Let The Cards Fall

The Breath

Released 14 September 2018

  1. Ditty
  2. All That You Have Been
  3. Let The Cards Fall
  4. Let It Calm You Down
  5. Trip The Switch
  6. Untie Me Now
  7. Hide Out
  8. Will You Wait
  9. What You Owe

Liner notes

“There is no point in holding your cards close to your chest, or hiding your various selves… This is just a document in time…”

Ríoghnach Connolly and Stuart McCallum are the creative heart of The Breath.  They make an unlikely couple. Ríoghnach, known for her work with Afro Celt Sound System and Honeyfeet is a daughter of Armagh who has made Manchester her home. She has a gift for singing, a remarkable voice, a deep elegiac sensibility and a puckish, mischievous character. Stuart, by contrast, is a Mancunian urbanite who’s worked with Cinematic Orchestra and is given to dry understatement and calm confidence.  Both seem poised on the brink of revelation.

Let the Cards Fall is the second album by The Breath.  It offers a continuous renewal of hope, catharsis and remembrance, and, as the title suggests, a new willingness to let go. Whereas the songs on their 2016 debut Carry Your Kin were honed over a number of years, Let the Cards Fall is a more organic affair. “All the material has been written on two local gigs, three days in Hull, a basement in Ramsgate and a garden in Reigate,” says Stuart, the guitarist/composer. It was a deliberate decision. For Stuart and Ríoghnach, writing is spontaneous and the words and music come quickly. It is part of what makes their music so special. On Let The Cards Fall they opted to put the songs front and centre, stripping away some of the layers and bombast from Carry Your Kin in search of a softer, more organic palate.  They choose to work quickly and hone closer to the creative spark which is at the heart of their music. To Let the Cards Fall.

Photo credit: Duncan Elliott

Like many of The Breath’s songs, ‘Let It Calm You Down’ was created in the amount of time it took to play. The group were on home turf at Manchester’s famed haunt, Matt and Phred’s when Stuart struck up ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ (now unrecognisable, yet it’s somewhere in the song’s DNA). The band followed. That is, keys man John Ellis (Ríoghnach’s mentor and the producer of her 2012 solo, Black Lung), drummer Luke Flowers (Stuart’s “musical brother”) and bassist Sam Vicary (Luke’s inviolable partner in rhythm). In walked Ellis Davies, Ríoghnach’s co-star from Honeyfeet, who sat at the bar.  Rio, in a rage from an earlier incident, saw him, yet the audience faded from view leaving only “my soul mate in the crowd, the only bastard that can calm me”. Plucking words from the air she sang “I’ll hold my weapon out and raise a glass…for all you’ve done to me and all you’ve cost…”, and wept. “I’ve cried to that tune. Many times,” owns Stuart. Ellis has cried to it too. It is that rare thing, a love song of unfeigned emotion, and charts the course of love from storm to tranquillity.

Ríoghnach Connolly writes the only way she knows how; a stream of poetic consciousness that addresses her great themes — diverse subjects which are all interlinked in her mind— Ireland, the pain and joy of family life, and abandoned and sacred places.  “For me, the lyrics always have to speak a little truth in them. I know this is pretty, but I’m still going to get the boot in. I need that release”. Interestingly, the word ‘history’ occurs in four of the eight songs on Let the Cards Fall. 

‘All That You Have Been’ describes the forces of history at work in our lives.  It’s a hat tip to Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher who killed himself in 1940. “He knew the Nazis would erase all elements of his people’s existence,” says Rioghnach, whose songs deeply reflect her belief in preserving the full reservoir of human experience.   The identity of ‘her people’ is hinted in the raggle-taggle retention in the songs riff.

On ‘Let the Cards Fall’, the album’s wistful, delicate title track, Queen Macha  makes a subtle appearance.  Everyone needs a role model and Ríoghnach opts for Macha; an Ancient Irish legend (of whom Armagh is named after) who “rode on to the battlefield nine months pregnant, slaughtered all around her and then gave birth right there.”  She can be maternal as well as murderous. Ríoghnach also invokes Suhail, a bright star on the southern horizon that becomes a protective deity, for ‘my brothers, caught in the crossfire’: ordinary people, vulnerable to the processes of history. The song exemplifies the great clashing virtues of the pair. Ríoghnach, possessed of Celtic primitivism and visionary intimacy, Stuart, a guitarist of considerable tonal range, is ethereal and searching, never content to slip into conventional form and thrives in the gap between freedom and restraint.  The picking pattern, he informs, derives from Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 1.  There’s a feeling of a lull before the storm, a respite that offers space for nurturing and healing.

The official video for 'Let The Cards Fall', directed by Luca Rudlin

And who is the specific target of Ríoghnach’s wrath on ‘Trip the Switch’? Her exceptional gift for the spontaneous lyric, together with the fact that the singer was confined to an airless booth in a basement studio during the recording points to one chief suspect. “Sometimes we have friends who are arseholes, but when you know the script you enjoy the show,” Ríoghnach retrospectively comments. “Right”, says Stuart apologetically, “but we got the song out of you, didn’t we?”   The song’s lyrics, ‘Hould your whisht’ and ‘pick it up off the ditch’, incidentally, come from Armagh’s rich compendium of sayings and proverbs. The former is a command to silence (“keep schtum, say naahun and keep saying it”) whilst the latter describes behaviour that’s in keeping with family tradition.  ‘Ditty’, the album’s opener is a dreamy duet for voice and guitar in parred down form and proves perfectly the potency of their chemistry.  And that all is forgiven!

