For folk singer Cara Dillon Christmas is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.
In November 2016 she released the album Upon A Winter’s Night and followed it up with the obligatory tour.
Three Christmases on, and the tour has become a staple part of the calendar for the star and her legion of fans.
‘It’s becoming a tradition,’ she laughs. ‘We never really set out to do that, it just started with me wanting to do a Christmas album and then we went out and did a few gigs and they sold out. This is the third year now. It’s brilliant, it’s taken on a life of its own.
‘A lot of people who saw us last year, they said it’s made Christmas for us and got us in the right frame of mind. It’s a lovely thing to have started.
‘I really did think it would be the one tour and it would be one of those albums we put out, it will be a nice CD for people to have for Christmas time and that would be that.
‘I’m so proud of it, if you’re a Chrstmassy person it’s definitely for you. It’s a bit more folky and a bit more magical, more reverent and all of those things.’
Cara, originally from Northern Ireland, now lives in Frome, Somerset, with her her husband – fellow musician Sam Lakeman – and their children.
And she has always looked forward to this time of year.
‘Oh yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved Christmas and it’s an important time for family. For many years before we had our own family, we’d be travelling all around the world on tour with our band, and just that feeling of coming home for Christmas, just bunkering down for a few days where the world stops, and you’re where you’re supposed to be.
‘And now I’ve got my own three children and we’re doing the same for them – they love it and we love it.’
When you consider how her eldest two – twin boys – came into the world, it’s no surprise she considers family time to be important.
Cara went into premature labour onstage at the end of a gig. She was rushed to hospital and the boys were delivered by emergency C-section at 26 weeks – more than three months early. They weighed a mere 2lb 10oz and 2lb 13oz – less than half the average newborn.
There followed a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (Nicu) as the boys fought for their survival.
‘It’s so traumatic, it’s one of those life-changing things that happens. Your life is changed when you have children anyway, but if you go through that whole Nicu thing, it’s mind-blowing, how vulnerable they are.’
Happily they have overcome their rocky start. ‘Our boys have just started secondary school, but there isn’t one day that goes by where I don’t think how are you so big and strong and healthy.
‘It’s up there with the best and the worst moments in your life.’
While the physical side was tough, the emotional impact of having the boys so early caught Cara off-guard.
‘I remember waking up, I was in a room on my own, to my left and right, I saw two little pictures of the boys and I was really confused. I couldn’t understand where they were or what had happened. It was like a nightmare.
‘It took a long, long time to recover from the C-section. Looking back, yeah, it was very traumatic, and when you have an emergency C- section at that stage things take longer to heal anyway because your body’s not ready. More so than that, it was emotional, really, you’re not yourself, so you’re not strong enough to deal with all the other stuff.
‘It was 11 weeks when I was able to straighten up and walk without breaking out in a sweat, and I think it was a lot to do with that whole traumatic experience – and it coincided with the boys turning a corner as well.’
She is now a patron of Tinylife, a Northern Ireland-based premature baby charity. It is unsurprisingly a subject she is passionate about.
‘I feel it’s really important for parents to talk to other parents afterwards, I don’t think I did speak to enough people. Now I’m okay, but I still get wee flashbacks, it’s like post-traumatic stress.
‘If we go away on tour, especially if we go abroad, I get properly anxious about leaving them. And I don’t really get that about our daughter! She’s younger, but I keep remembering that they arrived so unexpected, and I kept thinking are they going to leave unexpected?
‘It took me a long, long time to get my head around that. One minute they weren’t here, then they were, and they could be taken away again.
‘I think there’s a lot of room for helping people afterwards - as well the fathers, the fathers who aren’t knocked out, and are suddenly expected to deal with everything in a heartbeat, you’ve got these vulnerable babies. It’s tough.’
As a Catholic, she also takes her children to Christmas Eve mass, which in turn helped inspire the album.
‘It’s the one time where we all sit and soak it all up, the whole experience. It’s really special, and maybe that’s why a lot of the songs on the album are songs I grew up listening to in church at Christmas. I wanted it to capture the whole essence of that moment - the whole bundle of what Christmas is all about.
‘I’m not one of these crazy – I hope not anyway – mothers, I just want to instil a sense in them of good morals and to be good people. To be still, children now are surrounded by so much stuff, gaming and social media, it’s no bad thing to sit and be still for an hour.’
Away from all-things festive, Cara is starting to look at the follow-up to her most recent album, 2017’s acclaimed Wanderer. In putting the album together Cara and Sam, who is her main musical collaborator, decided to take a stripped-back approach.
‘I was very sure of what we wanted to do with Wanderer, and it’s the only time I’ve been 100 per cent sure of anything to do with the music we’ve done.
‘We usually just go in the studio, or sit here when the kids have gone to bed and light the fire and start with ideas for songs. That’s how it’s always been. Wanderer was a bit of a revelation – I was very forceful and like: “We’re doing it this way”.
The album also reignited her passion for songwriting. ‘We’ve got lots of ideas of songs that we’ve written and we’re starting to go down that route a bit. We’re quite excited about putting more of those [originals] on again. Once you get out of the habit of writing stuff and you haven’t done it for a while, and we had the children and all that there, I think you lose your nerve a bit, like, are you any good at this? Will people dig it? But a couple of the songs we did write on Wanderer have gone down better than we ever could have imagined. And so it’s really fuelled that fire again.
‘We did get a lot of good reviews, but you’re only as good as your last piece of work, so we’ve got to step it up again - that’s the problem!
‘We’re just throwing the ideas around at the moment – it’s a nice relaxing thing to be doing.
‘And then this year we’re doing the 10th anniversary of [Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Album winner} Hill of Thieves – we’re getting the original line-up of the band together and going to do a few festivals, so that’s exciting too.
‘We’re always very busy with something.’
Turner Sims, Southampton
Saturday, December 15