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Only the brave

Dublin singer-songwriter told David Hennessy about her new single, what it has been like to have a pandemic hit while in the course of touring a debut album and why she had to play a live streamed gig during lockdown with a broken arm.

Sorcha Richardson was set for a summer full of touring her debut album. Released just last year First Prize Bravery was nominated for the Choice Music Prize in January. Sorcha did not expect to be releasing further material just a year on from that release.

However with all her gigs cancelled, Sorcha threw herself into writing over lockdown. While the Dalkey singer-songwriter’s catchy new track Starlight Lounge has a slightly wistful tone it has a strong message for these uncertain times.

Sorcha told The Irish World: “I guess it’s a song about how sometimes when life changes in a big way it happens in a series of small, intimate, quiet moments. That’s how it feels to me. I think the song is about connecting the dots and sort of surrendering to it and saying, ‘We’ll see what happens’ more than trying to control the narrative. I guess letting life take it’s course and being okay with that.”

Although the song already existed in an early form prior to the pandemic, lockdown gave Sorcha the time to finish it.
“Over lockdown I spent a lot of time looking at all of those half-written pieces of music that I had.

“James Vincent McMorrow, who I’ve done a bit of work with, sent me a message at one point just saying, ‘Do ya have any music that you’re working on?’ I think he was just looking for something to do. I sent him a couple of songs and this was one he really liked. When things eased up a little here at the end of the summer we were able to go into the studio and record it.

“Sometimes I write songs and it takes a year for them to come out. This one feels pretty recent which is a nice feeling.”

Sorcha jokes about the release day being on Friday 13th: “In 2020 is any day better than any other day? I’m really looking forward to it.”

Although Sorcha’s debut album was released in only November last year and she has already collected much material that could feature on the follow-up.

“I didn’t have any plans to be releasing a single at this time at all. Once we pressed pause on everything it meant that I would spend every day writing instead. I think I’m much further along with making new music than I would have been had the pandemic not happened.

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“I do have quite a lot of songs written. By no means am I finished another album. I’m still writing a lot.

“It’s funny. My debut was a collection of songs that I wrote over 4-5 years whereas I think whatever comes next will be a much more concentrated body of work from a very specific time. I’m getting closer but I’m not there yet.”

Although she describes having her summer of festivals cancelled as ‘anticlimactic’, Sorcha looks on the bright side of having had the opportunity to play the album before lockdown came in.

“I feel lucky in a way. My album came out in November so I still had 6 months where I could tour.

“I sort of feel like we got to do one lap around the track and then we were gearing up to do another bigger one when we had to pull the plug.

“It’s funny because you spend so long working on an album. For me a lot of the time when I’m thinking about making music it’s with a sight to playing those songs live so decisions I make in the studio are often to do with what the experience would be like when you play it live.

“It sort of feels like we didn’t get to give the album as much fuel as I would have liked but we still feel like the album got a chance. There are places I was excited to play. It doesn’t mean I won’t get to play those songs at those festivals or in those cities, it just means it wasn’t going to be this year and we’ll do it with more songs in the bag next time.

“I don’t think it gets easier the longer you go without playing shows. I think it’s almost the opposite. I saw an old video on instagram from last year’s Halloween when I was playing a gig at the Garage in London and just seeing a 10 second video of that show really made me miss touring.

“When you write new music you want to go and play it live. Whenever we get to do that again I’ll be very excited.”
Sorcha was due to play All Together Now festival alongside names like Iggy Pop and Lauryn Hill. This was one show she was disappointed didn’t get to go ahead but she also takes solace in the fact that the album is out there and being received well.

“I was just very proud of myself that I had gotten the album finished and to a point that I was very happy with it because it’s not an easy thing, to make an album and to finish it and to get it out. I was just proud of myself that I got it there.

“Obviously you want people to like it and receive it well.

“It’s great. I get messages from people in places far, far away that I’ve never been. They send me videos of them playing it in their car or listening with their friends and stuff. Numbers on a screen on Spotify is one thing but when you actually see songs that I’ve written here in my bedroom soundtrack moments of people’s lives that just always feels quite special and surreal. It makes it all feel real. The songs have a life outside of me. You release them and they go off, they fly away and they find themselves in all distant corners of the world. That’s very cool.
“Getting nominated for the Choice Prize felt quite special.”

Like every other nominated performer Sorcha played on the night of the awards and did not know it would her last show for some time.

“Actually that was just a week before lockdown so that was the last gig I played which felt like a good one to go out on because it’s our Irish music industry party. Everybody’s there.

“That was the first time I had ever played at Vicar Street. It’s such an iconic venue. I’ve been to so many shows there. It’s always exciting to step on a stage that is so important to the city you grew up in. When I was a teenager I would go to gigs at Vicar Street all the time.”

