- Don Gillan

5 November 2012 

Live review – The Square Chapel. “A rich voice, outstanding song-writing and musicianship, and a warm and welcoming stage presence.”


Sarah McQuaid
Square Chapel, Halifax.

Date of Performance: Sunday 4th November, 2012
Duration: 2 hours, 5 mins (one interval, total 20 mins)
Folk diva Sarah McQuaid sings a selection of songs taken mostly from her latest album.

Born in Spain where her father came from, raised in America, the homeland of her mother, married to an Irishman, in whose country her own two children were born, and now living in England, Sarah McQuaid has a truly international pedigree, reflected in her unique style of music which blends the American Appalachian folk influences taught to her by her mother with those of traditional English folk music. Fresh from a tour of the USA (a week ago she was in the dry heat of Texas!) this current UK tour (beginning here in wintery Halifax) delivers a selection of songs mostly taken from her latest album, “The Plum Tree and the Rose”.

The music is an eclectic mix with a considerable degree of diversity. The Next Market Day is an Irish folk song which uses learning a tune as a euphemism for an altogether sexier activity. Delving deep in to English tradition, Can She Excuse My Wrongs is a 16th century composition, rearranged for acoustic guitar, which was written by a failed suitor of Queen Elizabeth. In a more contemporary but still classic English style is Hardwick’s Lofty Towers, an original song inspired by a stately castle glimpsed from the motorway where it’s owner, Bess of Hardwick, had sought to acheive immortality in name at least by having her initials inscribed atop each of it’s towers. Another self-composition continues the English classic style, and in fact the Hardwick connection, in remembering some of the people buried In Derby Cathedral. West Virginia Boys draws upon her American heritage being a variation of an early twentieth century hill-billy song, ‘West Virginia Gals’, that in turn drew upon a much earlier minstrel composition. Shady Grove/Cluck Old Hen is a lively, purely instrumental acoustic guitar piece that demonstrates Sarah is a highly accomplished guitarist as well as a talented singer. In the contemporary cover piece, Solid Air, she pays tribute to two of her musical heroes, John Martyn, who wrote it, and Nick Drake, whom it is reputed to be about. But my particular favourite of the evening was one of the more contemporary in style of her own compositions – Lift You Up and Let You Fly, a beautiful lullaby inspired by her daughter and describing the worries of over-protective motherhood when the time comes to cut the apron strings.

Sarah’s only accompaniment to her soft alto voice was her own guitar playing, although her sound technician added a reverb, or in some cases a distinct echo to some of the numbers so that Sarah provided her own vocal backing – all done live on the night without any pre-recording. The accent, essentially Chicagoan but softened and altered by many years living in Ireland and England, is as distinct as her music but never jarring, even when she is singing those old English songs. There are times when you miss a deeper musical accompaniment, but in an intimate studio environment the gentle music combined with Sarah’s own welcoming personality to provides an evening of music that is richly rewarding.

A rich voice, outstanding song-writing and musicianship, and a warm and welcoming stage presence combine in rewarding evening of musical entertainment.