The Plum Tree and The Rose

by Sarah McQuaid

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about

The Plum Tree and the Rose is the third album by Sarah McQuaid, a gifted and captivating performer whose warm, haunting alto is delicately cradled by her “sparkling guitar” (Sing Out!). She is both song crafter and song collector, equally at home with traditional Irish and Appalachian folk songs, Elizabethan ballads and 1930s jazz numbers.

Her musical output is a direct and unfolding reflection of her own eclectic background: Sarah was born in Spain, raised in Chicago, holds dual US and Irish citizenship, and currently lives in rural England. While the genre, era and geographical location of her songs may change, at their core is a musician who has soaked it all in – and, luckily for us, is able to eloquently express the stories she’s gathered.

Produced by Gerry O’Beirne (Midnight Well, Patrick Street, Sharon Shannon Band), engineered by Trevor Hutchinson (Waterboys, Lúnasa) and released on the Chicago-based Waterbug Records label, The Plum Tree and the Rose opens with “Lift You Up and Let You Fly,” one of nine originals on this thirteen-song album. Warm strains from Bill Blackmore’s flugelhorn envelop a tender love letter from mother to daughter. Up next is “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers,” Sarah’s ode to the remarkable woman who in 1590 built the magnificent Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

“Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” introduces a set of sister themes – spiritual questioning and the relationship between soul and place – that inspired a trio of originals dedicated to this topic: title track “The Plum Tree and the Rose” (track 12), “In Derby Cathedral” (track 5) and “Kenilworth” (track 4). “Living in the UK, I’m constantly struck by the powerful imprint made on the landscape here by thousands of years of human habitation,” Sarah explains. “And I think we all wonder at times about the big questions – why are we here, where are we going, does any part of us remain after we’ve gone. I’ve tried to address that in these songs.”

A folk album is not complete without comment on our current socio-political climate, and Sarah does excellent justice to the global economic downturn on “The Sun Goes on Rising” (co-written with producer Gerry O’Beirne). As percussionist Liam Bradley’s shuffling snare sets a tone of relentless perseverance, the fear of debt and poverty is embodied in the proverbial lurking “wolf at the door” – but, as the chorus points out, there’s hope for the patient. Also co-authored with O’Beirne are “So Much Rain,” a rumination on lost love and the changing of seasons, with Sarah’s plangent guitar and string-like vocal harmonies embellished by gossamer piano backing from Rod McVey, and “What Are We Going To Do,” an old-fashioned ‘first kiss’ song in the Golden Age style of Rodgers & Hart, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Sarah’s cover of “Solid Air,” the late John Martyn’s tribute to Nick Drake, is delivered here as a soulful duet, this time with Bill Blackmore on trumpet; other surprises include “S’Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada,” a 13th century “alba” or dawn song sung in Old Occitan, a sparse arrangement for voice and DADGAD-tuned guitar of Elizabethan composer John Dowland’s “Can She Excuse My Wrongs,” and “New Oysters New,” a three-part canon published in 1609 by Thomas Ravenscroft, featuring guest vocalists Niamh Parsons and Tom Barry. The album closes with Sarah’s original six-part canon of Thanksgiving, “In Gratitude I Sing.”

credits

released 05 March 2012

Produced by Gerry O’Beirne
Engineered by Trevor Hutchinson
Recorded and mixed at Marguerite Studios, Glasnevin, Dublin
Mastered by Sander van der Heide at Polyhymnia International, Baarn, The Netherlands
Design and original cover artwork by Mary Guinan
Photography by Colm Henry

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about

Sarah McQuaid Penzance, UK

Rising star Sarah McQuaid’s voice has been likened to malt whiskey, melted chocolate and “honey poured into wine” (Minor 7th). 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. ... more

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Track Name: Lift You Up and Let You Fly
Oh my pretty little bird
You’ve got fragile little bones
The beauty in your eyes
Leaves me terrified

So much danger in this world
I’m scared to let you out alone
Scared to let you spread your baby wings
And take to flight

But though my belly made you
I can’t hold you, I can’t cage you
I can’t lay my fears to rest
But I can try
To lift you up and let you fly
Let you fly

Since the day you were born
I’ve tried to keep you from harm
Tried to teach you to protect yourself
From evil things

As you set out on your way
There’s so much more I want to say
Before you flutter to the edge
And start to beat your wings

