Cara Dillon's Happy Heart

The singer has a new album and headline slot at Belfast Music Week to look forward to. 'Things couldn't be better'

The morning run is over, and having safely delivered the children to school, Cara Dillon has a little time to spare before continuing her long list of 'things to do' in the small Somerset market town of Froome – her home for the past decade.

Family errands are mixed in with other pressing matters that need to be dealt with as the opening night of a national tour approaches. 17 dates the length and breadth of the UK up to the end of November include a return to Belfast’s Ulster Hall on Tuesday, November 12 for Belfast Music Week 2013.

As the conversation proceeds, mention of her childhood in Dungiven makes the lilt in Dillon’s south Derry accent grow stronger by the second. 'Dungiven is hugely important to me and there’s always something going on. I’m back and forth as often as I can,' Dillon beams. 'I’m the only one of the family who has moved away, but the connections with the town will always be there.

'Things have changed a bit though in the past ten years. I have three children and my twin boys have just started school. So you become a bit of a slave to holidays and school terms.'

In the midst of this hectic family life, however, Dillon’s tour is laying the groundwork for the release of her next album, A Thousand Hearts, due to be released in early 2014. 'It’s all about managing it,' Dillon says. 'Some days are just crazy, but that’s no different from what any other mother and father has to do. However, having twins is quite a challenge,' she laughs.

Dillon’s career has taken her from being an All Ireland traditional singing champion in 1989 to meeting and then marrying the highly respected musician and producer Sam Lakeman. Now Dillon has become a much sought after global performer. In December, she will tour China. A visit to Canada is scheduled for the spring. Festival appearances are being arranged for summer 2014.

Along the way, Dillon’s distinctive voice has won her numerous accolades and awards. Her first album Cara Dillon, released in 2001, was followed by Sweet Liberty (2003) and After the Morning (2006). 2009's Hill of Thieves cemented her reputation as one of Ireland's brightest stars.

The self-penned title track that has been acknowledged by BBC listeners as one of the most original songs to come from Northern Ireland reflects Dillon's strong ties with the town that lies snugly beneath the peak of Benbradagh mountain. The song goes:

For too long time I've been a stranger here,
To the hills above Glenshane.
And your rocks and your rain,
Where the silent souls haunt the Priory walls,
In the wind they sing 'Come away, come away'.

'The new album is a mix of traditional material that I’ve re-worked as well as a Shawn Colvin song called 'Riding Shotgun Down the Avalanche' and an old hymnal song entitled 'Bright Morning Star',' Dillons adds. And she gives much of the credit for the freshness of her unique sound to the influence of her husband.

'I couldn’t do it without Sam. I wouldn’t be interested in doing it now without him. When I have ideas of my own or find a traditional song, Sam will breath a whole new lease of life into them. It has something to do with him coming from Dartmoor, a background that is completely different from mine, and being able to give it a completely new twist.'

And as the many thousands of Cara Dillon fans await the latest collection of songs from the forthcoming album, she assures them that they will not be disappointed.

'I’m performing mostly material from the new album [on the forthcoming tour]. It’s a similar organic sound and, in a way, a bit of an extension of the theme of Hill of Thieves. In the past I think we tried to second guess what record companies might like. That’s where we feel we went wrong. And now it’s just ourselves and we have never been as happy or as successful. We have a good formula now and can stick with it.'

Dillon continues to trawl the world of traditional music of her youth in the search for new songs. In spite of concerns that there may not be enough material to fill a new album, those fears have once again been confounded.

'I don’t know why I worry,' she laughs. 'We’re now on our fifth album and there is a wealth of material out there. It’s really weird but the songs tend to find me. They just come to me. People at home make suggestions or say to me, 'You haven’t tried that one".'

A Thousand Hearts was recorded in the studio that is attached to Dillon's home in Froome. 'It’s perfect. We have set up our own Charcoal Records label and do everything here at the house. Once I do the recording, Sam works away at producing and mixing it all in the studio. I get on with running the home and in the evening I listen to what he has done with it. It’s a great way to work.

'And the kids are used to musicians coming and going from the house. They are listening to music all the time and I sing to them every night at bedtime. They know the lyrics for most of the songs on our new album.' Dillon takes a second to appreciate her lot: a new album, a tour, a happy family life and much else besides. 'Yes,' she concludes. 'Things couldn’t be better.'

Cara Dillon plays the Ulster Hall, Belfast on November 12. Belfast Music Week runs from November 11 – 17.

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