- 23 Apr 21
McQuaid will be releasing the ambitious and expertly-crafted live sessions to honour two legendary producers and musicians – songwriter Gerry O’Beirne and English guitar maestro Michael Chapman – with whom she has collaborated extensively in the past. Photo: Magwan Lewis
In 2020, Sarah McQuaid saw her spring tour cut short due to the pandemic. Not content to rest on her laurels, the Cornwall-based singer-songwriter mounted a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance the filming and recording of 'The St Buryan Sessions', a full-length live concert recorded without an audience in the beautiful medieval church of St Buryan, just up the road from the rural cottage where she and her family have been living since 2007.
The first single and video of the series were released in January 2021, and the full album – with an accompanying concert film – will be released on CD and double LP on October 15, 2021.
For the fifth and sixth singles of 'The St Buryan Sessions', McQuaid honours two musical giants, both of whom have produced albums for her in the past. 'Time To Love', which premieres on McQuaid's Youtube channel at 8pm tomorrow (April 24), is a co-write with Irish singer-songwriter Gerry O’Beirne. 'Rabbit Hills', – which unlike its predecessors in the series has never been recorded before – was written by English guitar maestro Michael Chapman and originally recorded by him on his 1970 breakthrough album for Harvest/EMI, Fully Qualified Survivor.
O’Beirne has toured both as a solo artist and as a band member with The Waterboys, The Sharon Shannon Band, Patrick Street and Midnight Well, but is perhaps best known for his much-loved original songs (“Western Highway”, “The Holy Ground”, “The Shades Of Gloria”, to name a few), which have been covered by the likes of Maura O’Connell, Mary Black and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, amongst many others. O'Beirne produced Sarah’s first three albums in addition to co-writing songs with her for the most recent three.
“Gerry is the kind of songwriter that I’ve always aspired to be,” Sarah says in an introductory video for 'Time To Love', “which is to say that you probably know a bunch of songs that he’s written without even realising that he wrote them. And I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to that level of … immortality, if you like, but I do know that co-writing with Gerry has generated some of the best songs I’ve ever written, even if it can be a little bit of a fraught process at times.
“What usually seems to happen is that we find ourselves in vehement disagreement over a word here, or a note there, and eventually Gerry just throws up his hands and says ‘Okay, have it your way, but I think you’re wrong.’ And I say ‘Well, I know I’m right,’ and then I go into the studio and I start trying to record the song, and I realise that Gerry was right. And I change the song to the way he wanted it, and it becomes a much better song.”
Michael Chapman and McQuaid struck up a friendship after meeting at the Village Pump Festival in 2014, and he produced and played on her 2018 album If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous. Last year, Sarah was invited by Michael’s wife Andru to contribute a track to a privately released album commemorating his 80th birthday. The album consisted of recordings of Michael’s songs by various artists he’s worked with over the years, including Lucinda Williams, Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Steve Gunn, Bridget St John and other equally illustrious names.
“I was so honoured to be asked to be part of it,” Sarah recalls, “and I immediately asked Andru if I could do ‘Rabbit Hills’. It’s such a beautiful song, both melodically and in terms of the lyrics, which are incredibly poetic, and the imagery they evoke — when I listen to the words I have a perfectly clear picture in my mind of this place “where the water meets the trees / and the long grass turns to sand” — and for a long time I’d had a notion that it would be a lovely one to cover eventually.
“I was terrified that she was going to say somebody else had already bagsied it, but she emailed me straight back saying: ‘It’s yours, go for it,’ and the first thing I thought was that I’d really like to write a piano arrangement of it, rather than trying to emulate Michael’s guitar – which was obviously always going to be impossible as well as pointless. And then when the St Buryan Sessions project came up and I knew I was going to have access to that gorgeous grand piano, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do it.”
The piano in question belongs to the St Buryan Male Voice Choir. They gave McQuaid permission to use it, but the instrument resides permanently in the stunning medieval church where The St Buryan Sessions were filmed and recorded last summer.
“We set her up as if it were a regular gig,” explains Sarah’s longtime manager and sound engineer, Martin Stansbury, who produced, recorded and mixed the project. “No flash studio mics, just the same touring PA and monitors she’d walked onstage to a thousand times, so it would be truly home territory.”
Martin also placed ambient microphones around the soaring space to capture its natural acoustic and intensify the listener experience of “being there”, while Cornish filmmaker and director Mawgan Lewis of Purple Knif (who worked previously with Sarah on videos for If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous) and Eden Sessions veteran camera operator John Crooks were able to take full advantage of camera angles that would not have been possible if audience sight-lines had been a consideration.
“I’m totally thrilled with the result,” McQuaid said in a statement, “and I’m so glad that we were able to do it in a place that’s been so special to me on a personal level – plus, the church itself had a huge impact on the overall sound, as well as on the visuals.”
'Time To Love (The St Buryan Sessions)' is out today on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp. 'Rabbit Hills (The St Buryan Sessions)' will be available for streaming and download from May 14.
McQuaid herself will be on-hand in the chat for the video premiere tomorrow, to answer questions and respond to feedback.
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