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Monday, November 13, 2006

Cara Dillon’s Orchestra Pit Manoeuvrements in the Dark

Opera House
Sunday November 12th 2006

I spent the first 23 years of my life in Buxton, so any visit back there is a little bit special. Surprisingly enough, this was the first time I set foot in the Opera House since I left the town. A town which I still refer to as home. Way back then, the Opera House was a cinema but it has since been lovingly restored to its original status.
(Check this BBC Radio Derby link for the panoramic view)

All the nooks and crannies of this beautiful example of Victorian architecture were as I had left them. However, with the cinema screen removed the place looked entirely different from how I had perceived it. The stage went back almost forever. It appeared even more oversized with the orchestra pit boarded over. Cara’s 4-piece band’s instruments, although widely spread, looked lonely on this chasm of a stage.

This plentiful supply of space was also available to the audience. The gathering of 250 to 300 were comfortably embedded in a sea of olive green velvet upholstery. Silver-grey hair seemed to outnumber the 30-somethings by about 3 to 1. So before the show got under way I had more than a gut feeling that the audience were going to attentive and composed.

At 7:30 prompt a fresh-faced young man, acoustic guitar in hand, ambled on to the stage and sat on the 2nd chair from the left. The softly spoken lad introduced himself, “Good evening, I’m John Smith”
Oh yeah, I thought….with a name like that, you’re really going to get yourself noticed. And he began to play.

A couple of random chords strummed on his guitar, held in a conventional manner, did nothing to change my mind. Then, suddenly, he flipped the guitar on its back, percussion sounds of varying pitches, chords appearing from all over the place, and he began to sing. He voice was akin to Peter Gabriel and the songs were as haunting as those by Damien Rice. Believe me, this kid is marvellous.

His 5-song, 40 minute set was all too brief. 3 of which were from his recently released album The Fox and The Monk. Autographed copies of the album was available after the show. Each song was vocally delivered in this mesmeric Rice/Gabriel style. If that wasn’t enough to command your attention, you were visually drawn in with the trickery on his guitar. During The Green Man he was retuning the top string whilst continuing the melody on the other 5. The subject matter was equally diverse. Pay attention to The Axe Mountain (not on the album) is a fictitious tale of a murderer on the loose on Dartmoor.

He interspersed the songs a few lines of smalltalk. Although his words were few, he did display a dry sense of humour. An example of this was his amazement over the difficulty in obtaining a website domain name. He claimed that even the Korean address was taken up. Incidentally, his website is

John’s setlist follows :-

1. Winter
2. So, so
3. Green Man
4. Axe Mountain
5. Seeds

After the interval, Cara and her band arrived on stage. The band came on first. Sam Lakeman on keyboards on the left, James O’Grady on flutes, whistles & Uillean pipes on the right. Centre left on acoustic guitar & BVs, John (yes him again) Smith. They played the opening bars of She Moved Through The Fayre before Cara arrived on stage for what was going to be an entertaining, yet abbreviated set. The reason for the abbreviation was because Cara is expecting twins. I’ve no idea when, but by the looks of things, soon.
Erin the Green saw the Uillean pipes making their first appearance of the evening. A quick glance at the stage floor proved that the lighting crew were paying attention.
After Where Are You Now, Cara explained that she hadn’t actually been pigging out on chicken pies, but she was actually expecting twins. Cara claimed that one of nature’s quirks for a young lady in this condition is that 2% of the brain cells get destroyed. In her particular case, she said that it could be more. The other night she managed to create a new word – manoeuvrement.
Cara mentioned that covered orchestra pit seemed to distance her from the audience. James later claimed that being pregnant affected her balance and that was the real reason that they were placed so far back.
Cara left the stage to sit-down for a while. The remaining band members then delivered a set of tunes entitled, The Rights Of Man.
Cara returned for a couple duets with Sam. The first being Garden Valley, the latter being There Were Roses. Audience participation was requested for this one. The chorus lines were warmly delivered by a healthy number and Cara applauded us afterwards.
Sam departed to be replaced by John for another duet. Both were seated and delivered a brilliant love song entitled The Lass of Loch Royale which was about a man who sets out to sea leaving his beloved behind.
The rest of the band returned to play a collection of jigs & reels. Cara remained seated, playing the bodhran. James claimed that they’d only just given these tunes titles, namely, John’s Intro, James’ Tea Chest and Sam’s (on guitar) Huntsman.
Cara got back on her feet for Black Is The Colour which received a singular, Whooh! from a young lady in the audience.
At around 9:30 Cara closed with P is for Paddy. Looking understandably tired, Cara thanked the Buxton audience and said that shoe hoped to be back very soon. My personal message to Cara is the title of Track 2 on her After The Morning album – if you’re still curious, buy it.
Cara and the band returned for the obligatory encore. It was a collection of jigs & reels which saw Cara playing the violin.

Cara’s setlist
1. She Moved Through The Fayre
2. Erin the Green
3. Where Are You Now
4. A set of tunes – The Rights Of Man
5. Garden Valley
6. There Were Roses
7. Lass of Loch Royale
8. A set of tunes – Intro/Teachest/Huntsman
9. Black Is The Colour
10. P is for Paddy
Encore – A set of untitled jigs & reels

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