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.
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. Music-making was definitely encouraged in the Connolly household. “I’m just going to County Clare for the week,” the teenage Rioghnach would declare. “Good girl, go and learn lots of tunes!” would come the reply.
“Oh the theme of family is massive for me,” says Rioghnach. “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.”
Stuart found Rioghnach on My Space singing a song called ‘Knocking on Another Man’s Door’. She was then 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 Rioghnach’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