Born out of the pandemic and due for release on October 15, The St Buryan Sessions will be the sixth solo album by award-winning multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Sarah McQuaid, and is her most powerful and emotive offering yet.
With pre-orders for the much-anticipated CD and limited-edition double LP now open, a new track from the album is being released to radio: the poignant “Last Song.”
“It’s a really special song for me,” explains McQuaid. “It’s been in my live set forever and always gets a really strong reaction — I see people crying, and then a lot of the time I wind up crying, too! Which is why I tend to save it for the encore, so it doesn’t matter if my mascara starts running.
“I wrote it back when I was still living in Ireland and my kids were toddlers — I used to try and fit in some guitar practice and get them to sleep at the same time by sitting and playing outside their room after I put them to bed, and it took me right back to when I was little and my mother used to do the same thing.
“I have such a clear memory of lying in bed, looking at the ribbon of light shining through the door and calling out requests for songs I wanted to hear. She’d answer “Are you still awake? Go to sleep!” And one night I heard myself saying exactly the same thing to my kids, and it was like my mother’s voice coming out of my mouth.
“And I wanted so much to be able to call her up and tell her about it, but of course I couldn’t, because she died just six months after my first child was born. They’re teenagers now, and it breaks my heart that she never got to know them and they never got to know her.”
The track is offered as an immediate “instant gratification” download with pre-orders for The St Buryan Sessions, which had its genesis in the spring of 2020, when Sarah’s gigs and tours were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, she was able to finance a live solo recording (sans audience) in the lovely medieval church of St Buryan, not far from her home in rural West Cornwall.
Sensitively captured by her longtime sound engineer and manager, Martin Stansbury, with the aid of ambient microphones placed throughout the church, the sound of Sarah’s voice and music soars through the stunning acoustic space as she moves between acoustic guitar, piano, electric guitar and floor tom drum, performing songs that span her 24-year career – from “Charlie’s Gone Home”, originally recorded on her 1997 debut album When Two Lovers Meet, to electric guitar based pieces from her most recent studio album If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous.
Two previously unrecorded covers feature on the album: the classic jazz standard “Autumn Leaves”, on which she demonstrates the full dynamic range of her lush, distinctive voice, and a cover of “Rabbit Hills”, written by her dear friend (and past producer) Michael Chapman. This second piece was commissioned by Michael’s wife as a gift for his 80th birthday and sees Sarah at the beautiful grand piano that resides in the church, her compelling, heartfelt delivery revealing the depth of her immersion in the rich imagery of Chapman’s evocative lyrics.
Conceived as a concert set and including such fan favourites as “In Derby Cathedral”, “The Sun Goes On Rising” and “Yellowstone”, the album is a journey not only through a wide range of instrumentation and styles, but also through the spectrum of emotions that Sarah evokes in her performance and invokes in the listener.
The recording was filmed by Cornish filmmaker and director Mawgan Lewis of Purple Knif with the aid of Eden Sessions veteran camera operator John Crooks, and the album release will be accompanied by a full concert video. In the meantime, Sarah has been releasing a series of videos of individual songs to her YouTube channel – https://youtube.com/sarahmcquaid — where Lewis’ short documentary “The Making Of The St Buryan Sessions”, featuring interviews and song snippets, can also be viewed.
The St Buryan Sessions is now available to pre-order via https://sarahmcquaid.bandcamp.com on CD and limited-edition blue vinyl double LP, together with T-shirts, tea towels, tote bags, ultra-limited-edition test pressings, and the full concert film on a 16GB engraved wooden USB stick, all bearing Sarah’s original artwork.
Sarah will be launching the album on its release day, Friday, October 15, with a very special benefit concert in (and for) St Buryan Church. In order to make it accessible for all in the local community, no entrance fee will be charged, but there will be a voluntary retiring collection for church funds.
“I’ve been living in St Buryan for fourteen years now,” she explains, “and it’s been incredibly heartwarming how my family and I have been welcomed into the life of the village. I kind of thought when we first moved here that we’d be shunned as ‘blow-ins’, but that hasn’t been the case at all, and I’m so grateful. I’m also incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to record the new album in such a gorgeous space, and I really wanted to be able to give something back.”
A six-week UK-wide tour will follow the album launch and continue through the end of November. Sarah’s 2022 tour plans include Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and the USA.