The East Wintergarden may on first inspection seem an odd sort of venue for a St Patrick’s Day concert. A glass covered atrium in the heart of Canary Wharf surrounded by skyscrapers and modern office blocks, it’s a world away from Cara Dillon’s home town of Dungiven and a far cry from her Irish roots. But tonight is no average concert and it seems appropriate to give it an extraordinary venue. Accompanied by an expanded band and with a guest performance by former Equation band mate and folk sensation, Seth Lakeman, those lucky enough to secure a ticket are unquestionably to be granted a rare treat.
Dillon opens with the title track from her 2010 BBC 2 Folk album of the year Hill of Thieves which, with the addition of an extra acoustic guitar and a second piper creates a rich but truly pure sound. The clarity of her voice is crystal and piercing, hushing and captivating the audience at once. The band shrinks and reforms in the background as she chats freely, telling the tales of emigration, lost love and shady men named Johnny that are the subjects of her songs and charming the already smitten crowd. Even husband Sam gets in on the act, bullied to recount a useless fact about the rotation of Venus which in context is quaint and warm.
After the interval Dillon introduces Seth Lakeman, who performs a guest spot of three tracks including The Circle Grows from his hotly anticipated fifth studio album Hearts and Minds (due for release in May), and a tempestuous rendition of Kitty Jay. Stripped to voice and fiddle/guitar he seems exposed somehow and his performance, whilst short, is powerful and emotional. Joining the band for the remainder of the show, the tempo is raised. This is, after all, St Patrick’s Day and with Guinness on draught we are expected to celebrate. The crowd cheers with the inclusion of Spencer The Rover, a track recorded with Lakeman on support vocals for Hill of Thieves and then the band launch into two instrumental compositions including Sam Lakeman’s The Huntsman.
The set finishes with a spirited performance of the traditional Celtic song P Stands for Paddy which has several of the front tables dancing and the entire crowd clapping in good spirit. Departing to a standing ovation, the only slightly strange aspect of the evening is that Cara does not perform in her own encore. Instead, the band play through more jigs. This does not however, detract from a unique and warm night of music which is as much a celebration of tradition as it is a showcase for two wonderful talents.