At last week’s Ards International Guitar Festival, Sarah McQuaid was presented with the festival’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award. Previous recipients over the festival’s 20-year history include legendary guitarists Davey Graham, John Renbourn, John Martyn, Arty McGlynn, Martin Simpson, Gordon Giltrap, Pierre Bensusan and Martin Carthy.
Sarah recalls her initially annoyed reaction when compère Ralph McLean of BBC Radio Ulster and festival director Ernie McMillen of Avalon Guitars came out to present the award:
“I’d just finished my set and left the stage, and the crowd was calling for an encore, but before I could come back out from the wings, Ralph McLean and Ernie McMillen walked onstage and started talking about the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, rats, now they’ll bring out some big-name guitarist to accept this bloody award and I won’t get to do my encore!’ Never in a million years did I think it would go to me. I was totally and completely floored. It’s a very, very big deal to be placed on a level with so many of my musical heroes.”
Sarah McQuaid with Andrew Cooke (http://www.andrewcookeartist.com), maker and designer of her Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ards International Guitar Festival, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, Sunday 9 April 2017. Photo by Ards International Guitar Festival Director Emily Crawford.
And she did get to do an encore after all, performing a cover of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, which she also recorded on her fourth solo album Walking Into White (Waterbug, 2015).
“Every year since 1999, Ards International Guitar Festival has awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award to an artist performing at the Festival,” explains the Ards Arts Centre’s Emily Crawford, co-director of the festival along with Ernie McMillen and Darren Porter. “There has never been a female recipient of the award, and with an artist of the calibre of Sarah McQuaid on our bill, it was an easy decision to make in 2017!
“A favourite of local audiences in Ards, Sarah has a true gift and captivates the audience with seamless playing and an effortlessly enchanting voice,” Crawford continues. “She and her guitar become one beautiful sound, and her goosebump-inducing rendition of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ was the perfect end to an outstanding performance.”
Ernie McMillen agrees: “It is rare in the guitar world to find a player who displays genius without arrogance, and who shares their hard-won skill and knowledge so selflessly,” he says. “I get to see many specialist guitarists up close, and many over-perform. It’s honey for the soul to witness Sarah McQuaid perform.”
Sarah McQuaid is currently hard at work writing songs for her fifth solo album, to be produced by folk icon Michael Chapman and released in 2018 (once again on the US-based Waterbug label) with album launch tours in the UK, Ireland, Continental Europe and the USA.
She also hopes to pen a sequel to The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, the popular tutor she authored on the alternative guitar tuning she uses exclusively – originally published in 1995 and still the standard reference on the subject, selling worldwide through Novello & Co./The Music Sales Group and Hal Leonard Corp.
In addition to her Ards appearance, April sees Sarah performing at the prestigious Costa del Folk Festival on the Spanish island of Ibiza and donating her services to a charity concert to benefit her local village hall in Cornwall. Summer and early-autumn appearances include an outdoor concert at Penzance’s Penlee Park, the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, Stainsby Festival, Evesham Arts Centre, Faversham Hop Festival, Southdowns Folk Festival, Stroud Folk Weekend and Rye Arts Festival.
Feature photo by Phil Nicholls (www.philnicholls.co.uk).