In a dark basement dressing room at Duluth’s Red Clay Theater, softly illuminated by the glow of white lights from the make-up mirror is a strikingly attractive woman. Stylishly clad in black, with wild cascades of dark hair, she‘s a statuesque cross between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anne Hathaway.
This is Callaghan.
Even though it’s her CD launch party and performance, she’s the definition of calm British reserve as husband/manager Steve Massey meticulously tends to the event. She’s eager to discuss Life In Full Colour, her self-released, full-length debut album. It’s already garnering almost completely favorable reviews—and surprisingly prominent play on the air and the net.
“I had a batch of songs ready for my first full record. And I was sittin’ in my apartment in London, thinking, ‘Well, I can either carry on here, or I could just email Shawn Mullins and see where that takes me.’ I really thought, ‘If there’s one person who would get my music in an instant, it would be Shawn Mullins.’”
The Lincolnshire-born Callaghan had been living in London for a decade, releasing indie EPs and gigging at a number of respected venues. The Atlanta-based singer/songwriter was one of her main influences, so in March of 2009 she cheekily approached him to produce her album—via his My Space site. “A bold move, yes. But I’m kinda like that. I just think, “What the hell, what do I have to lose?’ People can only say no.”
To her delight, Mullins replied, asking for one song to check out. “I had a really terrible demo. It was me in my bedroom and I had terrible recording equipment. Shawn later said he was listening through all this background noise; ‘I think I can hear a really good tune in there … somewhere.’” He produced three songs for Callaghan in Atlanta a few months later.
Mullins continues the story. “I gave Kris Kristofferson a CD of mine, in ’94. He called me a few months later, and really encouraged me. That gave me the idea that, if I’m ever in the position where people need me to listen, I’m gonna listen, too. She just really shines. Her melodies are what I found refreshing, just because they’re classic.”
Crossing the pond
The partnership worked so well, Callaghan and Massey decided to actually move to Atlanta in order to complete the album with Mullins. “It was a scary time; I was taking a huge chance but things were going so well, I knew I had to live here.” Her journey is the main theme of the hopeful “Best Year,” the first featured track from the album. “I wrote it just a couple months after moving here. It was a time of, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna earn any money or be living on the street in a few months!’”
During the sessions in 2010, Callaghan and Massey lived in an apartment near Piedmont Park. “We moved into a building where the landlady was British and she took care of us. She’d moved over for the Olympics so she remembered what it was like to come from another country and you have no credit history or anything. One day, she suddenly said, ‘You should go to a football game!’ We were near Grady High School so we went to one. Me and Steve were sitting there thinking, ’We have no idea what’s going on here!’ We just felt so out of the loop, oh my God.”
But both Callaghan and Mullins thought the move was necessary. “I just had a feeling that America would be a good home for the music that I do. I love the music scene. I don’t know if it’s the space, the vastness of the country as compared to the UK or what, but there are so many good singer/songwriter venues here. I think it’s fun, whenever I’ve toured ’round and met people with accents I can’t quite understand or tried food that I had no idea what was—I love that. I love trying new things. That’s what life is all about, really.”
“If she was willing to come over here,” continues Mullins, “The least I could do was produce some tracks for her, because I liked all the songs.” Mullins’ band of veteran musicians—including guitarist Davis Causey and Marty Kearns—played on the album and occasionally accompany her at shows. The completed record resonates with a warm, early ’70s pop-folk sound that combines the intelligence of Laura Nyro, the soulful interpretational skills of Eva Cassidy and the subtle grace of Gail Garnett—all without the tedious pretense of Sarah McLachlan, an artist who is frequently cited in comparisons to Callaghan.
“I always thought my music would appeal to those maybe 30 and above, people who’ve been through some stuff and want to hear songs about experiences. Not only about how great life is but the crap side of life: when things go wrong or someone you love dies. Those kinds of emotions. But then, I got an email from an eight-year-old girl the other day, saying she loved the music! I hope there’s stuff that people of any age can take from it.”
