Thursday, 29 August 2013

Is Sarah McQuaid the hardest-gigging folkie?

Sarah McQuaid
Photo by Colm Henry (
If anyone else in the world of folk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter and roots works harder than Sarah McQuaid, they deserve a medal!

Sarah - surely the UK's hardest-gigging folkie - seems to spend most of her life on the road, and she's just about to embark on the next leg of her tour, with dates in the UK and the USA (see below for details).

This year she has already played shows in Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as in Britain, and there seems to have hardly been a week over the past few years when she hasn't been performing somewhere.

Her Autumn 2013 tour sees her playing live at a string of gigs that take her from the south coast of England up to the Hebridean island of Colonsay, via Olympia in London, and then off to the USA before returning in November for more UK dates.

Her musical output reflects her own eclectic background: Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and now lives in rural England.

Refusing to be pigeonholed, she spans the genres with both her beautifully crafted originals and her interpretations of material from around the globe and down the centuries.

We asked Sarah a few questions.

Q: How long have you been working as a touring musician, and how did you get started?
When I was much younger I toured with a band, but I've only been touring as a solo performer since March 2007, and only doing long (4 weeks and over) tours since February 2010. 

I'd released my first solo album in 1998 and had every intention of going out and touring it, but life took over and by 2006 I was working a very demanding full time job, had two small children and had pretty much completely stopped playing music. Then I was asked to co-present a guitar workshop with Dick Gaughan at the Strandhill Guitar Festival near Sligo, Ireland. Dick was very encouraging, and I decided to start booking myself a short tour for March 2007, on the theory that if I had a decent tour booked by the start of January I could hand in my notice at my job, and if I found it too difficult to book a decent tour all I had to do was cancel any gigs I'd managed to book. I did manage to get a decent tour booked, handed in my notice and have been a full time musician ever since.

Q: How do you get so many gigs when so many artists complain that they struggle for bookings?
I'm very lucky in that I was able to get quite a bit of live video footage very early on in my career, so I was able to send YouTube video links to venues and they'd decide to book me based on that. There are loads of artists who can record beautiful CDs but aren't very strong live performers, and I think venues have cottoned on to that, so they're understandably reluctant to book anybody they haven't seen perform live. 

 I do still get responses from some venues who say that no matter how many YouTube videos I have, they still won't book me until they've seen me live! But fortunately the video footage works for a lot of places, and I'm also increasingly getting a lot of repeat bookings and a lot of bookings based on personal recommendations from other venue organisers.

Q: What have been some of the more unusual places you've played?
I play in all sorts of venues -- small theatres and arts centres, churches, village halls, schools, clubs, pubs, house concerts. In the US I've done several gigs in old general stores that have been converted into music venues, all very atmospheric with loads of vintage merchandise and other paraphernalia still scattered around the place. I've also done a couple of house concerts where the hosts had essentially built a concert hall in their own home, complete with stage, lights and bar with beer on tap! And I've done two concerts at National Trust properties, which were lovely.

On one US tour I did a gig in Leadville, Colorado, the highest city in the USA at an elevation of 10,152 feet above sea level! I was ok for the gig itself, just had to breathe a bit more deeply and often than usual, but sleeping was dreadful. Because your breathing automatically gets slower and shallower when you're asleep, that's when the lower level of oxygen in the air really gets to you. I didn't sleep well at all, and woke up feeling as though I had the most terrible hangover, even though I hadn't drunk anything stronger than orange juice!

I've also played in the courtyard of my children's school, by way of a benefit concert for school funds, and on one memorable occasion I was booked to do a gig in what turned out to be the basement corridor of a pub. No windows, no chairs, and loads of noise coming in from the cooling equipment for the beer barrels in the storeroom next door. I got through it, but that's one venue I wouldn't be in a hurry to return to! Oh, and one of the general stores I mentioned earlier is in a tiny little hamlet called Lupus, Missouri, which we reached by driving down a dirt road and where all the houses have been lifted up onto stilts to protect them from future flood damage following one disastrous flood some years back. I'm looking forward to playing there again during my autumn US tour.
Q: You (hopefully!) enjoy touring, so how do you keep yourself sane when you're on the road and away from home so much?
I'm very lucky in that I have a wonderful manager, Martin Stansbury, who's also my road manager and touring sound engineer. He does all the driving and handles all the day-to-day scheduling, logistics and communications with venue organisers, and that takes a lot of the stress out of it for me -- all I have to concentrate on is putting on the best performance that I possibly can. He's also finally succeeded in persuading me to take occasional days off -- I used to just pack as many gigs as I possibly could into a tour, but now I try to do no more than 5 gigs in a row before taking a day off. That definitely helps!

Sarah has long been a friend of FolkCast. You can hear Sarah's music in these editions of the podcast:
FolkCast 075 - The Summer Sizzler - August 2012
FolkCast 024 - December 2007

Friday, 2 August 2013

Lúnasa in the UK

Ireland's premier traditional acoustic band Lúnasa will return to the UK for a ten date tour in September.
Lunasa - logging on for UK tour

The band has been playing to French, English and Spanish festival audiences this summer, and is poised to embark on concert-goers the length and breadth of the country. 

The September tour will promote the offical album release 'Lúnasa with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra' a musical collaboration that marks a true first for the all-star band and the world-renowned national orchestra of Ireland. Initially filmed live in concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin on 19 June 2012, the album was recorded following the broadcast of the concert on RTÉ Radio shortly thereafter.

Formed in 1996 Lúnasa is widely-known for original compositions, powered by double bass-driven rhythms. The band features Kevin Crawford, Sean Smyth and Cillian Vallely on traditional Irish instrumentation of low whistle, uilleann pipes, tin whistles and fiddle, augmented by Trevor Hutchinson on double bass and Ed Boyd on guitar.

Sold out tours of the UK, USA, Europe and Japan have helped Lúnasa gain major international acknowledgement.

In addition to the band's own tours, Lunasa has toured and performed with some well-known and respected artists including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Rosanne Cash, and Billy Bragg

Drawing on a repertoire from nine albums Lúnasa create memorable musical evenings that will leave audiences in no doubt that, in the words of the Sydney Herald, "Lúnasa is the most exciting band to emerge from Ireland in a long, long time".

21 Sep             Rye Arts Fest                          Rye College
22 Sep             Crawley                                   The Hawth
23 Sep             Frome                                      Cheese & Grain
24 Sep             Wellingborough                       The Castle
25 Sep             Birmingham                             Town Hall
26 Sep             London                                    Bush Hall
27 Sep             Leicester                                 Grammar School
28 Sep             Liverpool                                 Citadel
29 Sep             Burnley                                    The Mechanics (recording for BBC Radio Lancashire)
30 Sep             Newcastle-under-Lyme           New Vic