Many artists have resorted to producing and performing virtual online concerts during the coronavirus lockdown, as a means of staying in touch with their fan bases while often raising money through ticket sales or donations.
But renowned singer-songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson, who has been particularly active with living room concerts during the quarantine, used his 50-minute online concert Sunday (his fourth during lockdown) to promote his just-released six-song acoustic EP Bloody Noses, which he recorded at his home studio over the last couple months.
Billed as a livestream launch party, Thompson performed the entire EP from the living room couch at his home in New Jersey. He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, and on his old song “Lucky in Life, Unlucky in Love,” vintage mandolin. He was vocally assisted on the latter tunes by his “fellow lockdownee” Zara Phillips, the singer-songwriter/author and adoption activist whose latest album, Meditation & KitKats, was produced and arranged by Thompson, who also performed on it together with his crack backup band.
Thompson, whose band and solo performances are almost as memorable for his charming commentary as they are for his mesmerizing musical virtuosity, began by humbly describing the “amazing scene” in front of him, what with “celebrities everywhere...the tinkling of glasses...good to see you...Your Highness! Thanks for dropping in!” It certainly was a surprise, but then again, he had been honored with the Order of the British Empire "for services to music" in Queen Elizabeth’s 2011 New Year’s Honours List.
He also revealed that his performances would contain a deliberate mistake in every song (one with a coughing fit, another played in the wrong key for a few seconds, and yet another marred by a very annoying neighbor’s knock on the door and ensuing complaint), thereby necessitating purchase and download of the recorded version. However, on his performance of the EP’s closer “What’s Up With You?” (which was inspired by Buddy Holly, he said, as he had heard the entire Holly catalog from his sister’s record collection), there were “40 to 50” deliberate mistakes, such that finding one required little effort.
Noting that he’d get to “the happy songs a little later...like 2025,” he eventually landed on “Survivor,” inducing admiring befuddlement in Phillips with an intro evoking “the last person left in the lifeboat after they’ve eaten everybody else!” Phillips, for her part, was in fine voice, and as luck would have it, happened to have a copy of her own release readily within reach.
“Support your local artist...me!” Thompson said at the end, soft-selling his EP, which is currently available via the Bandcamp online music platform. He acknowledged the black-and-white motorcycle photos framed above him (a gift from a fan) and said that no, he didn’t receive a free bike for his much-requested classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” then offered one final tune, “leaving you lots of time to go to the bank!”
The closer was also new but not on the EP, as he’s saving it for his band: “It’s called, ‘When the Saints Rise Out of the Grave,’” he said, adding, “It could happen!”
All in all it was a standard Thompson set—a thoroughly entertaining mix of great material and musicianship and wry wit . He answered questions about the EP shortly after, in a brief email exchange with centerline.news.
The first track, “As Soon as You Hear the Bell,” has a boxing theme, and the EP artwork is a typically tongue-in-cheek image of you playing guitar while wearing boxing gloves. Is that where the title Bloody Noses comes in?
I’m going through a divorce, and it feels a bit like that.
So how did the EP come about?
I often record home demos of songs, sometimes to send out to the band, sometimes just to get a perspective on them. With the lockdown, I thought I could collect some of these into an EP and release it now, not really knowing when the next studio record would be feasible.
You’ve said it’s mostly acoustic with some overdubs, and that you played all the instruments.
It’s all my own work, honest! Just acoustic guitar, a bit of electric, mandolin and some hand percussion. Zara sings some harmony. I sent it off to [longtime right-hand music man] Simon Tassano to mix.
How long did it take to do?
Probably spread over a couple of months--but not exactly working every day. That’s the nice thing about recording at home: When you get an idea, you can put it down.
Anything noteworthy about the songs?
The themes and styles are wide-ranging. As usual, I wonder why I write about certain topics, but as long as it makes for a good song, I don’t question myself too deeply.
The EP is only available digitally?
It’s only available on Bandcamp, digital only. When the planets realign, we’ll press it up and sell CDs at live shows. Bandcamp gives you the choice of format, so you can download full CD quality and burn to your own disc. I know my fans incline to the antediluvian.
Ha! You did say that they don’t do downloads—and that you don’t blame them! You also suggested that there will be a second EP—a “diametrically opposite riposte” to the songs on this one!
I have more songs that could constitute a Part Two, and that could come fairly soon. I’m saving songs also for the band.
How has the shutdown affected you otherwise?
Like most musicians--in fact, like the whole of the events industry--it’s a struggle. Streaming services have destroyed royalty income, so most musicians have been relying on live work for the last 10 years, and selling a few t-shirts. I have no shows for probably 12 months! Like a lot of people, I’ll be cashing in my pension.
Richard Thompson's "Bloody Noses" EP online launch party (with Zara Phillips)