Born in Dungiven in 1975, surrounded and infused with the rich cultural heritage of her native County Derry, Cara has risen to become one of the finest exponents of traditional Irish song anywhere in the world. Possessing a rare and unique voice that has been lauded since her very beginnings winning the All Ireland singing trophy aged only 14. Together with her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman, she has successfully steered an eclectic musical path defying the typical pigeonholes that hinder most artists in her genre. Celebrated for entwining traditional and contemporary elements she has earned both commercial success and astonishing critical acclaim.
Recent years have seen her return wholeheartedly to her Irish roots creating fresh interpretations of traditional standards with stunning results. Her reach is truly global with fans to be found all over the world with her clear, Northern Irish voice even seducing giants such as Disney who, in 2010, asked her to sing the title song to the animated movie “Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue”. She’s won countless awards and accolades including “Album Of The Year” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, The Meteor Music Award for “Best Irish Female”, and Tatler’s “Woman Of The Year in Music” and has appeared in prestigious concert halls and at festivals the world over. Always looking to introduce her voice and music to new listeners, Cara’s topped the charts with dance remixes, guest appearances and, more recently, presented her songs with full orchestral backing bringing her music to an entirely new audience.
Whether she's singing her native traditional songs of lost love and emigration, or original compositions, you will be hard pressed to find a more emotive and captivating performer. Cara Dillon is at the very top of her field and one has the feeling she'll remain there for a very long time.
Known for being both an original artist and one of the finest exponents of traditional Irish song throughout the World, Cara has successfully steered an eclectic musical path defying the typical pigeonholes that hinder most artists in her genre. In doing so she has earned both commercial success and critical acclaim.
Being brought up immersed in the rich cultural heritage of her native County Derry has shaped Cara’s musical journey. Winning the All Ireland Singing Trophy at only 14 provided a definite signal of what was to come, her teenage years were spent performing with bands including Irish music legends, De Dannan. At 19 Cara was signed to Warners by A&R legend Geoff Travis (Rough Trade Records) as part of “Equation” and it was in this band that she met her future husband, Sam Lakeman. The two left the band after only a year craving a more adventurous musical path and so began an extraordinary journey together.
The following 4 years were spent writing, arranging and working with top producers trying to develop a sound that both fulfilled their desire to create original songs and be true to their deep traditional roots. However, by 2000, frustrated and disheartened, it became obvious they were never going to satisfy Warners. As Sam noted “our musical compass was pointing in a different direction to theirs”. Having engineered their release from the label they retreated to Sam’s parents’ house on Dartmoor. Free from obligation and on a shoestring budget, Cara and Sam recorded a simple folk record to get things moving and earn some much needed income. Geoff Travis, upon hearing the un-mixed tracks, fell in love with the eponymously titled album and offered to release it on his newly re-acquired Rough Trade label. When released in July 2001 it become one of the biggest selling folk records of the decade, was critically acclaimed in the music press for being inspirational, energising and evocative, was playlisted on National Radio and won Cara two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Featuring their now classic interpretation of the traditional song "Black Is The Colour", concert tours and festivals came flooding in and they called upon Sam’s brother, Seth, to form part of their live band. The extent of her success became apparent when they found themselves booked to perform all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea, the USA and virtually every country in Europe.
Eager to develop the sound they had first explored on “Cara Dillon”, and wanting to include more original material, they released her second album “Sweet Liberty” in September 2003. It was a far more elaborate outing than the first and no less successful. It included one of her best loved songs, “There Were Roses”, written by Tommy Sands about a true story of senseless killings in the troubled North of Ireland. Cara and Sam had recorded the song for the hit TV series “Billy Connolly’s World Tour Of Ireland” and following its broadcast the BBC switchboards were inundated with calls asking who the singer was. Following the release of “Sweet Liberty” Cara picked up one of the biggest awards in Ireland, The Meteor Music Award for “Best Irish Female” alongside the Tatler magazine “Woman of The Year in Music”.
