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

Artist’s web site:

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

Artist’s website

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

For Sarah’s tour dates, go to:

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.

Artist’s website:

‘The Tug Of The Moon’ – official video: