Cara Dillon at the Black Box

The queen of the traditional scene helps the Black Box to find its feet

The Black Box is unusually packed for a Sunday. With many more chairs laid out than normal, it's nevertheless standing room for those unfortunates who arrived late to see and hear traditional songstress, Cara Dillon, appear at the Out To Lunch festival to promote new album, Hill of Thieves.

The evening runs almost like clockwork, with opening act Anthony Toner on stage at a few minutes past eight and Dillon finishing off her encore at 10pm. Everybody's home for bed at a reasonable hour with the minimum of fuss. Not what this reviewer would expect from a gig at the Black Box, but I could get used to it.

Lucky for Mr Toner, really, that the audience seem so eager to be pleased. The poor man really needs all the help he can get. His shtick for playful introspection and self-derision between songs has all the wit and subtlety of a bin bag, and his songs are full of the kind of nonsense, travelling-balladeer lyrics I assumed had gone out with Charlie Landsborough. To quote:

'No matter where I roam/If my brain makes me miss my train/Then her heart will bring me home.' He has someone to love, at least. So it’s not all bad.

By quite stark contrast, Cara Dillon and her band display a level of talent that goes a long way towards explaining the impressive turnout. 

Almost all of the six-strong outfit are proficient on more than one instrument, with Dillon herself playing, at different points, the guitar, the tin whistle and the fiddle - traditional instruments that somehow combine to create a uniquely modern sound. Dillon has moved far past the usual trappings of the traditional Irish folk song.

Far and away the most impressive instruments on display, however, are Dillon’s vocal chords themselves. She certainly has one of the finest singing voices that Northern Ireland has ever produced. Beautiful, otherworldly, and unsettlingly powerful, it fills every inch of the hall. She has a knack of injecting a sense of gravitas and empathy into even the most bog-standard lyric, but shines brightest on new songs like 'Hill of Thieves'. 

All in all, it's been something of an eye-opening experience. On the evidence of tonight, Dillon is the genuine article, as is the response from tonight's audience. It goes to show - the Black Box is finally finding it's feet. 

Raymond McGahan