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'I'm trying to use this time as creatively as possible... Now I'm properly engaged' - Sorcha Richardson

For Sorcha Richardson, a summer of touring her debut album did not come to pass, but she has made the most of her downtime by making new music and will be joining some of Ireland's finest talent in a virtual show for a cause close to her heart

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Stripped back: Richardson has released a four-track EP

Stripped back: Richardson has released a four-track EP

Stripped back: Richardson has released a four-track EP

Sorcha Richardson tries not to be tormented by the what-might-have-beens: the headline shows she would have performed in support of her debut album and the festival dates that she thought would fill her 2020 summer. Right now, the Dubliner is doing her best not to think about what would have been her maiden appearance at the All Together Now festival in Co Waterford next weekend.

"I was so looking forward to it," she says, via video call, "what a line-up it had! But everybody has had their disappointments and you hope there will be other times."

Like every musician on the planet, the 29-year-old is having to get used to not playing in front of a live audience, but she is using the down-time to work on songs for her second album. "If there's one upside for me," she says, "it's the fact that I'll probably release a second album much quicker than I thought I would."

Her debut album, First Prize Bravery, came out in November and met with universally glowing reviews. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Feist, it is a remarkably assured collection and is more redolent of an artist several albums into their career rather than one taking their first, tentative steps.

It was a long time in the making. Many of the songs came to fruition when she was living in New York - Richardson was based in Brooklyn for seven years, having done a degree in creative writing there. "New York is a key part of so many of those songs," she says. "I was there during my early adult years and it's become such an important place for me."

She returned to Ireland in 2017. When the pandemic arrived, she was relieved to be surrounded by family and old friends. "New York was hit hard in the beginning," she says. "And it's sad to think of a place as vibrant and full of life as it being under lockdown."

Studying creative writing helped with her lyrics. "I pick my words very carefully," she says. "And I certainly did with this album." But the degree also made her realise she didn't want to be a novelist. "I just don't have the discipline for that," she says, with a chuckle. "And novel-writing takes a huge amount of time and discipline. I'd get distracted too easily."

The Dalkey native started to play music when she was at primary school. Her grandfather played keyboards and he showed her the ropes. Even before secondary school, she had formed a band with classmate Eve Hewson - Bono's daughter and now an actress of considerable distinction.

Her parents were not musicians but they played music that had a significant impression on the young Sorcha, including Joni Mitchell. She learnt to play songs while at Newpark Comprehensive - the south Dublin school that boasts an enviable music tuition legacy.

She feels lucky that she got to play a fortnight of shows in the UK this year, as well as a headline appearance at Whelan's in Dublin before everything closed down. She also played Vicar Street for the first time, at the Choice Music Prize live event. She was chuffed to be among the nominees for best Irish album of 2019, a prize won by Lankum for The Livelong Day.

"I'm trying to use this time as creatively as possible," she says, "but I have to admit that it was hard, initially, to focus. Everything was so new and my mind was elsewhere. Now, I feel properly engaged."

On Friday, Richardson released a four-track EP, Isolation Home Recordings. It features stripped-back versions of three tracks from the album, including the exquisite 'Don't Talk About It', and 'Ruin Your Night'. The recordings are acoustic and hushed and the quality of her songcraft is writ large: when the compositions are as bare-boned as these, there is no hiding place.

"Some of it was recorded directly into my mobile phone," she says. "I didn't have much equipment with me in the early stages of lockdown, but it was something [recording the EP] that got me focused."

Returning to previously recorded songs helped give her a path towards writing new material. "It got me into the sort of head space I needed in which to be creative," she says. "When it became obvious that there wouldn't be conventional shows for quite some time, it made me focus on songwriting - something I've always loved." She hasn't looked back.

Whelan's was the last time Richardson played in front of a live audience and it was also the venue that she returned to for a Courage 2020 concert - virtual shows filmed under the Other Voices banner and broadcast by RTÉ. There have been several excellent live performances - including Fontaines DC's superb set at Kilmainham Gaol this month - and Richardson says the experience was life-affirming for her.

"It was entirely different to playing Whelan's just a few months before, but you could see [on a laptop] all the comments coming in from people who were watching live and although there were just four people in the room recording it all, I got over that quickly and got a sense that there were people out there - from all over - who were looking on."

She will get to do it again tonight. Richardson is one of 18 Irish acts - including Denise Chaila, the Stunning and her Faction Records label-mate James Vincent McMorrow - who will perform shows from five venues around the country this evening. Snippets of each concert will be broadcast live on RTÉ television and radio as well as the RTÉ Player.

In Songs from an Empty Room Richardson and her regular keyboard player, Theodora Byrne, will play Dolan's in Limerick. Viewers are asked to donate to a fund to help live music crew and technicians, who have seen their livelihoods vanish overnight.

She is excited to be playing a bone fide music venue again and is happy that the event is in aid of a cause close to her heart. "The people who work in those venues don't just make you sound better - they're fundamental to the whole live experience," she says. "There's so much talent in this country, and they are people with very specialised skills.

"I want to see them back when all this is over and I hope this event helps everyone realise that when they go to a show there are so many people behind the scenes who help to make it all happen. Without these technical people - and bookers and drivers and everyone who is involved in any way - live shows just can't happen."

Richardson had number of Irish dates lined up for September - including a show at Dublin's Button Factory - but with phase four of lockdown reopening pushed back until August 10 at the earliest, there was a grim sort of inevitability that they would be postponed. New dates have been pencilled in for February 2021.

"I try not to think about it so much," she says, "because it's all so daunting. And nobody can say with certainty what's going to happen. I'm trying to stay in the moment and not look too far into the future. I've been recording in an actual studio [new facility, The Clinic in Clontarf] and I'm just very grateful to be able to do that. You've got to be thankful for the little things that make everything feel normal again."

'Songs from an Empty Room' will be broadcast on RTÉ2 and 2fm tonight from 8.30pm

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