Lifetime Achievement Award for Sarah McQuaid at Ards International Guitar Festival

Sarah McQuaid

At the Ards International Guitar Festival, Sarah McQuaid was presented with the festival’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous recipients over the festival’s 20-year history include legendary guitarists Davey Graham, John Renbourn, John Martyn, Arty McGlynn, Martin Simpson, Gordon Giltrap, Pierre Bensusan and Martin Carthy.

Sarah recalls her initially annoyed reaction when compere Ralph McLean of BBC Radio Ulster and festival director Ernie McMillen of Avalon Guitars came out to present the award:

“I’d just finished my set and left the stage, and the crowd was calling for an encore, but before I could come back out from the wings, Ralph McLean and Ernie McMillen walked onstage and started talking about the Lifetime Achievement Award.

I just thought, ‘Oh, rats, now they’ll bring out some big-name guitarist to accept this bloody award and I won’t get to do my encore!’ Never in a million years did I think it would go to me. I was totally and completely floored. It’s a very, very big deal to be placed on a level with so many of my musical heroes.”

And she did get to do an encore after all, performing a cover of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, which she also recorded on her fourth solo album Walking Into White (Waterbug, 2015).

“Every year since 1999, Ards International Guitar Festival has awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to an artist performing at the Festival,” explains the Ards Arts Centre’s Emily Crawford, co-director of the festival along with Ernie McMillen and Darren Porter. “There has never been a female recipient of the award, and with an artist of the calibre of Sarah McQuaid on our bill, it was an easy decision to make in 2017! The Newtownard’s Guitar Festival features guitar styles from classical to blues, folk to jazz and bluegrass to rock.

“A favourite of local audiences in Ards, Sarah has a true gift and captivates the audience with seamless playing and an effortlessly enchanting voice,” Crawford continues. “She and her guitar become one beautiful sound, and her goosebump-inducing rendition of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ was the perfect end to an outstanding performance.”

Ernie McMillen agrees: “It is rare in the guitar world to find a player who displays genius without arrogance, and who shares their hard-won skill and knowledge so selflessly,” he says. “I get to see many specialist guitarists up close, and many over-perform. It’s honey for the soul to witness Sarah McQuaid perform.”

Sarah McQuaid is currently hard at work writing songs for her fifth solo album, to be produced by folk icon Michael Chapman and released in 2018 (once again on the US-based Waterbug label) with album launch tours in the UK, Ireland, Continental Europe and the USA.

She also hopes to pen a sequel to The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, the popular tutor she authored on the alternative guitar tuning she uses exclusively – originally published in 1995 and still the standard reference on the subject, selling worldwide through Novello & Co. /The Music Sales Group and Hal Leonard Corp.

Artist’s website: www.sarahmcquaid.com

‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ live:

SARAH McQUAID – Walking Into White (Waterbug WBG119)

Walking Into WhiteThe first thing that strikes you about Sarah McQuaid is her guitar sound: clear, ringing trebles and big authoritative bass notes. It should come as no surprise that she runs workshops on playing DADGAD and uses that skill to play an accompaniment based on peals of bells on the opening track, ‘Low Winter Sun’. The second thing that strikes you is how assertive this album is. If I were to be critical I’d say that the production is a bit too bright but we’re so used to soft breathy female singers that Sarah stands out as a welcome breath of fresh air.

Several of the songs here were inspired by the Swallows And Amazons novel evoking the mythical, idyllic childhood we all wish we’d had but never quite managed. All three of them involve the unpredictability of nature: a blizzard, an all-engulfing moorland fog and the tide stranding a boat on the mud. All dangers, true, but in a curiously innocent way compared with those faced by today’s children. The best of these is the album’s title track which features the trumpet of Gareth Flowers.

Nature’s ambivalence is also the theme of the unaccompanied three part ‘Sweetness And Pain’, a song about picking blackberries. Other highlights are the instrumental ‘I Am Grateful For What I Have’ and ‘Jackdaws Rising’ a three-part round with a polyphonic rhythm for feet and hands – difficult to pull off.

