29 January 2018
Live review – The Acorn, Penzance. “I expected great things. Nor was I disappointed.”
Sarah McQuaid CD launch tour – 25th January 2018
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 Dangerous, 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.