Pushing the formula a little further, the duo released “After The Morning” in early 2006. Including her now classic version of “The Streets Of Derry” featuring Paul Brady and “Garden Valley” alongside tracks of a more commercial flavour, the label felt confident that Cara could cross over into the mainstream. The lead single “Never In A Million Years” spent 6 weeks on the BBC Radio 2 playlist and RTE Radio 1 playlist and all looked very positive for continued support. However, the release coincided with a turbulent deal being struck between Rough Trade Records and Sanctuary leading to the album’s marketing budget being terminated and the single release being shelved. Cara continued to tour the album with a full band throughout the UK and Europe over the summer of 2006. However, upon finding herself pregnant with twins, she and Sam decided to scale down the size of the band to an acoustic four piece to simplify touring. On strict doctors’ orders she was to rest for the final three months of her pregnancy but with just two gigs left to do she went into premature labour onstage. Rushing to the hospital after the concert she and Sam were stunned when informed their twins would be born that very night and their world crashed in around them as their newly born babies, at only 26 weeks old, fought for their lives with every ounce of their tiny being. Cara and Sam focused every atom of energy and attention on their two little boys spending the next three months watching and helping care for them until they were well enough to bring home.
Retreating from the live circuit to care for the children and simplifying their lives they decided to draw a line under the previous 7 years by assembling a stellar cast of musicians in a deserted quarantine hospital in Co Donegal and proceeded to spend a week filming her first live DVD “The Redcastle Sessions” which was released in early 2008. It included songs from her first three albums and was an ambitious project both visually and sonically.
During their time at home with the twins Cara had surrounded herself with music from her childhood including The Bothy Band, Planxty, Dolores Keane and Paddy Tunny and it was these themes and touchstones that guided them on yet another path. Sam begun recording a new album which took its name from the title track, “Hill Of Thieves”, and completed it very quickly and without fuss. Cara spent only brief moments in the studio when recording her vocals opting instead to “just let them be”. The choice to record a simpler folk album coincided with an end to their contract with Rough Trade. Geoff Travis, who had been an ardent supporter for the previous 13 years, offered them another record deal but Cara and Sam preferred the freedom they now had to go forward on their own terms and they formed their own label, Charcoal Records. The decision proved to be a wise one and the consequent success of the 2009 release “Hill Of Thieves” quickly surpassed all her previous albums. It went on to earn the prestigious and hotly contested accolade “BEST ALBUM” at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2010 . In addition the album’s title and only original track “The Hill Of Thieves”, written by Cara and Sam as an ode to her hometown and the history entwined within it, was recently voted in the top ten songs to have come out of Northern Ireland by listeners of BBC Radio Ulster. Following the overwhelming success of the album, Cara and Sam assembled the musicians who had participated in the recordings for the filming of a live DVD entitled "Cara Dillon, Live at The Grand Opera House". Tracks taken from this live performance feature within B&W's prestigous Society Of Sound which selects only the finest recordings that reflect both outstanding artistic contributions and the highest audiofile excellence to demonstrate and showcase the suburb quality of their Hi Fi products.
Interspersed within their musical journey together, Cara and Sam have had the privilege to have been asked to guest on some remarkable projects and have chosen to explore some surprising avenues. In the late nineties they worked on tracks with the likes of Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine), Richard Hawley and Robin Millar. Cara recorded the lead single, "Man In The Rain", on Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells III” and was a featured vocalist alongside Sinead O'Connor on the Ghostland album. She guested on the title track to the hit movie “Keeping Mum” starring Rowen Atkinson, Maggie Smith and Patrick Swayze and sang live to a televised audience of several hundred million at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Ryder Cup. A remix of “Black Is The Colour” became a hit on the dance music chart being voted the #1 Trance track of 2006 in Mixmag and she sang the lead single on DJ Judge Jules' first solo outing. In 2010 she was asked to record the title track to Disney’s “Tinker Bell and The Great Fairy Rescue” in Abbey Road Studios and also narrated the opening sequence of the movie. Cara and Sam recorded a lullaby for the end credits of the movie called "Come Flying With Me" that has become a favourite in their live set. Again, for Disney, they recorded an original song to be played at the close of the night-time spectacular show, “Disney Dreams”, in Disneyland Paris entitled “Come Dream A Dream” . In 2011 she was asked to perform the most famous of Shakespeare’s Sonnets “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summers Day” on an adventurous album of modern musical arrangements of the Bards classic poems. More recently Cara and Sam have performed live with Orchestras as they explore and introduce new flavours to their back catalogue. To date they have shared the stage with the prestigious Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The Ulster Orchestra, The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Concert Orchestra and The Orchestra of Ireland.