Folk meets academia
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Dipping into the past: Cara Dillon, Spencer the Rover and the Rotherham factor

In my quest to bring past delights to the attention of Salut! Live's expanding audience, I invite you to listen to Cara Dillon's version of a song I have known from my earliest days of attending folk clubs. It last appeared here in 2014 as an entry in a Song of the Day Revisited series. That was three years after I first highlighted the song and what follows is the unaltered text of the 2011 posting. What, you may wonder, has this to do with Rotherham? Read on ...

Cara Dillon, a compelling Ulster singer, married into a family I am pleased to call friends, though it is years since I last saw any of its members.

With Sam Lakeman, her husband and father of their twins, Cara has produced some outstanding music. None, for me, better than this splendid interpretation of a rather hackneyed staple of English folk clubs of a certain generation, albeit one I have always enjoyed.

The clip is a live version, but I can not improve on my description in a review, published here in Dec 2008, of the album from which it was taken:


No sooner had I voted in the BBC Folk Awards for Bellowhead's Fakenham Fair as my traditional track of the year, and Eliza Carthy's Mr Magnifico in the contemporary category, than along comes something that knocks spots off both of them.

I am talking about Spencer the Rover, which appears on Cara Dillon's outstanding new album, Hill of Thieves, on her own Charcoal label.

It helps that I have always been immensely fond of the song.

But I do now expect, not necessarily here but at chattier sites, to see the odd sneer that it is not suited to girlish vocals, that such songs are the preserve of big Ted Finger-Inear at the Old Snotpickers Folksong Club somewhere in South Yorkshire.

Just as some said Cara wasn't suited to the classic Tommy Sands song of the Troubles, There Were Roses, when the truth of her own origins - close to Greysteel, scene of one of the most horrendous of tit-for-tat massacres - made her the next most suitable singer after the song's author.

In any case, Cara's voice has never sounded better. There is a huskier feel than I had previously noticed, an almost mischievous dimension. No, not mischievous; perhaps I mean sultry or sensual. I even like the bizarre way she pronounces Rotherham - as Rother Ham, with great emphasis on the third syllable.

The track also harnesses the might of the Lakeman family into which Cara married. Her husband Sam produces, and adds sublime piano, and the vocal interplay between Cara and her superstar brother-in-law Seth is magical.

What a shame the third Lakeman brother, Sean, present at important moments elsewhere on the album, and even the boys' mum & dad (Geoff and Joy) did not get in on the act, maybe with Sean's other half, Kathryn Roberts, adding more harmony vocals.


Soon afterwards, I had the chance to ask Cara about the song - and that pronunciation of Rotherham. This is taken from Cara Dillon: the big interview ..

Salut! Live: Congratulations to you Sam (plus Seth, Sean and all others associated with it) on what I believe to be a terrific album. As you may have seen, I have torn up - metaphorically - my votes cast in critics' polls elsewhere and declared Spencer the Rover my folk track of the year. Sublime. What put you in mind of the song, and is it something you're proud of?

Sam and I were asked to do a version of the song back in 2001 for a charity album released in Ireland and we worked out the version with Seth who was on tour with us at the time. It became a firm favourite in our live repertoire but failed to make it to record as it never seemed to fit with the other material selected (until now). I've always loved the story and I think our version breathes a lot of life into a song that has been almost done to death.
Rother Ham! Where did you get that pronunciation?
Being from the North West of Ireland we have a pretty strong accent up here and it's just the way I'd say it. After reading the question I asked my family if they'd say it the same, and they all pronounced it Rother Ham... much to Sam's amusement.

Carad
* Hill of Thieves, and albums by all other artists included in Song of the Day, can be bought at knockdown prices at this Salut! Live Amazon link.


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