Cara Dillon leads centuries old folk towards the modern day

Cara Dillon

Cara Dillon - Credit: Archant

With a back catalogue of songs that are centuries old, Rough Trade might not have seemed the most likely label for Cara Dillon to have made her name on.

Look beneath her renditions of Ireland’s most treasured folk songs though and you’ll be hard pressed to find an artist who has made them as relevant for the new millennium.

Backed by Dillon’s angelic vocals and the swimming musical flourishes of husband and collaborator Sam Lakeman, her traditional-yet-contemporary folk stylings have won praise from both sides of the Isles and are coming to the Union Chapel this October.

“We’ve played the Union Chapel a couple of times before and I absolutely love it,” says Dillon, 39. “It’s so beautiful and perfect for our type of music – the instruments just echo through the church.”

Having started her musical journey as a 14-year-old in hometown Derry, Dillon has long been infused with a music “that has always been in my blood.”

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“I don’t think brainwashing is the right word,” she laughs, “but when we were growing up at school everyone would be given a whistle or tambourine and we’d learn songs about nearby castles and the history around us.

“They’re songs that stand the pass of time, a way of keeping the history alive.”

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In her early years, Dillon found success with the Devon-based outfit Equation, before leaving with Lakeman to sign for Rough Trade. Managed by the label’s legendary founder Geoff Travis, Dillon released three albums, but found the commercial pressures unsuited to her genre’s humble intentions.

“It was an amazing experience and I have the greatest respect for Geoff Travis,” she says. “It’s just when you put out an album for someone else, they want it to make more of a widespread commercial impact.

“You end up pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and that can sometimes mean you’re not being true to yourself.”

Dillon’s solution came in the form of Charcoal Records, which she started in 2008. A year later, she released her fourth record, Hill of Thieves, and to her surprise found it sold better than any of her previous efforts, spawning hits in ‘She moved through the fair’ and ‘P is for Paddy’.

Now putting the finishing touches to her new album, A Thousand Hearts – which consists of both traditional covers and original material – the singer puts her recent success down to the resurgence of young interest in the British folk scene.

“The music speaks for itself, but I think this is a great time for folk music. Mumford and Sons have come to the front and although they’re not folk in the same way, it’s helped.

“Even someone like Ed Sheeran has covered a famous song, ‘The Parting Glass’ [a song Dillon has also covered] and it’s meant that you suddenly have all these young lads not afraid to explore the genre.”

Cara Dillon plays the Union Chapel on October 24. For more information and tickets, visit

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