Biography

Sarah McQuaid’s voice has been likened to malt whiskey, melted chocolate and “honey poured into wine” (Minor 7th). Her new album Walking Into White (2015) is her most honest and adventurous work to date, with a depth and texture of soundscape that are reflected in her beautifully crafted live shows. A captivating performer, she seduces her audience with cheeky banter and stories from the road, as well as with stunning musicianship; in her hands, the guitar becomes much more than merely an accompanying instrument. 

Born in Spain, raised in Chicago and now living in rural England, Sarah refuses to be pigeonholed, segueing easily from one of her emotive originals into a 1930s Cuban jazz number, a 16th century lute piece or an unexpected contemporary cover. Like its predecessors, her fourth solo CD has drawn international critical acclaim: The Musician (UK) called it “A work that grows with each listen,” while Germany’s Folker hailed it as “Ein mutiges Album mit einem potenziellen Pophit” (A courageous album that includes a potential pop hit). “Sending out a trembling resonance, this is a collection of songs that feel their way into your being,” wrote FolkWords (UK), where it was selected as Album of the Month and nominated for both Best Album from a Female Artist and Album of the Year.

Born in Madrid (to a Spanish father and an American mother), raised in Chicago and now living in rural England, Sarah McQuaid was taught piano and guitar by her folksinging mother, and remembers being inspired by meeting her distant cousin, well-known singer/songwriter/storyteller Gamble Rogers, at her grandmother’s house in Indiana. From the age of twelve she was embarking on tours of the US and Canada with the Chicago Children’s Choir, and at eighteen she went to France for a year to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. 

She moved to Ireland in 1994 and lived there for 13 years, working as a music journalist and magazine editor. In 2007, she re-released her 1997 debut solo album, When Two Lovers Meet, and launched her solo career with a performance on Irish national television as the musical guest on John Kelly’s popular Friday evening arts show The View.

The same year saw her moving to England and playing major festivals like Sidmouth and Trowbridge, and in 2008 she released her second album, I Won’t Go Home ’Til Morning. In contrast to the first album’s focus on Irish traditional songs and instrumentals, the follow-up was a celebration of old-time Appalachian folk, with Sarah’s arrangements punctuated by her own fine compositions and a cover of Bobbie Gentry’s classic “Ode to Billie Joe.”

Crow Coyote Buffalo, an album of songs co-written by Sarah with fellow Penzance resident Zoë (author and performer of 1991 hit single “Sunshine On A Rainy Day”), was released in 2009 under the band name Mama and garnered rave reviews: Spiral Earth described the pair as “Two pagan goddesses channelling the ghost of Jim Morrison.”

Sarah’s first two solo albums were re-released as a double-CD set in North America in February 2010 and immediately went to No. 1 on both the album and artist Folk-DJ chart.

Like its predecessors, Sarah’s third album The Plum Tree And The Rose (2012) was recorded in Trevor Hutchinson’s Dublin studio and produced by Gerry O’Beirne, but it represented a departure from her previous work in that nine of its thirteen tracks were originals. Also featured were medieval and Elizabethan numbers and a cover of John Martyn’s “Solid Air”.

To record her fourth album Walking Into White, Sarah travelled from her adopted home in Cornwall, England, to the small town of Cornwall, New York, USA, in order to work with co-producers Jeremy Backofen (Frightened Rabbit, Felice Brothers) and Sarah’s cousin Adam Pierce (Mice Parade, Tom Brosseau, Múm). Coming from outside the folk world and having never worked with Sarah before, Adam and Jeremy found and nurtured the raw edge and intensity that have always been present in her live performances, while their occasionally unorthodox recording methods (a mini-cassette recorder mounted on a microphone stand, for example) bring out a striking intimacy and immediacy in both her vocals and her guitar sound. Recorded and mixed in just under three weeks, Walking Into White is by far the most personal and emotional album Sarah has made to date.

Three of the songs take their inspiration from Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books. The title track uses the arresting image of two children lost in a moorland fog as an allegory for the sensation of stumbling blindly through life; in “The Tide”, a mud-bound sailboat becomes a portrait of a marriage, while “Where The Wind Decides To Blow” performs a similar transfiguration on a homemade sailing sled sent hurtling across a frozen lake by an unexpected blizzard.

In “Yellowstone”, a young boy’s obsession with the spectre of volcanic apocalypse sparks a rumination on the buried terrors that haunt us all. “Jackdaws Rising” takes the form of a three-part round, with Sarah’s lyrics and vocal melodies overlapping in counterpoint to a guitar instrumental composed by her friends Pete Coleman and Clare Hines. Other highlights include Sarah’s setting of the hymn “Canticle Of The Sun/All Creatures Of Our God And King”) and a cover of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. 

Recently dubbed “guitar queen” by one festival organiser, Sarah is also known for her use of the DADGAD tuning. She is the author of The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, described by The Irish Times as “a godsend to aspiring traditional guitarists,” with a follow-up book on the way that will focus on DADGAD song accompaniment. She regularly presents workshops on the DADGAD tuning (as well as on songwriting, tour booking and more) at festivals, music schools and venues around the globe.

