Music and Lyrics: traditional festive songs and hymns plus music by Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman
Reviewer: Sheila Stratford
Cara Dillon, the celebrated Irish folk singer originally from Derry, has a pitch-perfect, crystal clear voice. She is accompanied by her band and together they take the audience away from the hustle and bustle that can accompany the Christmas season to a calm, reflective place. They do this by performing a wonderful compilation of music in their concert Upon a Winter’s Night.
The stage is set with an array of twinkling candles, a grand piano, white Christmas tree cutouts and atmospheric lighting. Cara appears on stage dressed simply in angelic white. She casts a diminutive figure with a beautiful voice singing one of Ireland’s oldest carols, The Wexford Carol with its traditional Irish folk melody. This is followed by a traditional hymn in the Irish language. Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia (Mary Bore a Child for God). Between songs, there is gentle banter with the audience and amongst the band members. For instance, there is an invitation to join in with Silent Night – though humorously audience members were given permission to sing a different note from the person sitting next to them.
The rich tones of the piano played by Sam Lakeman, Cara’s husband, accompany O Come O Come Emmanuel. The text was originally written in Latin in the 12th Century; it is an excellent choice for the season of Advent. Cara’s composition, Mother Mary, is a lullaby, recognising the protective feeling mothers have for their newborn child. It is a beautiful and most peaceful lullaby. It is followed by, The Huntsman, a rousing instrumental. Sam was inspired to compose this after seeing Dartmoor ponies being rounded up in the snow when he was a lad. The lighting effects of snow projected on to the back wall also enhanced the performance. Toby Shaer on fiddle and whistles, Ed Boyd on guitar and Luke Daniels on accordion make up the rest of the band. They are all very talented and versatile musicians.
In the second half, Cara comes on stage in a sequined Christmas green dress. She and the band perform O Holy Night, and a piece written by Cara and Sam, Standing by my Christmas tree, which acknowledges those people who can find the festive season a time of loss and regret. Cara and the band showcase their own arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s, River, and the Pretenders’,2000 miles. There is an excellent and lively performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Troika from his Lieutenant Kijé suite plus a spirited and energetic rendition of the traditional British carol, The Holly and the Ivy. They use the rousing Cornish and Sheffield version of The Holly and the Ivy.
Upon a Winter’s Night as a whole is a contemplative, magical Christmas experience far away from commercialism, though there is a sneaky rousing jig added in the encore to get the feet stamping. It is a great start to the festive season but the nearer to Christmas the better. This is the concert’s third Christmas tour, a recognition of its enduring appeal.
Touring Nationwide until 22 Dec 2018 | Image: Contributed