FOLK singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid undertook a perigrination from Madrid to the States to Ireland before arriving in mainland Britain’s ultima thule, the deep Penwith peninsula.
She’s releasing a series of intimate single videos under the banner the St Buryan Sessions, which will ultimately lead to a full album later in the summer; but for today, let’s glory in the Penwithian version of “Charlie’s Gone Home”, the first original song she ever recorded as a solo artist – filmed in the hallowed surrounds of St Buryan’s formerly collegiate parish church, in front of a marvellous rood screen carved with all manner of fanciful beings.
Sarah originally laid down “Charlie’s Gone Home” for her 1997 debut album When Two Lovers Meet, at which time it already had been knocking around a while, as Sarah recalls.
“I’d actually written it back when I was still living in Philadelphia, so it would have been the late 1980s or early 90s.
“I can remember very clearly the day I wrote it – back in those days I was still thinking of myself not as a songwriter but as a folk singer who happened to write an occasional song when inspiration struck, so to speak.
“I remember reading an interview with some poet, where she said that when she felt a new poem starting to arrive it was like an oncoming train, and she had to rush to her desk to be there ready with pen and paper when the train pulled in to the station.
“Well, this song hit me exactly like an oncoming train, only one that was barrelling along at full steam with whistles blaring.
“It really knocked me for six, and I remember just sitting on the sofa crying and trying to wipe the tears off my guitar so they didn’t mark the finish – not because it was a sad song but just from the overwhelming emotional impact of writing it.
“It’s been kind of a special song for me ever since, and a lot of people have told me it’s a special song for them, too – at least two different people said ‘Well, I hope “Charlie’s Gone Home” is going to be on it’ as soon as I told them about the project.”
Her voice and guitar ring and chime high and clear in the centuries-old sacred space, a beacon of song in the building with Kernow’s second highest church tower, visible from right across Mount’s Bay.
The St Buryan Sessions had its genesis last spring, when Sarah’s gigs and tours were cancelled due to the rise of the ‘rona. She used crowdfunding to finance a beautifully recorded and filmed album and video series that would capture the essence of a live performance – even without an audience.
“We set her up as if it were a regular gig,” explains Sarah’s manager and sound engineer, Martin Stansbury.
“No flash studio mics, just the same touring PA and monitors she’d walked onstage to a thousand times, so it would be truly home territory.”
Martin also placed ambient microphones around the lofty granite church soaring space to capture its natural acoustics, while Cornish filmmaker and director Mawgan Lewis and Eden Sessions veteran camera operator John Crooks were able to take full advantage of camera angles that would not have been possible if audience sightlines had been a consideration.
“I’m totally thrilled with the result,” says Sarah, “and I’m so glad that we were able to do it in a place that’s been so special to me on a personal level – plus, the church itself had a huge impact on the overall sound, as well as on the visuals.
“I’m really grateful to Canon Vanda Perrett and the St Buryan Parish Council, and to the St Buryan Male Voice Choir for letting me use their lovely grand piano, and most of all to the 184 individuals who contributed to the FundRazr campaign. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
“Charlie’s Gone Home” is available now for streaming and download via Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Bandcamp and other digital services.
Sarah hopes to release the full 15-track, 72-minute album on CD and double LP in late summer.