Live review – Rothbury Roots, Queens Head, Rothbury. “Inspirational performance … phenomenal … exceptional power and range ... dark, slow-burning, sizzling … magnificent.”
Queens Head, Rothbury
Rothbury Roots prides itself in bringing contemporary blues, Americana, folk and country artists to rural Northumberland: Sarah McQuaid’s (pictured) inspirational performance reflected all these, befitting the background of this phenomenal singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Spain, raised in Chicago, and now living in Cornwall via a spell in Ireland, Sarah’s music replicates this richness and diversity.
Sarah’s sensational new album, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, featured prominently throughout the set, the title track drawing gasps from the audience. Sarah’s slightly husky tones complemented her exceptional power and range, giving the song a very bluesy feel. Playing an Ibanez Artist electric guitar, McQuaid explored a whole new world outside her acoustic domain to superb effect. Expert sound engineer Martin Stansbury enhanced the vocals and instruments through loops to create the impression of a full band. The clarity of the lyrics enabled us to appreciate the use of visual imagery and metaphors, and the subtle shades of meanings: her young son digging; the dangers of fracking; and the fact that sometimes it is best not to delve too deeply. ‘Cot Valley’ (a scandal reminiscent of black slavery, the source of so much early American blues) recounted the injustice of young children working in Cornish tin mines 200 years ago: Sarah’s anguish almost unbearable but a message of hope lay in the fact that Cot Valley is green today, “Where the slag heaps used to smoulder.”
The song ‘One Sparrow Down’ with its distinctive percussion was a domestic story of Sarah’s cat watching a sparrow attacking its reflection in a glass window before the inevitable happens. The mystery of waves and waveforms off the Cornish coast was explored in the calmly intimate ‘Slow Decay’, McQuaid cleverly holding both tone and metre to maximise the impact of the chorus. ‘Break Me Down’’s theme of the singer’s ultimate desire to rejoin the cycle of life in preference to a cemetery burial or cremation could be depressing but Sarah turned it into a joyful experience: “When I end my days/I want the sweetest flowers/Growing over my grave.” The only cover, Jeff Wayne’s ‘Forever Autumn’ was another “shivers down the spine” moment, its imagery heightened by the softer, expressive, emotional vocals and dramatic effects whilst retaining the spirit of the original.
The guitar instrumental ‘The Day Of Wrath, That Day’ highlighted her unique style of playing, with strong, contrasting thumb-picked bass lines, consistent with its dark, slow-burning, sizzling feel: much of the originality coming from McQuaid’s DADGAD tuning which created a fuller sound with all the sympathetic resonance from so many strings tuned to the same frequencies. It also enabled her to play a hybrid of chords and melody as in the long solo at the end of ‘The Tug Of The Moon’.
Tumultuous applause and genuine respect marked the a cappella finale, ‘The Parting Glass’, from the magnificent Sarah McQuaid.