Mullins tempers her enthusiasm with a bit of realism. “I’ve told her, ‘You know, it might not be this record [that breaks through to mainstream success]. I know you want it to be, but this one might be the thing that just opens a few doors. You’re only gonna get better. I still think there’s growth there, and she’ll be finding her voice a little bit more as she develops. I love being a part of it, but she‘s doing all the hard work.
Callaghan’s Veggie Meat-lover’s Lasagne
I gave this recipe that title because I really love lasagna, both the vegetarian one and the traditional meat version, so I now make a combination of both! I sometimes use a good store-bought tomato sauce if I don’t have time to make it, but I’d always make the cheese sauce.
For the tomato sauce:
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small cans tomatoes (crushed or diced) Italian herbs to taste e.g basil, oregano 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup red wine (optional)
For the lasagne:
1/2 lb ground beef, pork or turkey
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1 zucchini, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
3 or 4 whole mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced Any other favourite veg you want to include!
1/2 packet lasagne pasta
For the cheese sauce:
1 cup extra strong cheddar, grated (plus extra for sprinkling) 1 cup milk, plus extra depending on desired consistency 1/8 stick butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cayenne
To make the tomato sauce, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened. Add the two cans of tomatoes, wine, herbs, salt, pepper and sugar and stir.
Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer uncovered until the tomatoes have reduced and the sauce has slightly thickened.In a separate pan, saute the ground meat and onion until brown. Add other vegetables and saute until softened. Add to the tomato sauce.
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix into a paste. Keep stirring to cook the flour. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring all the time to prevent lumps. You might occasionally need to remove from the heat and give it a vigorous stir to get rid of any lumps during the process of adding the milk.
Keep adding the milk gradually until you get the desired consistency of heavy cream. Add the grated cheese and stir in until melted. You might need to add a little more milk to thin the sauce again after adding the cheese. Add the cayenne to taste.
Pour a layer of the tomato mixture into an ungreased baking dish. Pour some of the cheese sauce on top. Layer with lasagne sheets. Repeat until all the tomato mix is used (you want to try to have a good layer of tomato mix on the top level so the pasta does not dry out.
Pour the remaining cheese sauce on to the top and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 mins at 350F.
Remove the foil and bake for another 10 mins or until the top has browned.
Callaghan’s Chocolate & Peanut Butter Fudge
There are so many recipes for fudge around and they all seem to be slightly different.
I think that when you start with melting a load of sugar, chances are it’s gonna taste pretty good!
American and English fudge seem to be a little different, mostly in the texture – English fudge is quite a bit more crumbly. After trying lots of variations, I have come up with my own version which I think is somewhere between the two. Be warned, it is very rich!!
(Makes about 600g or 36 squares)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 cups cream or half & half 1/4 cup karo light corn syrup 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter 3 heaped tsp. cocoa powder
4 heaped tsp. powdered sugar
Line a baking dish (approx 8 by 8 inch, but it doesn’t really matter) with buttered tin foil.
Put the white sugar, brown sugar, and cream into a heavy-bottomed pan saucepan. Over a low heat, stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. (Don’t worry if the cream starts to separate slightly, you can fix that later).
Increase the heat until the sugar starts to boil. Continue boiling for 15-20 mins by which time you should have a nice deep caramel colour. You can check it is the right consistency by taking a little teaspoon of the mixture and dropping it into a bowl or cup of ice-cold water. If you the sugar forms a little soft ball that you can pick up and move around between your fingers, it’s ready. If it just disperses in the water it needs a few more minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
Mix in the cocoa powder and keep beating with a wooden spoon until you get a smooth consistency. Add the peanut butter. Add half the powdered sugar and stir in. If the fudge is still quite easy to stir, mix in the remaining 2 tablespoons powdered sugar until it thickens.
Pour/ spoon into your lined dish and spread out the fudge to fit the dish. Leave to cool at room temperature, then cut into pieces.
It should keep for about a week in a sealed bag or airtight container. You can also freeze it and eat straight from the freezer although the texture will be a bit more chewy.