Sarah McQuaid CD launch tour – 25th January 2018

Sarah McQuaid
Photographs by Martin Stansbury

While I’ve been living in West Cornwall for nearly two years now, and have checked out some local open mics and even a folk club or two, I hadn’t managed to get to a Proper Concert until now, when Sarah McQuaid launched her new album , If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Damgerous, due for release on the 2nd February 2018, with a concert at The Acorn theatre and arts centre in Penzance, Sarah’s adopted home town. I hadn’t heard her live before, but on the strength of the album – which I like very much – and some videos I found in passing on YouTube, I expected great things. Nor was I disappointed.

This tour sees Sarah expanding her instrumental armoury, bringing onstage not only her Andy Manson acoustic guitar but also an Ibanez Artist electric guitar (courtesy of Michael Chapman, who produced and played on the CD), a Roland piano (courtesy of Ralph Houston), and even a drum (courtesy of Roger Luxton, who also played on the CD). And very good use of them she makes too.

The launch concert started with a recording of Michael Chapman, who was unable to attend the concert in person but is clearly delighted to be associated with it. Sarah then kicked off with two songs from the new album, ‘Slow Decay’ and the title track, the latter featuring some nifty looping to work in some backing vocals. That new pedal board is definitely a Good Thing. However, while the concert included most of the songs from the new CD, there were plenty of other treats for the ears. In the course of the evening, Sarah did some digging (!) into her very substantial back catalogue: standouts included the epic ‘Hardwick’s Lofty Towers’ from The Plum Tree And The Rose, the nostalgic ‘Charlie’s Gone Home’ from When Two Lovers Meet, and, from Walking Into White, ‘The Silver Lining’, ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘The Tide’. She went back to her American roots (and the I Won’t Go Home Till Morning CD) with ‘West Virginia Boys’ (also known sometimes as ‘Come All You West Virginia Gals’), with an enthusiastic audience taking over the vocal on the last line

Going back to the new album, the concert included her cover version of Jeff Wayne’s ‘Forever Autumn’: no disrespect to Justin Hayward, but for me, Sarah’s version is definitive. For ‘One Sparrow Down’, the drum was pressed into service, with enthusiastic additional percussion from the audience. Other standouts – but there were too many to list them all! – included the lovely ‘Time To Love’, co-written with Gerry O’Beirne, and ‘Break Me Down’ – “possibly the cheeriest song ever written about decomposition” as it says in the CD press release. Neat drum looping on this one, by the way.

The medieval Latin of the 13th-century hymn ‘Dies Irae’ brought out an ethereal quality in Sarah’s voice that would have been just as stunning if she’d sung it unaccompanied: however, her use of the Manson to introduce a polyphonic line sounded absolutely right, as well as demonstrating her mastery of the guitar (and the DADGAD modal tuning in particular).

The intensity of the performance showed no signs of faltering with the last few songs of the evening: ‘Cot Valley’ and the single ‘Tug Of The Moon’, and the encore, a fine unaccompanied rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’: the latter is usually heard sung to a variation on a fiddle tune called ‘The Peacock’ (among other names), but Sarah’s version uses a very moving, highly ornamented melody with which I’m not familiar, though in places it resembles the better-known tune. Finishing with ‘The Parting Glass’ is almost a tradition in itself in folk circles, but in this case I can’t think of a better way to finish what was already a very rewarding evening.

Sarah is already well into album launch tours in the UK, Netherlands and Germany, with USA, Ireland and more extensive UK tours to follow later in the year.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 web site: www.sarahmcquaid.com

Album teaser video:

SARAH McQUAID – If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous (Shovel And A Spade Records SAASCD001)

If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get DangerousIan Semple, whose radio programme on CoastFM specializes in promoting artists with a connection to Cornwall, describes Sarah McQuaid’s new CD If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous (due for release on February 2nd 2018) as ‘pure brilliance’ and ‘without doubt one of her finest…’. As this is the first of her albums I’ve heard all through, I can’t make that comparison, but on the strength of this CD, I’ll certainly be digging deeper into her previous output myself.

Sarah is known far beyond her adopted home in Cornwall as a fine singer, songwriter and guitarist, with particular expertise in the modal guitar tuning DAGDAD. This CD also sees her work bolstered by a handful of other fine musicians, including veteran singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Chapman, who also produced it.

