Singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid will be kicking off a 3-month, 59-show autumn USA and UK tour with high-profile hometown shows in both West Cornwall, England, where she’s lived since 2007, and Chicago, where she spent most of her childhood.
World-renowned for its dramatic cliffside setting, Cornwall’s Minack Theatre – where Sarah will be performing on Friday August 25th – was the brainchild of Rowena Cade, a remarkable woman who used an old screwdriver to etch intricate designs into concrete mixed with sand she herself had carried up from the beach in sacks. It opened to the public with a production of The Tempest in 1932, but Rowena continued working on her theatre well into her eighties.
“It’s a massive honour to be performing in such an iconic venue,” says Sarah, “and it’s only a few miles up the road from where I live. The seats are built into the cliffside, so when you’re onstage you’ve got the sea behind you, and there’s always a risk of getting upstaged by dolphins!”
Two days after her Minack show, Sarah will be headlining the Cornwall Folk Festival’s Sunday evening concert at the John Betjeman Centre in Wadebridge, Cornwall.
“We’ll be flying out of Heathrow the day after the Cornwall Folk Festival gig,” Sarah says ruefully, “so instead of a post-show celebration we’ll be frantically repacking everything, weighing our suitcases and driving a few hours down the road that night, so that we don’t have to panic about getting stuck in traffic on the Monday morning.”
Sarah’s Chicago-area appearances over Labor Day Weekend include the Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival; WFMT 98.7FM’s Folkstage, a one-hour concert with an invited studio audience of WFMT supporters, broadcast live and online; and an afternoon guitar workshop at the Old Town School Of Folk Music, a Chicago institution founded in 1957 that launched the careers of legendary artists like Roger McGuinn, John Prine and Steve Goodman, all of whom studied at the Old Town School.
“I can remember hearing my mother talk about the Old Town School Of Folk Music when I was little,” says Sarah, “and the most exciting thing about New Year’s Eve was that it was the one night of the year I was allowed to stay up late enough to listen to The Midnight Special on WFMT!”
Sarah and her longtime manager Martin Stansbury (who also runs Cacophony Cottage, a Cornwall-based business offering music production and artist consultancy services) will then be heading down to Texas, back up through the midwest, southeast to North Carolina (where she’ll be performing on WFDD’s The Martha Bassett Show, recorded live at the Reeves Theatre in Elkin NC), on to Florida and finally up the east coast to New England where the US leg of the tour finishes in late October.
After that’s back to Cornwall for a week of recuperation before Sarah’s four-week UK tour in November and early December.
Born in Spain (to a Spanish father and American mother), Sarah grew up in the USA, lived in Ireland for many years and moved in 2007 to Cornwall, where she swiftly struck up a friendship with a fellow mum outside the gates of their children’s school. That fellow mum turned out to be Zoë Pollock, writer and performer of 1991 UK Top 5 single “Sunshine On A Rainy Day.”
The pair soon found themselves co-writing songs for an album released in 2008 under the band name Mama, lauded by MOJO’s Colin Irwin as “a pleasingly maverick mix” and by The Irish Times as “Janis Joplin’s freewheeling spirit crossed with Joni Mitchell’s lyrical density.”
“I owe Zoë a massive debt of gratitude for getting me into songwriting in a serious way,” says Sarah. “Prior to that I’d thought of myself basically as a folksinger who happened to write an occasional song, but through working with Zoë I not only learned a hell of a lot about the craft of songwriting, but also just the fact of someone of her calibre wanting to co-write with me was what finally gave me the confidence to start focusing on my own original material.
“And of course, if it weren’t for Zoë I’d never have met Martin” – the above-mentioned Martin Stansbury, a longtime collaborator and former bandmate of Zoë’s who produced and engineered the Mama album, then became Sarah’s manager and sound engineer, accompanying her on all her tours worldwide since 2009.
Most recently, Martin produced and engineered Sarah’s sixth solo album, The St Buryan Sessions, recorded live in lockdown in the beautiful medieval church of St Buryan, just over a mile from Sarah’s home.
Released in October 2021 on CD and limited-edition double LP, the album made it onto “Best of 2021” lists on three continents and features stunning solo performances by Sarah on acoustic and electric guitars, piano and floor tom drum, her lush, distinctive vocals echoing through the soaring space.
“McQuaid’s voice, a fragile, starkly resonant alto, has always been a thing of folk-trad beauty,” wrote reviewer Kenny Berkowitz in Acoustic Guitar magazine, “but here, with ambient mics placed around the church’s interior, it takes on a new joyfulness and a deeper darkness.” Ink 19‘s Bob Pomeroy called it “a starkly minimalist recording of exceptional beauty”, and Folk Radio UK described it as “a wonderful, expressive and intimate live album from a consummate performer.”
