Stuart McCallum and Rioghnach 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, the first call for Cinematic Orchestra (that’s Stuart on Ma Fleur and Live at the Royal Albert Hall), and has written and arranged for legendary UK saxophonist John Surman and collaborated with Radiohead. McCallum is particularly valued for his mastery of loops and effects.
She is a singer and flutist from Armagh, and the voice of skewed bar-room 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. Rioghnach 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… (‘Harvest’)
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 Rioghnachs and walls of guitars in ways that would be impossible to find in nature. Yet Rioghnach 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.
Two other members are integral to The Breath. In his various roles of pianist, singer and producer, John Ellis has had a hand in most 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.” Rioghnach 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.”
Listen and marvel at the way The Breath reconcile the opposing positions of grandeur and intimacy, turbulence and calm, artifice and purity.
...contemporary folk meets Bat for Lashes Jazzwise
raw, emotive and husky, (Ríoghnach Connolly) sure owns a song. …gentle and rolling, mountainous and anthemic... open-hearted songwriting ...and emotionally charged. FRoots
raw, soulful, often mesmeric, richly textured and lushly constructed…versatile persuasive vocals. Mojo
sunshine-on-rainy-streets ambience of the Blue Nile. Financial Times
an affecting blend... McCallum provides the grandeur and artifice and Connolly the intimacy and purity. Uncut
THE BREATH perform at The Continental on Friday 15th September, 2017. Doors open at 8pm.
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