St. Peter and St. James Church, Norton St. Philip, near Bath.
A double-whammy episcopal weekend for me this Bank Holiday; Friday night in the mighty nave of Bristol Cathedral, and then last night in the delighful, reassuring and quintessentially C of E confines of the Grade 2* listed 14th century parish church of Norton St. Philip in Zummerzet.
We’d driven a fair way to reach the village. It’s famous amongst my peers for the real-ale-tastic delights of The George pub, originally a 14th century wool store for the local priory, happily repurposed as a less industrial and mightily more appetising coaching inn in the 17th century, when folk like Samuel Pepys dropped by for a swift half from time to time while traipsing between Bath and Salisbury. The whole village, situated where it is on a major route to and from the Georgian city, and surrounded by wealth and agricultural fecundity, is stacked with historical architecture from Roman times onwards.
Enough of the Griff Rhys Jones waffle; the real reason we’d made the trip was to see and hear Sarah McQuaid play at the start of another of her brilliant small-venue tours. I’ve sung her praises here before, and there are plenty of upcoming opportunities for you to hear what I’m talking about – here’s the link to her current tour schedule:
Last night’s gig was another tour-de-force. I can’t remember the last time I saw an artist open their show with an acappella song delivery that hung everything on staggeringly accurate voice control and pitch perfection. How marvellously brave! Sarah’s ability to control, with great sensitivity, the volume and intensity of her vocal delivery is a wonderful asset – she got our attention, everyone was captured in the moment, and she used the silence of the room and the rapt engagement of the audience to drop everything down to a careful whisper, bringing emphasis to the critical lyricality of her song. At the end of the first number, in that tiny gap between breath and applause, I heard someone at the front – only 20 feet way – mutter a quiet “Wow”. I knew then, even as I’d known before she starting to sing, that the next hour and more would bring even greater delights.
We heard smatterings from several of her back cataloue, all of which are laden with little gems. In her usual style, each song is introduced with a brief explanation of it’s provencnce. My wife, who had never heard her perform before, was entranced by her songs; we heard a generous well chosen selection throughout the first section of the gig. Huge Brownie points to me for buying the second ticket! After a brief interval we were treated to more of Sarah’s songs, plus several covers of other writer’s material. We heard a Dylan song (Tangled Up In Blue) given a fast, sparkling, effervescent bravuro performance that made me grin like a fool, a heartfelt and sensitive performance of a John Martyn song (Solid Air) wherein I could clearly catch the lyric for possibly the first time I’ve ever heard the song performed, and an exquisite version of Ewan MacColl’s perennial The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Every single one of her covers is a revelatory melding of the quality of the chosen song with Sarah’s outstanding and very personal delivery.
I’m going to continue to attend as many of her gigs as I can, and I’ll probably manage to report on some or all of them. But please don’t wait for me to remind you of her brilliance; find a gig you can reach yourself and buy some tickets. Pin them up on your wall at home so you don’t forget to go, and give yourself a musical evening that will remind you of the power and majesty of a single voice with simple instrumental accompaniment. She’s a powerhouse talent, don’t miss her.
Quiet, respectful and enthusiastic. No nutters. No chatters. Very few mobile chirrupings. We heard every word.
It made me think..
We are sitting on a huge resource of intimate, acoustically fine small venues in these islands; every little church or chapel needs to follow the lead of the ones in which Sarah has been playing for some time now.