But I know that I can’t save you
From whatever fate awaits you
Be it bitterness or joy
And I will try
To lift you up and let you fly
Let you fly

And if your feathers fail you
I’ll try to catch you as you fall
But when I set you free
And you fly away from me
I know you might not come back at all

Lift you up and let you fly
Let you fly
Let you fly

Sweet bird I love you so
Can’t bear to let you go
Little girl of mine
It’s hard but I will try
To let you fly
Track Name: Hardwick's Lofty Towers
The boy to whom I first was wed
Was dead within the year
I cried many an angry tear
In widow’s weeds I pleaded for my dower
I wasn’t thinking then of Hardwick’s lofty towers
Of Hardwick’s lofty towers

Another match was found for me
And he was wise and kind
Strong in body and in mind
He loved me well, with children I did flower
I was on my way to Hardwick’s lofty towers
To Hardwick’s lofty towers

A widow I became once more
Before I’d reached my prime
Yet again cruel Fate was kind
As sweet William’s wife my life’s happiest hours
Were spent far away from Hardwick’s lofty towers
From Hardwick’s lofty towers

A dreadful thing then came to pass
Alas, he was struck down
And though another match I found
The joy I gained did wane and turn sour
I consoled myself with Hardwick’s lofty towers
With Hardwick’s lofty towers

Bess of Hardwick is my name
My fame is ensured
By my works and by my words
I built my castle tall for all to admire
I have left my soul in Hardwick’s lofty towers
In Hardwick’s lofty towers

I have carved my name in golden letters in the sky
So that those who follow after me
Will know that I was born and died
Track Name: Kenilworth
How may a subject court his queen
How may he make her see
That she must be his lady

I’ve made you a garden
I am your Eyes
Your bonny Robin

Here are sweetly shadowed paths of grass and sand
Where you may walk and take your ease
Here are herbs and gillyflowers
Whose scent perfumes and purifies the air you breathe

Here is a fountain made from white Carrara marble
Carved with strange and stirring scenes
Here is a birdhouse set with gemstones
Where canaries sing and golden feathers gleam

All for you
All for you

I’ve made you a garden
I am your Eyes
Your bonny Robin

How may a subject court his queen
How may he make her see
That she must be his lady
Track Name: In Derby Cathedral
In Derby Cathedral
I read through the names on the wall
And I think of them all
I think of them all

Say a prayer for the souls of the faithful departed
Who’ve walked through these halls
Say a prayer for them all
Say a prayer for them all

So many who laboured
To praise their creator
With towers of glass, wood and stone
Where I wander alone
Soul, flesh and bone

In Derby Cathedral
It’s peaceful, but not in my mind
No peace can I find
No peace can I find

So many people
In Derby Cathedral
Soul, flesh and bone
Glass, wood and stone

In Derby Cathedral
I read through the names on the wall
And I think of them all
I think of them all

So many people
In Derby Cathedral
Soul, flesh and bone
Glass, wood and stone

In Derby Cathedral
I found my last home
My soul free to roam
My name carved in stone
Listen to the bells
Ringing out for me
Track Name: The Sun Goes On Rising
I hear the wolf at the door
I’ve seen his face before
He’s hungry and I’m tired
Can’t keep him out much more

Through a chink in the blind
I watch him pace a line
Better step back from the window
He’s only biding his time

Spring follows winter
Sun follows shower
Things will get better
If only I can hold that wolf at bay
Drive him away
Cos the sun goes on rising every day

I’m keeping the faith
I’m still in the race
I’m marking down the time
Till I can get to a better place

Spring follows winter
Sun follows shower
Things will get better
If only I can hold that wolf at bay
Drive him away
Cos the sun goes on rising every day

Seagulls fly in cloudy skies
Morning comes and amber turns to grey
Cos the sun goes on rising every day
And the time will come when I don’t feel this way

Seagulls fly in cloudy skies
Morning comes and amber turns to grey
The sun goes on rising every day
Track Name: S'Anc Fuy Belha Ni Prezada
S’anc fui belha ni prezada
Ar sui d’aut en bas tornada
Qu’az un vilan sui donada
Tot per sa gran manentia
E murria
S’ieu fin amic non avia
Cuy disses mo marrimen
E guaita plazen
Que mi fes son d’alba

