Carry Your Kin

The Breath

Released 08 July 2016

  1. Harvest
  2. Antwerp
  3. For You
  4. This Dance Is Over
  5. Boat Song
  6. The Toll
  7. Carry Your Kin
  8. Our Own Way
  9. Tremelone

Liner notes

Stuart McCallum and Ríoghnach Connolly are such opposites in character and background that each is integral to the other. Their joint project, The Breath, is a miracle of integration. He is an urban guitarist from Manchester, former first call for Cinematic Orchestra (that’s him on Ma Fleur and Live at the Royal Albert Hall), and has written and arranged for legendary UK saxophonist John Surman and is particularly valued for his mastery of loops and effects. She is a singer and flutist from Armagh, and the voice of skewed barrel-house, folk-hop band, Honeyfeet: she guests on The Source, the new album from Afro Celt Sound System. He trades in groove-based music that marries funk, rock and rave in a post-modern style. She is rooted in rural community and prone to ancestor worship. Stuart anticipates a blissed future. Ríoghnach just wants to survive. And her lyrics pinpoint a way of life at the very moment it may not survive.

"The land is not enough, enough to feed you The land is all you’ll have..." Lyric excerpt from 'Harvest'
'Antwerp' filmed at Real World Studios

Her ancestors would recognise such savage passion. It finds an answering intensity in the big, big sound that McCallum carves to frame Connolly’s singing. The common element is raging catharsis.

A typical solo performance by Stuart McCallum will apply virtuosity and electronica in a diverting way. Looper technology is used to build the music layer by layer, overlaying embedded chords with skirling, fluid solos in an intricate sonic mesh. With access to a state-of-the-art recording studio, McCallum expands and extends this technique for the album. Again, sound is piled on top of sound, and each line is carefully sifted against the others, but the resources are so much greater. In effect, McCallum turns the studio into a giant looper. Carry Your Kin confronts with multiple Ríoghnachs and walls of guitars in ways that would be impossible to find in nature.

Yet Ríoghnach Connolly is so steeped in traditional music that purity is a transferable asset. She absorbed the old music in an Irish childhood full of summer schools and festivals. Music-making was definitely encouraged in the Connolly household. “I’m just going to County Clare for the week,” the teenage Ríoghnach would declare. “Good girl, go and learn lots of tunes!” would come the reply.

Oh the theme of family is massive for me. My family are a massive, destructive and productive part of my life. They play on my mind all the time. I have a lot of complexes like guilt: guilt from being away from them. They’re very tempestuous and frightfully dramatic and cloying. I love them. Ríoghnach Connolly
'For You' - the official video

Stuart found Ríoghnach on the internet singing a song called ‘Knocking on Another Man’s Door’. By then she was living in Manchester. Keen to work with a singer, Stuart brought a raft of original songs from a previous collaborator for her to try. Rehearsal sessions took place in Ríoghnach’s kitchen and were divided between playing and cooking. Eventually her politeness about the songs broke down. (“I was polite back in them days, wasn’t I?” she asks. “I can’t remember, to be honest,” replies Stuart, noncommittally.) The old material was jettisoned, and the pair began to write together. It was sometimes a lengthy process: One song ‘Child’ (not on the album) took five years to evolve. And sometimes a song would arrive fully-formed. ‘For You’ was extemporised as the musicians jammed during a rowdy night at Manchester’s Matt and Phred’s club. Because the way Ríoghnach writes is so emotionally reckless – excavating raw feeling with little in the way of defence —the process is easier when nobody is listening.

She has a capacity to flay the emotions in a way which is all but unknown in these diminished times.

The key word in ‘Our Own Way’ is ‘bereft’. Bereft of what? The supporting evidence of the album’s title track ‘Carry Your Kin’ suggests that ‘bereft’ is used in its proper sense: true loss. This was a fact of life for child-besieged ancestors: children unborn, children dead in babyhood or infancy, children left helpless before man-made forces like famine or war. This kind of suffering is sometimes acknowledged in folk song (an honourable mention goes to Derroll Adams’ ‘Portland Town’) but is taboo in our mainstream culture. Kindertotenlieder could be an alternative title for some of these songs, but Mahler got there first, and anyway Ríoghnach prefers to stress survival and continuity.

Photo credit: Emily Dennison

Two other members are integral to The Breath. In his various roles of pianist, singer and producer, John Ellis has had a hand in much of the good music to emerge from Manchester in recent years. And drummer Luke Flowers embodies the true Manc spirit. Manchester music is always oriented towards rhythm (no matter the genre), and is full of pride and swagger. Stuart says of Luke: “He’s a great friend, someone I’ve probably played with more than anyone else in my life. There’s something very big about what he does. He has to project a big sound and drag everyone along on the Luke party bus. That’s how it is.”