A lot of Irish history can be glimpsed, tangentially in ‘Will You Wait’. Mass emigration. The Magdalene Laundries. Mass graves in Galway. In a land depopulated by men, it was a woman’s role to love and to mourn and to remember. The imperative to remember becomes more urgent when so much has been forgotten. The song’s inspiration comes from the lost art of keening – the crying lamentation of professional mourners who led the funeral processions down country roads. All women, they translated grief into vocal utterances for a living.  “That tradition of keening doesn’t exist anymore. In fact there’s very little record of it at all,” says Ríoghnach. It occurs that The Breath might be Ríoghnach’s way of reviving this lost art. “Maybe that’s what I am. But I don’t think I’m a good enough keener, or Caoíneamh, in Irish. I’m not fluent. Because I don’t have my home dialect. The dialect of Armagh has been lost, you know.”

Keening is the ultimate validation of the healing power of music; an extraordinary display of sadness, beauty and rage, intermingled, with the chief object of catharsis. Even with the enlistment of technology, Ríoghnach has set herself an immense task in carrying the art form forward. The last song, the rousing ‘What You Owe’, is a rant about madness and civilisation and channels Foucault and Althusser. “I could have gone a lot harder than that, let me tell you,” threatens Ríoghnach. It’s as if The Breath, eminently capable of following other politically-fuelled  Irish stadium-filling rockers are too savvy, too tolerant and too generous to settle for empty grandstanding. It would be relatively easy for them to feed the market with a lot of punch-the-air bombast, but where would be the fun? Rioghnach and Stuart are too fond of people to simply want to overwhelm them.

Reviews

  • The Breath's gorgeous, warmly textured second album, Let The Cards Fall, has folk roots but different horizons. It is led by the jaw-droppingly stunning, woozy voice of Ríoghnach Connolly, and fans of Mazzy Star and Beth Gibbons will love it. The Guardian (UK)
  • Let The Cards Fall surpasses its predecessor in its power to take you along with it. Once again, The Breath have the power to ensnare you, and you’ll be able to think of nothing else. You have been warned. Folk Radio (UK)
  • Let The Cards Fall een echte groeiplaat. Echt met elke luisterbeurt openbaren zich weer nieuwe klanken die het hart nog meer verwarmen. ★★★★ Written In Music (NL)
  • The Breath on their second album refine their Nordic folk with quirky beats that give the whole thing a rocking jazz vibe. ★★★★ Stereo (DE)

Listen

Credits

All songs written by The Breath

Ríoghnach Connolly vocals & flute, Stuart McCallum guitar, John Ellis keys, Sam Vicary bass and Luke Flowers drums.

Ben Cashell cello (tracks 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 & 9), Emma Sweeney violin (tracks 2, 3, 4 & 9), Simmy Singh violin (tracks 5 & 6), Laura Senior violin (tracks 5 & 6), Lucy Nolan viola (tracks 5 & 6), Peggy Nolan cello (tracks 5 & 6) and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh Hardanger fiddle (track 7)

Recorded and mixed by Patrick Phillips at Real World Studios, Box

Strings recorded by Stuart McCallum at CSR, Manchester and RNCM, Manchester.

String arrangements by Mark Slater (tracks 5 & 6) and Stuart McCallum (tracks 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9)

Mastered and vinyl cut by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx, Berlin.

Produced by Stuart McCallum

All tracks published by Real World Works Ltd.

A Real World Design by Marc Bessant

Photography by Duncan Elliott 

Management  Funky Fly Music

Production Co-ordination by Sophie Beck

The Breath would like to thank all the musicians, Patrick Phillips, Mark Slater, Amanda Jones and all at Real World Records, Kerstan and Julie at Funky Fly Music, Sam Tucker at Yuppies Music. Stuart would like to thank Rachel, Poppy, Leon, Mum, Dad and Joan for all their support x Ríoghnach would like to thank Ellis, Lochlainn, Ruan, Aisling,  Róise, Tíarnan, Ódhran, Cadhla, Déaglan, Fiadhnait, Ethniú, Oliver, Gretta, Eaman, Sadie, Colleen, Tarlac, Mike and Therese. All the Connollys, Devlins, Treanors, McNultys, Kellys, Rushanes, Davies, Glandore, Armagh, Oriel and Manchester.

Further Listening

  • Carry Your Kin

    The Breath

    Released 08 July 2016

    Born out of Manchester's fertile music scene The Breath mix Irish folk influences with mesmerizing guitar riffs, anthemic themes and powerful hooks. In turns hypnotic, lush, powerfully raw and raucously punchy, their songs entrance, uplift and break your heart as The Breath conjure a kaleidoscope of sound that perfectly frames Connolly's raw songs and soul cleansing vocals.
  • 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.

Further reading

The Breath unveil new video, Let The Cards Fall

The Breath have unveiled the video for ‘Let the Cards Fall’, the title-track from their sophomore album, released this autumn.

Ríoghnach gets grumpy in the studio for The Breath’s latest video

A heated day in the studio inspired The Breath's new track, 'Trip The Switch'.