Trad: Cara Dillon and husband Sam Lakeman on their upcoming online performance
Robert McMillen speaks to Irish singer/songwriter Cara Dillon about why she's hoping her upcoming web gig with husband Sam Lakeman will be something special for fans – even without a live audience
"ALL songs are living ghosts. And long for a living voice."
Those words of Irish poet Brendan Kennelly sprung into my mind when chatting to Cara Dillon about the Steinway piano which sits in the Cooper Hall, a contemporary performance venue in the grounds of Selwood Manor, in the outskirts of her adopted home town of Frome in Somerset.
It is from there that Cara will be doing her first ever online streamed concert which will be broadcast globally on Cara's Facebook page and YouTube channel on Thursday August 13 at 8pm – news that will delight her fans throughout the globe.
"Many people will have seen us with a full band – or even with an orchestra – or they have just seen myself and my husband Sam Lakeman playing as a duo, but we are doing this show in Cooper Hall which has the most beautiful Steinway piano.
"The people there were very generous and said they had the space and told us that the piano was just begging to be played," says Cara.
And so I quoted her the Kennelly lines above.
"Never a truer word was said," she agrees.
"The piano is sitting in this most beautiful hall and I believe that wood is a living thing, you more you play an instrument, the better it becomes. And the minute Sam sat at the Steinway, what a smile came over his face!
"He was used to the piano because we recorded some of the Wanderer album and also on the Upon A Winter's Night Christmas album using it, and with the two being reunited you could almost feel the space in the room responding to the empathy between them."
So Live at Cooper Hall will be a special concert for the exceptional times we are living in and is intended as a gift to her fans, especially all of those who have missed out on the opportunity to see Cara perform due to the cancellation of tour dates since the Covid-19 crisis began. Her aim is to bring some of the magic of a live show to this online concert.
But how has the Coronavirus pandemic affected Cara and her family on a personal level?
"Well, just before the pandemic really hit, we had been in New Orleans – but Sam had been reading up about what was happening in China and we were quite concerned.
"So the minute we got back from the States we started talking about taking the kids out of school and that's what we did, we went our own way and got them out nice and early. I think because I'm Type 1 diabetic, we were really concerned and didn't want to take any risks," she explained.
So, Cara and husband Sam, like so many others, rolled up their sleeves for some serious home schooling with their three kids, Noah and Colm, the 13-year old twin boys, and nine-year-old Elizabeth.
"It's been busy," says Cara with the kind of understatement that come naturally to over-worked but loving parents.
While the lockdown has been very frustrating personally for Cara and Sam, musically it has been a hammer blow.
"Sam and I had been working on a new album and we had been to Peter Gabriel's Real World studios where we laid down half a dozen demos and we were really, really excited about it. The whole album was to be of songs we have written ourselves, and we were delighted about the way things were going and were raring to go – and then lockdown was brought in!" bewails Cara.
Thud. The whole idea for the new album has been packed away until such times as it can be resurrected.
"We're not sure why, but we just haven't wanted to go there, not even to listen to the songs again," she explains.
However, in hard, uncertain, frightening times like this, what do people turn to? They turn to the arts – to music and song in particular. It's why people have come out onto their balconies all over Europe to sing and to connect with other people they couldn't meet in the supermarket or in the pub or at bingo.
Ironically, Cara believes the concert from the south of England will connect her with family back home.
"Most of the songs I sing are emigration songs, songs about leaving home and I have never felt as emotional as I do now thinking about the lyrics of the songs," she admits.
"Indeed, this is the first time in my life that I have felt really, really homesick. It's the longest I've ever been without being able to go home.
"My mother is 89 and not getting home to see her is really tough. There will be people stuck in America and not able to come home to their families this summer and I also have a big following in China and it broke my heart hearing how the pandemic broke out there because my fans in China are so loyal and they are such beautiful people that I was really worried for some of the people we met there, knowing how hard they've been hit as well."
However, it must be very satisfying to know that you are singing to people all over the world, from Maghera to Xi An, Milwaukee to Mongolia and Melbourne, and all at the same time – although of course there will be no live audience to feed off. But that isn't necessary, according to Cara.
"I saw videos of Nick Cave and Laura Marling recently and as an artist I could appreciate how weird it must have been for them to be playing to an empty space and not getting that audience feedback, but when Sam and I are playing I think there is something magical that happens.
"When he is playing the piano or the guitar, I just get lost in the music and for those few minutes in the middle of a song, there is a beautiful connection and I hope that will come through to an on-line audience too," she says.
:: You can watch Live at Cooper Hall on Cara Dillon's Facebook page and on her YouTube channel on Thursday August 13 at 8pm. It is free to watch and will be available to download following the online broadcast.