The high definition lighting and superior audio technology made the broadcast feel pristine and exceptionally “live.”
Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor
Under lockdown, the absence of live music in our lives has left an increasingly acute void, both auditory and emotional. Conscious of the pangs caused by this absence, Derry singer Cara Dillon has made a concerted effort to mitigate our cultural forfeiture. Her latest project, “Live at Cooper Hall,” is a broadcast in which Dillon, accompanied by her husband, multi-instrumentalist Sam Lakeman, sings some of her best and most well-known folk songs, live, for an online audience. The concert aired on Aug. 13 on Facebook and YouTube and is now available for download.
Rather than offer escapism, “Live at Cooper Hall” articulated the quiet tragedies of this pandemic in the traditional mode of Irish music. While the virus may be new, Dillon’s songs underscored that its accompanying emotions—grief, missing family, longing to return home—are as old as Irish music itself. In the familiarity of her melody and emotive vocals, Dillon gave comfort to her online audience, creating togetherness across time and distance.
I didn’t know what to expect from Dillon’s broadcast, and initially I was surprised at the somber tone of the song choices, having expected a more upbeat reprieve. Dillon began with “I am a Youth that’s Inclined to Ramble,” backed by the quiet, solemn acoustics of piano, followed by “The Tern and the Swallow.” Tragic, soft-sounding ballads are, of course, Dillon’s trademark, but in the current climate and context, the melancholic tone was especially heartfelt, as well as cathartic. Her choice of gloomy ambience matched the theme of the concert: yearning to return home to Ireland.
Although broadcast at Cooper Hall in Somerset, close to where Dillon lives and where she recorded her album, “Wanderer,” the real subject of this performance was Dillon’s native county of Derry. The concert unfolded as a love letter to Derry and her family and friends back home. Dillon acknowledged her heartbreak at not being able to get home to Ireland, which she explicated via songs about and in honor of Derry. One particular standout was “The Faughan Side,” a song, Dillon explained, that she used to hear in her hometown of Dungiven. With “The Faughan Side,” in particular, Dillon’s voice excelled in its romantic tenor.
Over the course of the hour-long concert, Dillon highlighted some of her best tunes, which were pared-back so that fans could hear every detail in Dillon’s sweet, soft vocals. The high definition lighting and superior audio technology made the broadcast feel pristine and exceptionally “live”—a better view than anyone would get at one of her typical concerts. She then sang “Bold Jamie,” a song she composed with her husband Sam Lakeman early in her career. As Dillon joked in the broadcast, she designed the song to imitate a typical, traditional Irish song, along with all its epic tropes of forbidden love, runaway lovers, chases, and battle. Dillon later sang the hauntingly gorgeous “River Run,” one of my very favorite Dillon songs, which somehow sounded even better in the video than in the track recording on her album, “A Thousand Hearts” (2014). Finally, in perfect Irish traditionalism, Dillon ended the concert with “The Parting Glass.”
A live recording can never match or replace the intimacy of an in-person concert, where you can feel each note like an electric current moving through your body. Nevertheless, the beauty of Dillon’s voice managed to overcome the limitations of video recording. Her melodies reached out beyond the camera and through the computer screen to transport me, imaginatively, to Derry, to rustic scenes, tight-knit communities, and different times. She sang these songs, ultimately, for her fans, to help fill the eerie silence left by the suspension of live music. If you’re missing the weekly session or a live concert to look forward to, Dillon’s “Live at Cooper Hall” is the next best thing. I suggest gathering with your family or friends in the living room, putting the phone away, and broadcasting “Live at Cooper Hall” to find release and relief in the gorgeous tunes of traditional Irish singing.
The concert is now available to download at caradillon.co.uk, where you can also support Cara Dillon by making a donation or buying one of her many exquisite albums.