At the end of the record comes ‘Canticle Of The Sun’, originally written by St Francis of Assisi and turned into the hymn ‘All Creatures Of Our God And King’ by William H Draper. If Sarah uses the original title I do think she should use the original words, too. And then she goes and almost spoils a splendid record by finishing with ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. What is it with this song? Everyone wants to sing it … and I really don’t want to hear it again. Ever.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.sarahmcquaid.com

‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ live in Tulsa:

SARAH McQUAID – The Silver Lining (Waterbug)

SARAH McQUAID – The Silver Lining‘The Silver Lining’ is the first single from Sarah’s forthcoming album, Walking Into White, scheduled for release in the UK in February.

The song is given a bright, almost brash, arrangement very much in keeping with the quality of Sarah’s voice. If ever the adjective “bell-like” was appropriate it is here as her voice rings out a song of optimism. The trumpet seems to herald a development but, sadly, no and the song ends too soon.

‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ holds a continuing fascination for singers and is enjoying another renaissance. Sarah’s version benefits from the ringing notes of her guitar – I’m sorry but we’re back to bells again – but she doesn’t do anything terribly different with the song.

Finally we have an instrumental, ‘I Am Grateful For What I Have’, with two guitars and cello. As a taster for Sarah’s new album, the single does its job but it’s more of an amuse bouche – unsatisfying by itself but suggestive of delights to follow.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.sarahmcquaid.com

SARAH McQUAID – The Plum Tree And The Rose (Waterbug Records WBG104)

Much like her heroine Bess Of Hardwick (“Hardwick’s Lofty Towers”) Sarah McQuaid has the intelligence and tenacity to cultivate her lyrics so that the legacy of her song-writing will remain long after she has passed away. If that sounds morose it isn’t meant to be. It’s just that McQuaid’s way with words will draw you in and leave you feeling as if you’ve just stepped from an invigorating shower. She’s the kind of writer who conveys her thoughts brilliantly via the media of music and, take for instance the opening track “Lift You Up And Let You Fly” within a few short verses she is able to let the listener know the pain but understanding in watching a child’s development and eventual release into the world with all the compassion of a mum who (hopefully) doesn’t watch Jeremy Kyle.

It has to be said that from a listener’s point of view this is where the producer and musician Gerry O’Beirne’s skill in utilising Bill Blackmore’s flugelhorn is an astute piece of placement. Think of Christy Moore’s “All For The Roses” if you’re unsure where you’ve heard this thought process before and, whilst on the subject of instrumentation much as I’d like to name every musician who contributed to this beautifully crafted album I’m afraid I can’t as I haven’t got the space. Let’s just say I’m bowled over with the creative input from everyone involved. In truth I could write a whole book on the subject of Sarah McQuaid’s way with words but perhaps that is best left to the lady herself. If you require any further incentive why not check out the gorgeous single “The Sun Goes On Rising” below and, like me I’m sure you will be seduced by Sarah’s alto vocals and perfectly solid performance. In the meantime I suppose I’ll just have to kill time waiting expectantly to hear the next album which if it’s anything like this recording will receive another ten out of ten. Highly recommended…buy it, buy it, buy it! PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist web link and current tour dates: www.sarahmcquaid.com

Sarah McQuaid The Sun Goes On Rising

The Sun Goes On Rising is the first single from The Plum Tree and the Rose, the forthcoming third album by Sarah McQuaid, featuring two tracks from the album plus a bonus guitar instrumental. Sarah McQuaid is a gifted and captivating performer whose warm, haunting alto is delicately cradled by her “sparkling guitar” (Sing Out!). She is both song crafter and song collector, equally at home with traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads and 1930s jazz numbers.

Her musical output is a direct and unfolding reflection of her own eclectic background: Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and currently lives in rural England. While the genre, era and geographical location of her songs may change, at their core is a musician who has soaked it all in – and, luckily for us, is able to eloquently express the stories she’s gathered. Continue reading Sarah McQuaid The Sun Goes On Rising