  1. The title track ‘If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous’ might be summarized as “fear of fracking”, but that would be to understate the lyrical complexity of the piece. Sarah’s vocals and electric guitar are augmented by Michael Chapman’s slide guitar, Roger Luxton’s drums, and Richard Evans’ trumpet.
  2. ‘Slow Decay’ also has a lyrical complexity that’s unusual, even among the more thoughtful contemporary singer/songwriters, playing as it does on the multiple meanings of ‘decay’ in acoustics, wave functions and mortality.
  3. ‘One Sparrow Down’ has some of the feel of the acapella version of Suzanne Vega’s ‘Tom’s Diner’, being sung unaccompanied apart from some unconventional percussion and sound effects. Vega’s song is essentially a sequence of observations and ‘found’ images. However, Sarah’s lyric, with its echo of Matthew 10.29, extends observation into metaphor. And I rather like the tune.
  4. Unusually, ‘The Silence Above Us’ features Sarah’s piano well forward in the mix, as well as her guitar and Samuel Hollis’s upright bass. A lovely ballad.
  5. ‘Forever Autumn’ is a cover version of the song from the Jeff Wayne project War Of The Worlds. I came across a lovely live version by Sarah on YouTube some time ago, but this version gains from the addition of her own piano work and Joe Pritchard’s cello.
  6. The ‘Dies Irae’, a hymn in medieval Latin, the words very familiar from the Requiem mass (though not all the words are used here). This version is essentially the plainsong melody known since the 13th century or earlier, though in this case Sarah’s vocals are supported by her own guitar, Michael Chapman’s slide, and Joe Pritchard’s cello. Its presence here is particularly appropriate, since the opening line is echoed in the well-known instrumental intro to ‘Forever Autumn’. This setting seems particularly suited to her captivatingly fragile vocals.
  7. The theme of mortality is continued with Sarah’s atmospheric instrumental ‘The Day Of Wrath, That Day’, the title being a literal translation of the first line of the ‘Dies Irae’. Sarah plays electric guitar on this, augmented by Roger Luxton’s percussion and some ambient noise from Michael Chapman’s guitar. Spine-chilling.
  8. Although the lyric to ‘Cot Valley’ takes into account the valley’s place in the history of Cornish mining – and the (mis)use of child labour here and elsewhere in Britain right into the 20th century – it also works as a reminder of the way in which beauty spots in so many places – not only Cornwall, but (for instance) Shropshire, South Wales and the North East – have outgrown their dark industrial past. Unusually, Sarah augments her own acoustic guitar work with high-strung electric guitar – that is, a guitar with the four lower strings replaced (usually) with the octave strings from a 12-string set – while the instrumentation is further filled out with Michael Chapman’s electric guitar, Richard Evans’s trumpet, Georgia Ellery’s fiddle, percussion from Roger Luxton, and Samuel Hollis’s upright bass, to great effect.
  9. ‘New Beginnings’ is a very neat guitar piece, written as a “wedding march” for Zoë Pollock’s wedding. I think this one might just creep into my own repertoire.
  10. ‘Time To Love’ was co-written with Gerry O’Beirne, and features Georgia Ellery and Joe Pritchard double tracking violin and cello as a sort of counterfeit string quartet.
  11. ‘Break Me Down’ is described in the press release as “possibly the cheeriest song ever written about decomposition” – I’m trying desperately not to think of the old joke about composing and decomposing – and that’s a pretty good description of this slightly bluesy piece. Sarah’s vocal, electric guitar and high-strung guitar are reliably supplemented by Michael Chapman’s trusty ES175 and Roger Luxton’s drums and percussion. But I was particularly impressed by Samuel Hollis’s work on both upright and electric bass.
  12. ‘The Tug Of The Moon’ may already be familiar to you, having been released as a single. The song is more than adequately carried by Sarah’s vocals and electric guitar. Much as I love the acoustic guitar, it surprises me that more people don’t see (outside jazz, at any rate) the potential of the solo electric guitar as an instrument for accompaniment. Now there’s a song for New Year’s Eve…

This is an album of fine instrumental work that never detracts from the song or the vocals. And the songs are exceptional: some of the lyrics here would look equally at home in a volume of poetry, though it would be a pity to deprive them of Sarah’s voice and melodic flair.

