I have wanted to visit The Convent at South Woodchester near Stroud for some time. It is quickly becoming a Destination Venue for the discerning musician wanting to play in the west of the UK. Coming over the bridge from Wales it is only a 1 hour 40 minute drive from my home near Swansea.
The brainchild of Matt & Charlotte Roberts, it is a sensational music venue with fantastic acoustics, beautiful architecture and the added attraction of being the base of NetGig which gives the artists the opportunity to broadcast the gig live which can be viewed live or for seen days thereafter at a small cost. Plus a rather gorgeous boutique hotel complex thrown in for good measure. I've seen several of the NetGigs which have all been excellent but nothing prepares you for the 'live' experience of attending a gig in The Convent.
And I must admit I picked a gem of a gig for my first Convent experience.
Sarah McQuaid - born in Spain, raised in Chicago, USA who formerly lived in Ireland and now a resident of Cornwall in the UK hot off the heels of a successful USA tour played The Convent as part of a short autumn UK tour in support of her latest album, the sublime Walking Into White.
Drawing on songs from throughout her 5 album career, which includes one recorded with Zoe (of Sunshine On A Rainy Day fame) under the name of MAMA, Walking Into White is her fourth solo album.
Tonight, it was just Sarah and her guitar. Shorn of some of the unusual production techniques and touches, especially on the Walking Into White album, the performance tonight showed just how strong the songs are. I would love an album of just Sarah and guitar in the future. It's an intimate and rewarding experience.
The evening started with The Sun Goes On Rising from her third album The Plum Tree And The Rose. Sarah has a crystal clear voice throughout the evening, it's a beautiful instrument and has richness of a multi-coloured tapestry of sound.
Using sparing loops and effects tonight added just the right amount of variation required to keep the audience (both in The Convent & Online) intrigued.
You could have heard a pin drop throughout the entire performance as Sarah weaved her magic. In fact - you can catch the whole performance here - as well as visit past performances and future ones too. All for just a small fee.
Next up was a lovely song - one of many from the latest album called The Tide.
For this latest album, Sarah has changed producers and has enrolled her cousin Adam Pierce & Jeremy Backofen who have introduced a multitude of new sounds and approaches to her new album.
Several of the songs on Walking Into White are based around experiences from reading several of the books in the Swallows & Amazon series by Arthur Ransome
I Am Grateful For What I Have is a lovely instrumental piece from the new album and here in The Convent, it sounds truly beautiful. The sound quality in The Convent is just world class and upon viewing the concert you'll see just how good it is.
On Walking Into White there are three short a capella sections called Sweetness & Pain Parts 1-3, Part 1 introduces the title track Walking Into White.
On the album, it is accompanied by a lone trumpet (or cornet) but here with just a lone acoustic guitar - it is truly captivating.
2015 has certainly been a vintage year for the female Singer/Songwriters - with superb albums from artists such as Bella Hardy, Ange Hardy, Olivia Chaney, Vanessa Peters. And to this list you can add Sarah McQuaid who has really pushed the boundaries of her own artistry with Walking Into White. Tonight's show features many of the tracks on the new album and the next track is one of my favourites on the album - Jackdaws Rising.
Sarah states that some reviewers of the album have said that it's almost impossible to play live and then goes on to play a superb version of the song using a stomp board and loops to accompany her shining acoustic guitar. Simply breathtaking,
One of the delights of a Convent show is that they are broadcast live over the internet and you have the opportunity to purchase the show to watch over a seven day period - with this in mind, Matt and his team select a couple of videos from the show to put onto YouTube. Tonight's selection includes the earlier The Tide and the next song up Yellowstone, which Sarah explains has a direct connection to her son.
Sarah likes to record and play a cover version and tonight she includes several in her set - the next song that Sarah plays is a delicious version of Jean Ritichie's Blue Diamond Mine.
Although the majority of tonight's set concentrates on the new album - Sarah also dips into her first album When Two Lovers Meet gives us Johnny Lad.
Sarah then turns to her second album, I Won't Go Home 'til Morning too with a spirited version of Only An Emotion.
Sarah now lives down in Cornwall - and I don't want to give away the stories that Sarah tells in her show but one I cannot help telling for obvious reasons is the fact that Sarah has recorded an album with Zoe Pollock, who is a neighbour, - now this Zoe is the one of Sunshine On A Rainy Day fame and Sarah includes the title track from that project - Crow Coyote Buffalo tonight.
In Yellowstone, Sarah sang about an incident with her young. With the final song in the set - track one from her The Plum Tree & The Rose album - Lift You Up And Let You Fly - is about her daughter and was incredibly moving. You could indeed literally hear a pin drop and I'm sure I saw several people with tears in their eyes after this song.
My favourite track on Walking Into White is Leave It For Another Day and I was SO glad that Sarah decided to play this live. And it was equally as stunning live.
As I stated earlier, Sarah does like a cover version and for the first song of a two song encore she gives a receptive Convent audience a truly gorgeous version of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which is also the final track on Walking Into White.
The final song of a truly gorgeous set tonight was a version of the crooner classic Mr Bojangles - I've never heard an acoustic guitar version of this song - my favourite has always been the Sammy Davis Jnr version - but this was unexpected and excellent.
And there endth my first Convent gig - and it definitely won't be the last - as I've got several booked over the next few months - it's a gorgeous venue with superb sound and atmosphere.
Get yourself down there.
And it won't be the last time I see Sarah McQuaid either - she's a captivating performer with a gorgeous voice, superb collection of albums and a truly adventurous musical nature. Seek her out, right now.
Twitter - @sarahmcquaid