Cara Dillon accentuates the positive in exquisite new Christmas album

We're bombarded with the Santa Baby variety of Christmas music at this time of year but Cara Dillon's new seasonal album aims to get more to the heart of things

Family and spirituality inform Cara Dillon's latest recording
Robert McMillen

EVERYBODY will have their own special memories of Christmas. For Cara Dillon it is going to midnight Mass each year and the following morning there would be a big clan gathering when the whole extended family would call to the house in Dungiven for a few drinks after which her mother would feed the multitudes.

“It’s going to be different this year – because Mammy and a few of the others in the family are coming over to our house in Somerset. This is going to be a first for me – I hope I don’t burn the turkey!” she laughs. Nervously.

Cara’s husband Sam also grew up “in the sticks”, that is in Buckland Monachorum, a village in west Devon, 10 miles from Plymouth. Sam's experience of Christmas would be similar to Cara’s, with a big family gathering at home and lots of music before they would end up in the Sir Francis Drake pub in the village.

“But on Christmas Eve, the boys would go up to Plymouth and busk for the day and they’d end up with a tin full of money which they would give to charity,” Cara says of her other half whose brothers Seth and Sean have, like him, gone on to become successful professional musicians.

Those elements – family, love, philanthropy, sharing, laughter – make up part of what Cara and Sam see as the real meaning of Christmas.

Now, having three children themselves, 10-year old twin boys Noah and Colm and six-year old Elizabeth, are more connected than ever with Christmas and hence the gorgeous new album and its mixture of new songs and old.

“I’ve become obsessed now that we have children, that every time you step out the door at Christmas you are bombarded by Santa Baby and all those songs that don’t really mean anything and kids don’t really understand what Christmas is about. I feel really strongly about that.

“I’d always wanted to make a Christmas album and then last Christmas Eve Sam got his guitar out and started to write a song when Noah, one of our twins, started to help him and three hours later the song was written,” Cara proudly says.

“What Noah added was the simplicity of a child. While an adult might have overcomplicated things, he’s at the age where he is doing Nativity plays and he added what he thought the shepherds or the Wise Men would say. So that was lovely.”

The song is called Upon a Winter’s Night and it’s the title track of Cara’s album which contains 11 songs fully deserving of the term exquisite, both in Cara’s singing, in Sam’s arrangements and the fine band of musicians who accompany them.

“I wanted to make an album that had the magic and the mystery that seems to be missing nowadays,” she explains. “I wanted to create something that would take people to a different place, to give them good-bumps in their arms to maybe help then reconnect with what Christmas is really about.”

One of the songs that will indeed give you goosebumps is Oh Holy Night which Cara sings with her sister Mary. The pair have been singing the song for over years now.

“It all started one Christmas Eve in Dungiven and myself and Mary went out for a couple of Christmas drinks and we ended up at the local GAA club for a wee quiet drink together. Of course, someone shouted up, “Is there any chance you could sing?”

“Mary and I looked at each other and I suggested a Christmas song and she said ‘Only if it’s O Holy Night. You do the melody and I’ll do the harmony.”

“Well, I thought I didn’t know the song but you know the way you learn things almost by osmosis? Well, we started singing and Mary just took off with these amazing harmonies. There’s a line in O Holy Night which says 'Fall on your knees' and everybody in the hall went down on their knees – just for the craic!”

“So I told Mary I was making a Christmas album only on condition that she sing O Holy Night with me."

Other stand-out tracks on the album for me include Rug Muire Mac do Dhia, one of the few Christmas carols we have in Irish (Cara’s pronunciation is spot on), a rather jaunty version of The Holly and the Ivy – which Cara tells me is a Cornish version – as well as one of the oldest Irish Christmas songs, The Wexford Carol.

While most of the songs that will offend our ears over the next fortnight or so are recorded to make a quick buck, it’s is obvious that Cara’s renditions come straight from the heart, whether it is from her spirituality or her religion.

“Our children are being brought up Catholic, and when I’m at home I always take them to Mass on a Sunday,” she tells me. “I think it is so important for them to get the opportunity to know faith in God and then they can chose what they want later.

“There’s the saying of Aristotle, 'Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man' and all I want to do is to inspire good morals in them and hopefully that will see them through. When the boys were born, I don’t know how I could have coped without my strong faith.”

Cara lost a huge amount of weight and was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This year, she told “I can't believe that I'm unable to pick up a bar of chocolate or banana without thinking about how it might affect my blood sugars, I see food as numbers, I can't jump in the car without checking my sugars, I can't leave the house without my testing kit, my insulin pen, some snacks etc.

Thankfully, though, Cara accentuates the positive.

"Every day I try to be positive and I believe in positive energy and the power of people’s energy. It's about not always projecting all the negativity that's out there.”

Now that is a Christmas message we could all heed.


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