“Finding treasure feels great, and such is the case with musician Sarah McQuaid. The soulful singer, smart and sensuous songwriter, and scintillating guitarist has been hidden in plain sight with three gorgeous solo albums, and her fourth — the recently-released, critically-acclaimed Walking Into White — reveals a truly magnificent artist primed to enchant the masses. ... I’ve attended hundreds of concerts of all kinds, and her subtle mastery onstage launches her straight into my fave shows ever. One voice, one guitar, and the wondrous reminder of the magic of music. Sarah has the gift.” — Gregory Weinkauf, The Huffington Post

“Brilliant musicianship, a warm and welcoming stage presence and a voice as rich, matured and knowing as the finest thrice-distilled Irish malt whiskey.” — Geoff Wallis, fRoots, UK

“Sarah was just fantastic – she had a sold out audience captivated from start to finish at Ards Arts Centre, Co. Down.  A beautiful voice and technically accomplished player.” — Emily Crawford, Ards Arts Centre, Northern Ireland

On Walking Into White:

“The echoing magic of Walking Into White, the latest album from Sarah McQuaid, seizes you from the first and holds you captured long after the last notes fade.... Sending out a trembling resonance, this is a collection of songs that feel their way into your being.” — Tim Carroll, FolkWords, UK

“A work that grows with each listen.” — Keith Ames, The Musician, UK

“The songs are acutely observed and literate, almost like journal notes set to music. They’re measured and tranquil but they’re never dull because there is always a sense of restlessness and unease behind the poetry.... And it’s all lovely.” — Ian Pickles, R2/Rock ’n’ Reel, UK

“Sarah McQuaid is what’s known as a triple-threat; that is, she does three things extremely well, specifically sing, play guitar, and write songs …. Walking into White is another superb outing from Sarah McQuaid, an under-the-radar artist deserving of an audience reflective of her worldly scope.” — Joseph Neff, The Vinyl District

“Ein mutiges Album mit einem potenziellen Pophit.” (A courageous album that includes a potential pop hit.)Mike Kamp, Folker, Germany

“The whole album expresses the eclectic influences from McQuaid’s life intertwined with a symbiotic, emotive edge. With a maelstrom of intensity within, it’s a totally enthralling listen.” — Eileen McCabe, Irish Music Magazine, Ireland

Walking Into White is Sarah McQuaids avontuurlijkste, meest ambitieuze en gewaagdste album tot nu toe. En haar beste.” (Walking Into White is Sarah McQuaid’s most adventurous, most ambitious and most daring album to date. And her best.)Martin Overheul, Alt Country Forum, Netherlands

“McQuaid’s voice has an unforced richness which is the perfect foil for the echoing, spacious arrangements of her songs – and for her guitar, which here assumes a dazzling array of guises; one minute it’s as plangent as a piano, the next, it’s buzzing on a rock-and-roll riff. A unique, multi-textured sound emerges as each song pours out a new narrative.” — Piers Ford, Cry Me A Torch Song, UK

“Sarah a su se moderniser sans se renier, osé être différente tout en restant elle-même, se renouveler avec talent.” (Sarah has succeeded in modernising herself without disowning herself, has dared to be different while at the same time remaining herself, renewing herself with talent.) Sam Pierre, Le Cri du Coyote, France

“Enkele draaibeurten verder beginnen de liedjes te beklijven en kan ik niet anders dan mijn hoed afnemen voor deze moedige zangeres die opnieuw een grote stap gezet heeft in haar ontwikkeling als muzikante.” (After a few spins I couldn’t get the songs out of my head and I simply had to tip my hat to a singer who has obviously taken a major step forward in her musical career.)Koos Gijsman, Heaven, Netherlands

“A combination of seasoned craft and innovative ideas ... Highly recommended.” — Johanna B. Bodde, InsurgentCountry.net, Germany

“Original, acrobatique et audacieux ... Un album brillant ouvrant de nouvelles perspectives pour Sarah McQuaid.” (Original, acrobatic and audacious ... A brilliant album that opens new perspectives for Sarah McQuaid.)Michel Preumont, concerts-review.over-blog.com, Belgium

“An original fusion of jazz and folk ... that sounds like the journey of a vintage bourbon through a long winter night.”— Tiki Black, 1inmusic.com, UK

“Het inslaan van nieuwe wegen is wonderwel geslaagd, met dank aan de producers met hun verfrissende kijk op het geheel.... Walking Into White is wat mij betreft haar mooiste album tot dusver.” (Her decision to follow a new musical path has proven a success, thanks in part to the producers’ refreshing approach.... Walking Into White is in my opinion her best album to date.)Theo Volk, Johnny’s Garden, Netherlands

“As frustrating as it must surely be that a greater public recognition has so far eluded her, Sarah McQuaid has clearly held true to her own musical vision and it’s to be hoped that Walking Into White is the album which will bring her the wider commercial success she so richly deserves.” — Helen Gregory, Folk Radio UK