Ja per guap ni per menassa
Que mos mals maritz me fassa
No mudarai qu’ieu no jassa
Ab mon amic tro al dia
Quar seria
Desconoissens vilania
Qui's partria malamen
Son amic valen
De si, tro en l’alba

If before I was beautiful and esteemed
Now I am turned from high to low
For I am given to a vulgar man
All because of his great wealth
And I would die
If I did not have a noble lover
To whom I could tell my unhappiness
And a pleasing watchman
To sound the dawn for me

Never for any gibes or threats
That my wicked husband may make to me
Will I cease lying
With my lover until daylight
For it would be
Ungrateful and base
If anyone wickedly sent away
Their worthy lover
Before the dawn
Track Name: Can She Excuse My Wrongs
Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue’s cloak
Shall I call her good when she proves unkind
Are those clear fires which vanish into smoke
Must I praise the leaves where no fruit I find

No no: where shadows do for bodies stand
Thou may’st be abus’d if thy sight be dim
Cold love is like to words written on sand
Or to bubbles which on the water swim

Wilt thou be thus abused still
Seeing that she will right thee never
If thou can’st not o’ercome her will
Thy love will be thus fruitless ever

Was I so base, that I might not aspire
Unto those high joys which she holds from me
As they are high, so high is my desire
If she this deny, what can granted be

If she will yield to that which Reason is,
It is Reason’s will that Love should be just
Dear, make me happy still by granting this
Or cut off delays if that I die must

Better a thousand times to die
Than for to live thus still tormented
Dear, but remember it was I
Who for thy sake did die contented
Track Name: New Oysters New
New oysters, new oysters, new oysters new
Have you any wood to cleave (repeat)
What kitchen stuff have ye maids (repeat)
Track Name: So Much Rain
The rain falls in sheets on the pavement outside
The car tyres are splashing the passers-by
This town was always grey, and it’s greyer tonight
The wind sings a desolate lullaby

So much rain
That I can’t see through
I thought we’d be together when the season changed
Spring was the promise I made to you
You said you’d wait for better weather

I hear your voice in the rain
You told me you’d be back again
When the flowers came up again
Well, here they are and where are you

The street lights shine bright on the shop windowpane
My ghostly reflection thrown back at me again
The blossoms on the cherry trees hang ragged in the rain
And I’ve only myself to blame

So much rain
That I can’t see through
I thought we’d be together when the season changed
Spring was the promise I made to you
You said you’d wait for better weather

I hear your voice in the rain
You told me you’d be back again
When the flowers came up again
Well, here they are and where are you
Track Name: What Are We Going To Do
I didn’t know that kiss was coming
Guess I could have started running
Soon as I saw what you were thinking
Serves me right
I shouldn’t have been drinking
But anyway, you did
So let’s consider

What are we going to do about it
This little thing that you and me have started
Tonight is not enough
I might just fall in love with you
What are we going to do

I wouldn’t say that this was unexpected
If you hadn’t kissed me I’d regret it
Cos when you leaned my way
I couldn’t turn my face from you
What are we going to do

This could be the edge of something
Dangerous, too
But right now it’s all new

I don’t know what way to play it
In the light of day we might not make it
I don’t know if it’s real
I don’t know how to deal with you
What are we going to do

What are we going to do about it
This little thing that you and me have started
Tonight is not enough
I might just fall in love with you
What are we going to do
Track Name: The Plum Tree and The Rose
The yellow rose you planted has survived
Battered by the wind but still alive
The leaves are curled and brown, the flowers are few
And every bud that opens makes me think of you
Think of you

The plum tree in the orchard’s doing fine
Our damson brandy’s turning out all right
It’s cloudy and it’s strong, but it’ll do
And every drop I swallow makes me think of you
Think of you

A little boy is running down the lane
He’s got your big grey eyes, he’s got your name
His trouser legs are dripping wet with dew
And every time I look at him I think of you
Think of you

Oh, the years pass ever faster
And there are no ready answers
To the questions we keep asking
On the nature of our souls
But this I know
Yours is in the little boy
The plum tree and the rose
The plum tree and the rose
The plum tree and the rose
Track Name: In Gratitude I Sing
This earth of ours is beautiful
The sky, the rocks, the trees
The birds and the animals, rivers and seas
In gratitude I sing to you
For I am thankful, I am thankful
I am thankful in my soul