I suspect that even Sarah’s fans will be pleasantly surprised at how good this album is, and it should make her many more.

David Harley

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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

We make no apologies for featuring this video again – ‘The Tug Of The Moon’:

For Sarah’s tour dates, go to: http://folking.com/sarah-mcquaid-announces-new-album-and-tour-dates/

Sarah McQuaid announces new album

Sarah McQuaid

Produced by legendary singer-songwriter and guitar sage Michael Chapman, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous is the fifth solo album by UK-based singer/songwriter Sarah McQuaid.

Musings on mortality dominate this recording, but it’s by no means all gloom: ‘Break Me Down’ is possibly the cheeriest song ever written about decomposition, while ‘One Sparrow Down’ (backed not by Sarah’s trademark DADGAD-tuned guitar but rather by a battery of unorthodox percussion instruments including wine bottle and oven grill) takes a similarly upbeat approach to the death of a bird hell-bent on attacking its own reflection, unseen by the predatory cat calmly watching from her perch on the windowsill. In the liner notes for the album, Sarah thanks her cat Nightshine for contributing guest vocals to the track, and apologises to her for the implicit metaphor.

A cover of Jeff Wayne’s melancholy ‘Forever Autumn’ leads into an arrangement for voice and guitar of ‘Dies Irae’, the medieval chant whose melody is echoed not only in Wayne’s intro to his classic War Of The Worlds number but also in countless film soundtrack themes (The Exorcist, The Shining and Citizen Kane, to name a few). Here as elsewhere on the album, McQuaid’s guitar shines on an equal basis with her velvet-textured voice. Indeed, two of the tracks are purely instrumental: ‘New Beginnings’, written as a wedding march for former pop star Zoë Pollock of ‘Sunshine On A Rainy Day’ fame (with whom Sarah recorded the album Crow Coyote Buffalo under the band name Mama), and ‘The Day Of Wrath, That Day’, whose title is a literal translation of the first line in ‘Dies Irae’.

The propulsive, apocalyptic title track was inspired by a warning McQuaid heard herself giving her son as he excavated an enormous hole in their back garden. There’s an obvious allusion to fracking (‘Splitting cracks in the rock to free the power inside’), but the song’s thematic scope extends well beyond that: ‘Sometimes the way to fix a problem is to turn the pressure off’ is a maxim that could apply to virtually any aspect of life.

On four of the tracks, including lead single ‘The Tug Of The Moon’, McQuaid plays an electric guitar belonging to Chapman, which he’s since given her on long-term loan. ‘The precision and sophistication of the writing and playing blows me away. I am so glad to be involved,’ he writes in his introduction to the album booklet. Since meeting Sarah when both artists played the Village Pump Festival in 2014, Chapman has become a staunch friend and supporter, even performing as her opening act at a local concert he and his wife arranged for her. Sarah became a regular visitor to the Chapmans’ farmhouse in Cumbria, and during one visit he made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: ‘We were having a chat and a glass of wine, and he said ‘Why don’t you let me produce your next album?’,’ Sarah recalls. ‘I’m glad he said it, because I’d never have dared ask otherwise!’

Another new addition is piano, which McQuaid plays to beautiful effect on ‘The Silence Above Us’ as well as on ‘Slow Decay’ and ‘Forever Autumn’. Guest musicians include Chapman on archtop electric guitar, Roger Luxton on drums and percussion, Samuel Hollis on upright and electric bass, Richard Evans on trumpet, Georgia Ellery on violin and Joe Pritchard on cello.

If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous was made possible thanks to financial support from Arts Council England Grants For The Arts, using public money from the Government and the National Lottery, and from Cultivator, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council. The album will be launched with a concert at the Acorn Arts Centre in Sarah’s adopted home town of Penzance on Thursday, 25 January, following which she’ll be touring it extensively in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and the USA.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: http://www.sarahmcquaid.com/

‘The Tug Of The Moon’ – official video:

