Embarking for a short Irish tour in late February, Cara's singer and fiddler Gudrun Walther took her time for some quick questions.
How does it feel playing in Ireland?
It's great to be playing in Ireland again, we are very much looking forward to it. We have played at the Ennis Trad Festival and Craiceann on Inis Oirr so far, so this will be the third time for us, but the first time with the new line up. Very exciting!
Are the Irish audiences any different compared to Germans or Americans?
Well, obviously they're a bit more knowledgeable when it comes down to the tunes and the traditional stuff - so I'm really looking forward to playing some of the new sets and hope people will like them. The last times I had the impression people were also reacting a bit more spontaneously during the sets (letting out squeals and the odd 'hup' when changing keys) - which I very much like!
There had been quite some changes recently, with Irish uilleann piper Ryan Murphy and Scottish fiddler Jeana Leslie making Cara a truly international band. What does that mean to you?
It's a great thing to play in a multi-national band. I do it as well with the 2duos, with Scottish musicians Aaron Jones and Claire Mann, and it has fired my enthusiasm for working alongside people from a different cultural background. We all learn so much from each other - not only music! Ryan and Jeana are great people as well as immensely talented musicians, and we blended very well musically and personally from day one. I think it was meant to be!
How did you meet Ryan and Jeana and convince them to join Cara?
Well, we met Ryan on Inis Oirr in 2009 and played in a session with him. When we were looking for a replacement for Claus, somebody who ideally would play both flute and pipes, he was our first choice, so we phoned him and he said 'yes' right away! His first question by the way was "should I buy any whistles in odd keys?" cause he knew the band and the music before ;-)
Finding Jeana was a bit more difficult, for we were not only looking for a second lead singer, but also for a good piano player and a melody instrument. We were very lucky because our good friends from Beoga, whom we have met many times in Europe and the States, had played at the Orkney festival and collaborated with a local musician for a double bill gig - that was Jeana. So when we spread word that we were looking for a new band member, Liam Bradley got back to me and told me about Jeana. I contacted her and we met at Celtic Connections 2010, where we had a gig with the 2duos. We went to a pub, had a tune together, sang a few songs and that was it. She didn't need much convincing either...
How do they feel playing in a ‘German’ band?
I think they were happy to get the chance to join a well-known and touring band. All the booking and promotion stuff is taken care of, and we have plenty of experience promoting the band, so that's a very good situation for any musician I think. Also, due to the fact that the rest of us are based in Germany, we know the scene quite well and there's a lot of very high standard venues to play, so you can make your living off that.
So what's the difference then to the previous line-up?
Most noticable probably is the Scottish influence, Jeana brought in some lovely songs in Scots and even Scots Gaelic (which I learned to sing, but not to speak...yet!), and an Orkney Strathspey as well. We always liked and listened to Scottish bands and singers, so that came quite naturally to us. Ryan is a formidable uilleann piper, so the pipes are more of a featured instrument in the band now - he is capable of doing some amazing stuff. The two fiddles are a new thing as well, which is a good thing to have, it's a powerful sound and there are a lot of possibilities. Other than that I think we didn't change that much in terms of style, I still think that we sound like Cara - just a little bit wilder and more daring in places.
Right now, Cara had been voted ‘Top Group’ in the Irish Music Awards, beating the High Kings, the Irish Tenors, and – imagine that – Cherish the Ladies. Does it make you wonder sometimes?
Yes, it came as a bit of a shock... of course we were hoping for it and kept telling people to vote for us, still we just couldn't really believe it when we got the message that we actually won. We are very grateful for all the success and the good things that keep coming our direction. We have worked hard for it, and we will continue to do so, as long as people are out there who like coming to the shows and buy our CDs.
What do you think does it generally mean for the Irish music genre?
I think that Irish music has become hugely popular over the last few years - worldwide! Wherever you go, there is always an Irish bar where you can have a pint, and there are loads of brilliant musicians playing Irish music all over the world. As well, the Irish music scene seems to embrace a lot of other traditioans and styles at the minute - bands like the Guidewires with a huge Breton influence, At First Light playing Asturian and Galician tunes - and Transatlantic Sessions bringing bluegrass and Old Time together with Irish and Scottish Music... It is a global phenomenon, and I like this very much - and this is probably why a band of three Germans, a Scot and an Irish have a musical common ground to start from!
Photo Credits: (1) Cara, (2) Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller, (3)-(4) CD Cover (from website).