Influences are trickier to pin down. Stuart mentions Debussy and Steve Reich, while admitting that The Breath sound nothing like them. “In terms of classical music, I always like the slow movement of pieces, where the emphasis is more on emotion and clarity of melodic ideas.” Ríoghnach diverts the question to reflect on Stuart’s influence on her. “You’ve made me sing softer. And you’ve made me sing with less ornamentation. And you’ve made me concentrate on the words, and the diction.”

“Well you did lots of things to hide away. You would shout at people, and then you would use ornamentation to hide melody, to make it less clear, and then you wouldn’t say the words very clearly.”

“I have been very afraid of what I’ve been singing though. But I’m not anymore.”

Listen and marvel at the way The Breath reconcile the opposing positions of grandeur and intimacy, turbulence and calm, artifice and purity.

Mike Butler, 2016

Reviews

  • Cool, drifting ambient folk soul ... This is sophisticated, atmospheric music that veers between ambient and soul styles The Guardian
  • The small group melodies are ghostly, the pastel arrangements full of layered detail... Tremelone possesses anthemic depth, and the Celtic strains come through loud and clear on the title number, John Ellis's piano glowing in the background. The Sunday Times
  • it is raw, soulful, often mesmeric, richly textured and lushly constructed; none of which would count for anything without Connolly's versatile, persuasive vocals. MOJO (UK)
  • Giving the music a sunshine-on-rainy-streets ambience of The Blue Nile. The Financial Times (UK)
  • It's a full-bodied collection of ambient, rocking, multi-layered soundscapes - some gentle and rolling, some mountainous and anthemic - designed to be a match for the potency of Connolly's open-hearted song writing and soulful voice fRoots (UK)
  • Une authentique et douce réussite. (A genuine and sweet success.) ★★★★ Les Inrocks (France)
  • The Irish singer-songwriter Rioghnach Connolly heads a Mancunian supergroup with jazz red including Cinematic Orchestra guitarist Stuart McCallum and drummer Luke Flowers and the sound is kind of contemporary folk meets Bat for Lashes. Jazzwise

Listen

Credits

Ríoghnach Connolly: vocals; Stuart McCallum: acoustic & electric guitars, keyboards, FX; John Ellis: piano, fender rhodes, hammond organ, polychord; Luke Flowers: drums; Robin Mullarkey: electric bass, bass ukelele; Steve Cordiner, Dee Dee Roberts: violin; Tanah Stevens: viola; Rachel Shakespeare: cello; Iain Dixon: clarinet, bass clarinet, ute; Rachael Gladwin: harp.

Recorded at: Real World Studios, Box, August 2014; engineered by Patrick Phillips and Yvonne Ellis; Rosehill Studios, Manchester, September 2013, engineered by Yvonne Ellis; CSR Studios, Manchester, January 2015; engineered by Stuart McCallum. Orchestral instruments recorded by Stuart McCallum at Rosehill Studios, Manchester, March 2015.

Orchestral arrangements by Stuart McCallum. Produced by Stuart McCallum.

Mixed by Tchad Blake, April 2015, except ‘Boat Song’ mixed by Patrick Phillips.

The Breath would like to thank Kerstan Mackness, Amanda Jones and all at Real World Records. Stuart McCallum would like to thank Rachel, Poppy, Leon, Mum, Dad and Joan for all their support. Ríoghnach Connolly would like to thank The Welsh Adonis Ellis Davies, The Connolly and McNulty Clans, The C Unit, Nana and Grandad, The Armagh Pipers Club, HoneyFeet, Black Lung, The Woo Hoos, Dum Dá and Wifey X. Extra special thanks to Tchad Blake

A Real World Design. Photography by Emily Dennison and York Tillyer

Further Listening

  • Acoustic

    The Breath

    Released 11 August 2017

    Recorded at Real World Studios, these are four acoustic interpretations of tracks from the The Breath's debut album Carry Your Kin. Stuart McCallum's stripped back guitar beautifully frames Ríoghnach Connolly's moving vocals —at times heartbreakingly sad, always deeply moving.
  • Anian

    9Bach

    Released 29 April 2016

    ‘Anian’ is 9Bach's third album. Like 2014's ‘Tincian’ it begins in North Wales, but broadens out through Greek and Near Eastern influences into an emotional tour de force. Angry, sad, but most of all passionate at the state of the world, the album taps into a truly universal language.

Further reading

Stuart McCallum on recording The Breath’s ‘Carry Your Kin’

Stuart McCallum, guitarist and songwriter from The Breath, on recording their debut album.

The Breath release digital EP, Acoustic

Recorded at Real World Studios, the EP features acoustic renditions of tracks from their debut album.