Land of My Other

The Breath

Released 13 October 2023

  1. Don't Rush It
  2. Little One
  3. Land of My Other
  4. Burning Away
  5. Cliona's Wave
  6. Remembering the Flood
  7. Head Down
  8. Letters From Long Kesh
  9. Without You in It
  10. Every Time It Comes Around

Liner notes

Land Of My Other is a place of memories and melodies, lyricism and lore. A place of sunlight, faerie-tales and rowan trees; of grief, incarceration and thunder in darkness. A place where ancestral trauma and colonial injustice meet blazing pride, romantic self-rule and hands held in a circle in the sea.

Where songs are sung with feeling, instruments are everywhere and music lives deep in the bones.

Land of My Other. The third studio album by The Breath.

Produced by renowned composer/pianist Thomas Bartlett, and with the wildly acclaimed duo that is singer Ríoghnach [Ree-uh-na] Connolly and guitarist Stuart McCallum at its core, it’s a project that grabs you by the scruff from the off.

Ten original tracks. Raw, gorgeous, acoustic-minded music. Synths and effects so subtle they might be invisible. Negative space created, shaded, created again. Lyrics with meaning, power and an often terrible beauty. Songs that tell stories in ways that soothe, thrill and hit like a sucker punch.

Personal songs about birth and death. About family, ghosts and a childhood informed by the H-Blocks. Political songs decrying man-made borders and capitalist greed. Personal is political songs recalling pointing rifles, stop-and-searches and knowing the back way out. Songs that let the listener decide which is which.

Land of My Other began as The Breath always begin – with an inhale. An idea on guitar that found its words.

The Breath, photographed by Paul Husband
We work like two halves of a single songwriter. Imagine a guitarist and a singer who are not separate but are separate people. We just have this really special connection that lets us listen, adapt and evolve a piece of music together. Stuart McCallum

“We work like two halves of a single songwriter,” says McCallum, the Manchester-based composer and producer. “Imagine a guitarist and a singer who are not separate but are separate people. We just have this really special connection that lets us listen, adapt and evolve a piece of music together.”

Connolly nods her agreement. “Stuart is the yin to my yang,” says the reigning BBC Folk Singer of the Year, her north of Ireland accent untempered by two decades of Manchester living. “He has one face. I have many. He’s very measured. I’m not. I like mayhem. He doesn’t. I know where I am with him.”

Such a remarkable bond might have intimidated a lesser producer. But the Ireland-born, US-based Bartlett, famed for his work with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Florence Welch and Irish/American supergroup The Gloaming, intuited how to frame The Breath’s distinctive brand of art.

“The main aim was to capture the duo” he says of a work that was recorded in Manchester and at Real World Studios. “I’d sit at the piano not playing very much, just locating the energy and helping to focus it in a way I wanted it to happen. Sometimes I wanted to join in the fun.”

Having been sent The Breath’s previous albums, 2016’s Carry Your Kin and 2018’s Let the Cards Fall, both of which were produced by McCallum, Bartlett didn’t hesitate: “Within seconds of hearing Ríoghnach’s voice I was sold. It is so unmistakably Irish, its ornamentation so born of [traditional “old style”] sean nós, which was a big part of my early obsession with Irish music. It’s kaleidoscopic, what she’s able to do.”

Connolly has never sounded so glorious as on Land of My Other. Her emotions run the gamut: righteous, sorrowful, joyous. Authenticity is at a premium. Shame is cast aside.

‘If it all falls tomorrow, be glad of today,’ she sings on opener ‘Don’t Rush It’, which might be about the toll we pay for leaving home, the mistakes we make by hurrying grief or something else.

Win her trust and she’ll tell you.

Connolly lost her father – a socialist, Uilleann piper and Cambridge-educated poet – in 2019, when her baby daughter was just ten weeks old. She says he was her best friend. She also says she’d been grieving him all her life. “My Dadaí got lifted when I was seven-years-old. My mum, who’s Mancunian with Irish parents, was a badass and did her best. But it was tough, and dangerous.”

Read it here, then think before asking: there were tapped phones. Paramilitary hiding in bushes. Raids that saw Ríoghnach and her siblings – she was eldest of nine – moved from bed to bed. Visits to Long Kesh prison with smuggled notes written on Rizla papers. There were horrors affecting the extended family. But always – much of the time – there was music.

An accomplished flautist, Connolly hails from a long line of singers, musicians and song collectors. Her earliest memories involve lullabies about faeries stealing babies and animals lost in the woods.

Stuart is the yin to my yang. He has one face. I have many. He's very measured. I'm not. I like mayhem. He doesn't. I know where I am with him. Ríoghnach Connolly

‘Little One’, the album’s cradle song, is an ode to the child she’d worried might absorb her grief in utero.