Sorcha would play two very different gigs at another famous Dublin venue, Whelan’s. The contrast between the two shows would illustrate how times had changed in between.

“Two days after the album came out I played a headline show at Whelan’s. It was sold out. That was in November and then in April I played Other Voices’ Courage sessions.

“I had to get a letter from the government just to let me drive to the venue because it was outside of my 2km we weren’t allowed to leave which I thought was very cool. I hung on to the letter.

“The last time I was in Whelan’s it was playing a sold-out show and then the next time I was there it was me and three camera men. I wasn’t even allowed to have my band. That felt so surreal. I felt really lucky that I was allowed to at least play some music. It still felt like a gig. I still had the pre-gig nerves and the post-gig adrenaline rush.”

Sorcha says seeing people commenting and enjoying the show made it feel more like a communal experience despite her being onstage in an empty venue.

“They had a screen set up which I was very grateful for because it did make me feel like there were people on the other side of the camera. I wasn’t just singing to myself. Friends of mine were watching it in California, London. In some ways it was nice because it meant people who wouldn’t be able to see me play a show in Dublin were able to watch.

“It was also at a time when everyone was so isolated. I wasn’t seeing anybody so it felt like a rare moment to actually be able to feel like I was part of something a little bit or just feel like I was in some way connected to other people which was rare in April.

“I actually played that gig with a broken arm as well. I fell off my bike about two days earlier and I didn’t want to go to the hospital because I was worried that they might tell me I couldn’t play the show so I waited a couple of days, played the gig. I was like, ‘I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to play a gig so I don’t want to jeopardise this one’. A couple of days after the Courage gig, I was like, ‘This isn’t getting any better maybe I should go to the hospital’.

“The doctor told me playing guitar would be good physio for me. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to do the gig after all.”
Sorcha returned home to Ireland in 2017 after eight years of living in New York and is glad she was at home when the pandemic hit.

“When the pandemic happened, I did feel very lucky to be at home for it. I was happy to not be in a city. A lot of the perks of being in a city are on hold. The things I love about New York I wouldn’t have been able to do in New York the last couple of months anyway. And I think sometimes it’s just nice to be at home when the world feels a little uncertain and there’s a lot of anxiety. You just feel more grounded.

“It took me a while to settle back here but now I absolutely love being in Dublin.”

Sorcha got an early start in music as she was forming bands with other kids in her class when she was ten.

Sorcha laughs remembering these childhood bands, one of which was named after the time they got out of school.

“I had loads of bands when I was a kid. 10 past 2 was one because that was the time we got out of school. Me and my cousin had a band.

“The school that I went to loads of us used to go to guitar lessons, loads of us played the drums, one of my teachers used to always play the Beatles every morning when we get into school. It was just a very musical class. We were ten-year-olds who were all making bands.”

One bandmate of that era was Eve Hewson who is now well known as an actress.

“We were in primary school together. I think I had a band with pretty much everyone in my class. There were all kinds of formations of us. It was fun.”

However, it took her some time to say aloud that music was the path she wanted to follow.

“I think I always wanted to do music but it took me a while to admit that to myself or to feel confident enough to even feel entitled to pursue it. I studied creative writing in college. I just didn’t want to put music in an academic setting. I just didn’t think it would suit me. I think I made the right decision. Very briefly I thought I might do journalism. When I tried other things, I was never as excited about anything in the way that I was about music. I grew in confidence with it and it became clear it was the thing that I wanted to do.”

“Creative writing definitely served me. I use that in my music quite a bit. I think my songwriting is very narrative-driven and that’s probably no coincidence.”

Landing in New York was certainly an adventure for the eighteen-year-old from Dalkey.
“It was overwhelming. It was very exciting, I didn’t really know what to expect and then I got there. I lived in a dorm for the first year. That made it much easier because very easy to make friends. Not everyone had come from as far away as Ireland but most people hadn’t grown up in New York so everyone had left home. It just felt like a very big adventure. Often I couldn’t believe that I got to live it but I loved it.

“I think New York will always feel a little bit like home because of the years I spent there. I was 18 when I got there. I left just before I turned 27. That’s a very formative time.”

Sorcha recently joined Denise Chaila, Murli and God Knows for the single Out the Gaff. The raucous and fun single was supposed to be the sound of a country coming and staying out of lockdown but unfortunately things haven’t gone that way.

“It was funny. We released out the gaff which is kind of celebration of freedom in a way and returning to the things you miss in lockdown and then a few weeks later our whole country went back into lockdown. I think we’ll play that pretty loud when we come out of this one.

“Especially after spending so much time at home to be able to go to the studio with James, Denise, God Knows and Murli, it was so exciting just to be able to make music with other people.

“I’m just like, ‘When can we play this one live?’ I really want to play that one at a festival or something.”

Starlight Lounge is out now.

For more information, click here.

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