“There is an audience,” wrote Adrian Jones in Songlines, “– it’s you, and you’ve kept shtum in the back pew. It’s an intimate and changing 70 minutes, ending with the silence of this hallowed setting. Sneak out quietly. And then listen to it again!”
The entire album was filmed as it was being recorded, and videos of all 15 tracks can be viewed on Sarah’s YouTube channel, together with a 10-minute video introduction to Sarah featuring live and studio performances intercut with interview and behind-the-scenes footage.
Sarah’s autumn tour dates are as follows (see https://sarahmcquaid.com/tour for full info and ticket links):
Aug 25 – Porthcurno: The Minack Theatre
Aug 27 – Wadebridge: Cornwall Folk Festival
Sep 1 – La Grange, IL: Wesley’s Place
Sep 2 – Chicago, IL: WFMT Folkstage (plus afternoon workshop at Old Town School of Folk Music)
Sep 3-4 – Geneva, IL: Fox Valley Folk Festival
Sep 7 – Lubbock, TX: Blue Sage Coffeehouse Concerts
Sep 8 – Austin, TX: Cactus Gate Concerts
Sep 9 – Arlington, TX: Open Door Coffeehouse
Sep 10 – Fort Worth, TX: Concerts In The Woods
Sep 12 – Beaumont, TX: 7 Oaks Event Garden & Listening Room
Sep 14 – Memphis, TN: House Concerts Chez Chase
Sep 15 – Nashville, TN: Scarritt Bennett Center
Sep 16 – Warsaw, KY: Gallatin County Public Library
Sep 17 – Pittsburgh, PA: Highland Park House Concerts
Sep 20 – Maysville, KY: Mason County Public Library
Sep 22 – Livonia, MI: Trinity House Theatre
Sep 23 – Grass Lake, MI: Green Wood Coffee House Series at Out Of Eden
Sep 24 – Mentor, OH: St Andrew Episcopal Church
Sep 27 – Takoma Park, MD: House Concert
Sep 29 – West Jefferson, NC: Ashe Arts Center
Sep 30 – Deep Gap, NC: Songs From The Wood
Oct 1 – Asheville, NC: Private Event
Oct 2 – Morganton, NC: Burke County Public Library
Oct 4 – Durham, NC: Magnetic Sound Studios
Oct 5 – Elkin, NC: The Martha Bassett Show (Live at The Reeves)
Oct 7 – Dover, DE: Delaware Friends of Folk Coffee House
Oct 9 – Chipley, FL: Washington County Public Library
Oct 11 – Islamorada, FL: Islamorada Branch Library
Oct 12 – Marathon, FL: Marathon Branch Library
Oct 13 – Key West, FL: Key West Library
Oct 14 – Fort Myers, FL: Americana Community Music Association (ACMA)
Oct 15 – Venice, FL: Troll Music
Oct 17 – New Port Richey, FL: Sims Park
Oct 20 – Voorheesville, NY: Old Songs
Oct 21 – Norwich, VT: Roots & Wings Coffeehouse at UUCUV
Oct 22 – Willimantic, CT: Bread Box Theater
Nov 2 – Morvah: Chypraze Farm
Nov 3 – Teignmouth: Pavilions Teignmouth
Nov 4 – Barnstaple: ThePlough@StAnne’s
Nov 5 – Brecon: Theatr Brycheiniog Studio
Nov 8 – Topsham: The Bridge Inn
Nov 9 – Great Budworth Parish Hall
Nov 10 – Ipswich: St Peter’s by the Waterfront
Nov 11 – Buxton: The Green Man Gallery
Nov 12 – Gawsworth Village Hall
Nov 15 – Backford (Chester): The Five Villages Hall
Nov 16 – Salford: Sacred Trinity Church (Red Balloon Music Presents)
Nov 17 – Thirsk: St Mary’s Church
Nov 18 – Cockermouth: The Kirkgate Centre
Nov 19 – Brigsteer Village Hall
Nov 22 – Great Easton: Venue TBC
Nov 23 – Tewkesbury: The Old Baptist Chapel
Nov 24 – Bordon: Phoenix Theatre & Arts Centre
Nov 25 – Bemerton (Salisbury): St John’s Place
Nov 26 – Box: Schtumm Extra @ The Queens Head
Nov 28 – Swindon Arts Centre
Nov 29 – Kenilworth: The Tree House Bookshop
Dec 1 – Upton Cross (Liskeard): Sterts Studio
Dec 2 – Truro: Burrell Theatre