SINGLES BAR 25

A round-up of recent EPs and singles with compliments of the season

Singles Bar 25WOLFNOTE are a new trio from Berkshire making their debut with an EP, Frightened Of Your Own F#. The three female members, Bex, Gill and Ceri, have strong voices and harmonise well and between them play guitar, violin, cello, dulcimer and recorders and their silent partner, Mike, plays guitar, bass and cajon. The record starts with a cover of Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’ taken a little more quickly than most people do – it can drag, sometimes. The other songs are originals and ‘Love And Light’ is particularly good. The production is excellent, concentrating on the voices with the instrumental leads clear and bright. A name to watch.
https://www.facebook.com/wolfnoteband/

‘The Tug Of The Moon’ is the first single to be taken from If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, the forthcoming album by SARAH McQUAID. This could be the only song ever inspired by Newton’s third law of motion and its effect on sidereal time.  Behind the science is the thought that we are all spinning towards the end of the universe and perhaps we should make the most of our time. Sarah creates a wonderful sound with fingerpicked electric guitar drenched in reverb.
www.sarahmcquaid.com

While her new band settles in DARIA KULESH releases a single supported by two of her duo partners, Jonny Dyer and Marina Osman. ‘Vasilisa’ is an old Russian fairy tale from a book that Daria read as a child and still has. The story contains certain elements of Cinderella but far nastier and involves a supposedly deadly errand, the famous witch Baba Yaga and some unpleasant deaths. It has the mysterious air of Daria’s other Russian adaptations with the drone of a shruti box, dramatic piano, percussion and bouzouki.
http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

It’s that time of year, so folk have been getting into the festive mood for seasonal singles. First up comes the rather lovely download (from the usual sources) only ‘What Will Christmas Be’, a melancholic piano (Danny Mitchell) and cello (Chelsea McGough) ballad duet from BEN GLOVER and NATALIE SCHLAB about absence and loss at a time traditionally about being together, set off with a final peal of bells.
https://www.benglover.co.uk/

Season Bright is a seasonal EP from EMILY EWING & ROBERT LANE. Robert is well known to folking readers and Emily is a singer-songwriter with a download EP to her name and a growing reputation. The lead tracks begins with Robert and Emily lamenting the fact that they’ll be spending Christmas alone (surely not) and moves on to the exhortation to “keep your loved ones near” over some lovely ringing electric guitar. The other tracks are the guitar-led ‘Get You’ and ‘Own It’, built around Emily’s piano. Available from iTunes.
http://www.robertlanemusic.co.uk/

Jo Whitby aka LAURENCE MADE ME CRY mirrors the mood with her download single ‘It’s Not You, It’s Christmas’ (from her bandcamp site), a slow walking fuzzed reverb guitar (sounding like a kazoo on acid) and drums ditty about choosing to spend the festivities alone at home, although she still wishes everyone seasonal cheer.
http://laurencemademecry.com/

SKINNY LISTER also get into the act with ‘Christmas Calls’ (XtraMile), an epic sounding arms-linked swayalong anthem very much in the Pogues ‘Fairytale’ mould, complete with military drums, bells and whistles.
http://skinnylister.com/

From last year’s Edison Gloriette album, JESS MORGAN releases download Jay Chakravorty remix of the Moonstruck-inspired ‘Come To The Opera With Me Loretta’ (Drabant Music) that removes the piano, putting more focus on the vocals and giving it an anthemic seasonal synths and drums shimmer makeover.
http://www.jessmorgan.co.uk/

Away from the holly and ivy,Yorkshire’s FRAN WYBURN self-releases ‘Foolish Sea’, George Birkett’s fingerpicking and Rachel Brown’s cello backdropping her pure, little girl vocals on a quirky tale of unrequited love that serves as a taster to her forthcoming album.
http://www.franwyburn.com/

There is not so much Christmas spirit but an awful lot of pain in ‘Love Left Lost’, the second single from Brighton-based singer-songwriter JOSH McGOVERN. Quite which subterranean depths that voice comes from is hard to say but the tragedy is delivered over minimal acoustic and with soulful backing vocals on the choruses.
https://www.facebook.com/Joshmmusic

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the death of blues guitarist LUTHER ALLISON Ruf records have released a limited edition eleven disc box set of his later work. As a taster there is a 7” vinyl single: ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Night Life’. The lead track starts with a deceptively simple Hammond organ and Luther waits until the chorus comes round for the band to kick in and then it takes off with some wonderful “doo-de-doo” backing vocals.
http://www.rufrecords.de

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 an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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: