By David Hennessy
“It’s not going to stop me. It’s not going to dictate how I live my life. I’m going to be in control of it,” well known Dungiven folk singer Cara Dillon says of the diabetes that saw her weight plunge to just six stone, lacking the strength to pick up her baby sons who were less than year old. Cara had noticed symptoms but put these down to stress before being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Now the singer just hopes that telling her story encourages others to see their doctor if they see the signs themselves.
“It was a real terrible time when it happened and I was so grateful to have an opportunity to be able to speak out about things like that and know that you can help other people. I hope a lot of good will come from it.
“Your health is your wealth. If it’s not diagnosed early enough, it can lead to all sorts of long term damage so it’s a real honour to talk about it and get that message across.”
Now wherever she is in the world, Cara must make sure to inject herself with the correct amount of insulin, compensating for the adrenaline rush of a live show if she is touring: “It’s a challenge, I wouldn’t say it’s easy or anything like that but there could be a lot worse wrong with me.”
Cara has done much work with the charity Tiny Life, the charity that cares for sick and vulnerable newborn babies, ever since her twin boys Colm and Noah Lakeman were born at 26 weeks: “That’s the other thing in my life. When we had premature babies, we just realised the amount of work and effort these people are doing to help to save lives and so it was such an eye opener and I vowed that I was always going to try and help them out really. Sure, what else would you do?”
Cara has been a massive name on the folk scene ever since her eponymous debut album was released in 2001. Prior to this, she performed with folk group Equation. Now her husband Sam has played on, co-wrote and produced all of Cara’s albums. 2009’s Hill of Thieves was Cara’s most successful album to date and while it has yet to be released Cara has been pleased with the response to the material of the forthcoming A Thousand Hearts: “It’s been really refreshing for us as a band to have fresh stuff to play and I think the audience feed off that too. We’re getting great feedback off the album, there’s been lots of pre-orders so it’s going down well.”
If you were talking about another performer, a five year gap between albums might seem long but Cara and Sam are devoted parents and they feel no need to rush something out for the sake of it: “There’s no point in just turning out album after album because I think some of the magic gets lost if you do that. Tthe thing that I think comes across is that we really enjoy what we do as and so I think if it was to become like we felt we had to keep releasing things year after year, it would probably take the pleasure out of it and put us under a bit more pressure whereas this way we get a chance to just indulge and enjoy our time recording.”
A Thousand Hearts features guests such as Aoife O’Donovan and Winter Mountain: “We’ve got a little home studio so we can enjoy the actual recording process. A lot of the musicians who played on the album are really good friends so they would come stay a couple of days and we would do some recording some nights if we felt like it and other nights we wouldn’t, it’s really lovely.
“We’ve been in the whole studio set up many times before and there is just nothing like being relaxed when you come to sing. I can’t speak for musicians but from a vocal point of view, it’s just incredible to just be so relaxed. I think you get the best out of yourself and everyone else around you whereas in the studio there’s always that pressure that time is money.”
Among the tracks included on A Thousand Hearts is Taimse im’ Chodladh, often sung by Iarla O Lionaird, which had a story that took Cara by surprise: “I always loved that song. I’ve heard Iarla singing it and it’s one of those melodies that is just so haunting. I’m not a fluent Irish speaker so after we had worked out an arrangement and sung it through a few times and we reckoned it was really lovely, I decided to really look into the meaning of it and ironically it’s like ‘take up your spears to the English man’,” she says with a laugh.
“I said to Sam ‘I don’t think I can sing that considering I married you’ and Sam said: ‘If all the most beautiful songs in the world were put away because of something like that, half the world wouldn’t hear the nicest melodies’. So we had a good laugh about it. I have a good giggle onstage about it and it gets a good laugh from the audience.
For the full interview, see the May 10 Irish World.
Cara plays Blackheath Halls (Great Hall), 23 Lee Road, London SE3 9RQ. Show is 8pm. Tel: 020 8463 0100 or go to www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/blackheath-halls.
A Thousand Hearts, by Cara Dillon, is released on May 19. For more information, go to: http://www.caradillon.co.uk/.