Posted September 23, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

Amanda Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens Team Up on Poignant Portishead Cover

It's a Fire
It's a Fire

Singer-songwriters Amanda Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens have teamed for a timely cover of the Portishead tune “It’s a Fire.” With its evocative lyric “I can’t breathe through this mask,” the song comes off as a particularly poignant social statement.

Palmer and Giddens recorded from several continents during lockdown in the midst of one of the most turbulent times the world has ever seen.

“It’s A Fire” is available now on Bandcamp.

Half a world away from her New York home, Palmer found herself in New Zealand where her There Will Be No Intermission World Tour concluded in March. The decision to stay put aproved to be an inconceivably fortuitous one since New Zealand has successfully contained the virus.

“I was craving comfort during lockdown, listening to Portishead’s Dummy over and over again in the kitchen of our AirBnB, where I’d wound up an accidental single mother,” says Palmer in a press release. “Bent over a pile of dirty dishes in the sink one day, after receiving a long series of texts from my desperately sad friends in New York…I stopped in my tracks… There is something about this song that speaks to a deeper connection between things happening right now. Black Lives Mattering, COVID, fear and trust are all colliding with one another…I wanted this cover version to sound more like a dark closet talk between two friends…hanging onto each other for dear life whispering, ‘We’re gonna make it out of here.’”

Palmer contacted longtime collaborator Jherek Bischof and asked him to arrange the song for “our times.” Locked down in Los Angeles, he was up to the task and hired local string players who all played in isolation from one another.

Grammy winner and MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens had also just finished her own Australian tour in March in support of her 2019 release There Is No Other. Locked down in Ireland, Giddens, a six-time Grammy nominee, welcomed the collaboration.

“It was a delight to work on this with Amanda Palmer,” says Giddens. “It felt so good to make some art together, even separated by half a world. We all need to take a collective breath together, and breathe on…it’s all of us or none of us.”

Finally, Palmer tracked down a French illustrator residing in Melbourne, Australia, to help design the single artwork. Jessica Coppet’s mesmerizing realistic scribble portraits “bring to life her philosophical commitment to female empowerment.”

“Facial expression and anatomy have become a focal point for my art,” says Coppet. “Amanda wanted to portray two women supporting each other along with vintage and retro aspects to represent the inspiration for the song.”

All profits from this collaboration go to the Free Black University Fund, a hub for radical and transformative knowledge production.

“We are overjoyed at the generosity of Amanda and Rhiannon in choosing our project to give proceeds from this beautiful song to,” says Melz Owusu of the Free Black University team. “The donation will go so far in us building a sustainable programme of radical education that aims to transform the world.”


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].