“It’s about driving back from gigs late at night and having a cry while holding tight to the steering wheel,” she says. Then smiles: “It turns out we’re not raising a wallflower, which is great.”

The album’s trad-sounding title track – tight, organic, invigorating – features a Planxty-style flute break by Connolly and McCallum on acoustic and baritone acoustic guitars, merging patterns echoed on piano.

“Stuart’s facility on guitar is astonishing,” says Bartlett of McCallum, a musician whose numerous side-projects include solo guitar albums, cinema soundtrack albums and recordings and performances with UK jazz acts including downtempo maestros The Cinematic Orchestra.

“With that level of musicianship my main task was simplifying and focusing. So while Stuart is still playing complicated things he is anchoring Ríoghnach’s phrasing, which is so wonderfully unfettered.”

As, indeed, is her lyric writing. “On this album Ríoghnach is really getting to the root of what she’s about,” says McCallum. “We’ve done a lot of gigs as a duo and become stronger and more confident in just us two, in not hiding behind anything. There’s no way Ríoghnach would have been this open five years ago.”

Lifted by hooks and harmony vocals, ‘Burning Away’ is to do with catharsis: “It’s about washing off the sins of other people’s shit,” says Connolly. “I visit graves. I talk to ancestors. I used to love getting in the ocean to hold hands and shout at the waves to hit us harder, to really show us what they’ve got.”

‘Clíona’s Wave’ and its fast-paced floating guitar is a paean to one of the 19 mythical female deities in the Irish tradition, a healer stolen away to sit on the rocks off Glandore, West Cork (the home of Connolly’s grandparents), warning sailors of the danger while luring them to their deaths. ‘Remembering the Flood’ is an anthem for the dispossessed that takes its cue from the great emigrants’ lament ‘A Stór Mo Chroi’ (‘Treasure of My Heart’); the coiled, elegiac ‘Head Down’ recalls advice given in case of arrest: “Dadaí had these little codes: Say Nothing. Look at your thumbs. Hum a reel in your head.”

Both those songs lean into the blues – if you like, the north of Ireland prison blues. “Head Down’ is the only track we recorded live,” says Bartlett, “a real balls to the wall number with me stomping and Ríoghnach just going for it. We ended up connecting with this very genuine Irish march vibe.”

The meaning in ‘Letters From Long Kesh’ is sometimes overt, often hidden, always bittersweet. “My father was such a good dadaí in gaol, even if I was always grieving him,” says Connolly. “He used to write me every day, telling me stories and funny wee jokes. I kept the letters in a shoebox under my bed.”

‘Without You In It’, a song about absence, features McCallum on guitars and pedals and Bartlett, barely there, across several pianos.” Ríoghnach and I wrote the chords and melody during a quiet moment at soundcheck in Berlin,” says McCallum. “I love the process of music making, the journey, the unravelling of it.”

‘Every Time It Comes Around’, the album’s closer, is a reminder to us that grief is not linear. That it can swing like a pendulum, crashing in on anniversaries, resurfacing with other triggers: shadows dancing on walls, a late night call missed, the discovery of a philosophy book stamped from gaol.

It’s a caution, a call to hold it down. To inhale. Exhale.

Land of My Other. The third album by The Breath.

An album about a political landscape. About family, childhood, motherhood.

About a girl who misses her dad.

Words by Jane Cornwell.

Credits

All tracks written by The Breath
Except ‘Don’t Rush It’ and ‘Without You in it’ written by The Breath and Thomas Bartlett
Produced and arranged by Thomas Bartlett

Ríoghnach Connolly – vocals, flute, shruti
Stuart McCallum – acoustic and electric guitars
Thomas Bartlett – piano, mellotron, op-1, rhodes bass, programming

Recorded at Real World Studios by Katie May, assisted by Louis Rogove and at WR Audio by Biff Roxby and Dan Watkins
Mixed by Patrick Dillett
Mastered by Guy Davie, Electric Mastering
Published by Real World Works Ltd
A Real World Design by Derek Edwards and Marc Bessant
Cover image courtesy of Vecteezy.com
Band photography at WR Audio by York Tillyer
Back cover and LP label photography by Henwyn Collective www.henwyncollective.com
For the children of the H Blocks, those still walking the roads and all those lost at sea…

Further Listening

  • Let The Cards Fall

    The Breath

    Released 13 September 2018

    A bewitching collection of songs that journeys from lush, beguiling storytelling to uplifting, punch-the-air anthems. Allowed to mature and breathe without losing the widescreen, multi-textured kaleidoscope of sound that marked their debut, Let the Cards Fall refines The Breath's unique Manchester take on alt-folk.
  • Anian

    9Bach

    Released 28 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.

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