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

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Artist’s website: www.sarahmcquaid.com

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

DAMIEN BARBER & MIKE WILSON – The Old Songs – DBS Records DBS004

The Old Songs is the second album from Damien and Mike and follows the pattern of their debut, Under The Influence, drawing material from, in the main, two distinguished singers – in this case Peter Bellamy and Mike Waterson. None of the songs are really obscure although ‘The Charlady’s Son’ may have you scratching your head unless you have Mike Waterson’s solo album and Dave Dodds’ ‘Drinking Song’ may be unfamiliar unless you live in this corner of the Surrey/Hants border where Dave was a well-known figure thirty years ago. Continue reading DAMIEN BARBER & MIKE WILSON – The Old Songs – DBS Records DBS004