wrote about the tradition of what was once known as ‘the living wake’, she tells us, where relatives would make merry until the early hours to say their farewells, not to a deceased relative but to one emigrating to America, very often never to be seen again. It’s a beautiful, emotive song but an even more poignant moment comes with her rendition of the Troubles-era song ‘There Were Roses’ about two boys, one catholic one protestant, who were both murdered in tit-for-tat killings back in the 70s. Dillon promises not to go on about Brexit but, as she introduces the song, very movingly talks of the threats to the peace process and the crushing of feelings of hope and optimism amongst young people that the current Irish border issues throw up back in her home town. Inviting the audience to join in the chorus, which we all do in our gentle, quiet, thoughtful way – adds to the poignance.
Another especially moving moment in the evening comes about with Dillon’s rendition of the song ‘Lakeside Swans’ from her latest album The Wanderer, which she was inspired to write as a result of the refugee crisis and seeing those awful images of the drowned little Syrian boy on the beach that appeared on the front pages of every newspaper a few years ago.
Always a mixture of beautiful singing, emotive lyrics and captivating performance an evening with Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman on stage is never less than something very, very special. Eastbourne tonight demonstrates their ability to pull this off once again.