First of all, a sincere word of gratitude to those of you who listen and read what I write! I do not take it for granted, and I am privileged, so THANK YOU!
Also, thank you to everyone who participated in the Largo fundraiser. This year, we raised over $1,350 for the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute in memory of Bill Rieflin.
2021 was a remarkable year for me. It saw the release of THE BIRTHDAY POEMS, which was the realization of two years of research for what I wanted to be a book originally, but organically and alchemically and spiritually became an album, which was written and recorded during lockdown of 2020. Being able to work remotely in isolation but so closely with CHRIS BRUCE and MONICA QUEEN proved that indeed, distance was just a number (and a bit of a time difference) yet we were so connected. THE BIRTHDAY POEMS is work I am proud of, the “if I pop my clogs today, I am satisfied” kind of proud (though I want to stay around!!). The videos created by MATT WALKER & DERICK SMITH (Tae the Poets), IAIN MUTCH (My Father Took Me Everywhere), and KIMBERLY BLESSING (Let Us Be Hushed) were amazing, beautiful, and humorous foils to the album, as was GILLIAN WHISKER’s evocative photography of Edinburgh.
In June, I played three nights at the GMAN TAVERN in Chicago, highlighting THE BIRTHDAY POEMS and my recent book, THE HEART HAS TO ACHE BEFORE IT LEARNS TO BEAT. It was a wonderful experience before an appreciative audience; it felt amazing to play live again, to share stories, sing and read aloud that which I had written, again, a privilege.
The year also brought AMERICAN PARASITE by THE JOY THIEVES, for which I provided all the vocals. Born out of political frustration, humanitarian panic and anger, I could not censor myself or “nice up” the vitriol against the wave of enraged and powerful music I was given to sing on whilst soaking up CNN to a soundtrack of CRASS. The album was born screaming and fighting, and I am very bloody proud of that, too.
In September, I teamed up again with PAUL BARKER, this time to mine the LUXA/PAN treasures of the earlier WaxTrax days. As a duo, we played COLD WAVES in Chicago and LA as well as playing Brooklyn with our old pals FRONT 242. It was nostalgic and a lot of fun.
I feel fortunate to be able to move forward creatively and still be able to acknowledge what I did decades ago. I am looking forward to 2022 as I busy myself with SONS OF THE SILENT AGE, as well as a number of writing projects. Keep an eye on Bandcamp — there is new music on the way as well as some reissues/resurrections from the past.
(…and here is my top 10 for the year!!)
1: CIRCUIT DES YEUX “-io”
2: LINGUA IGNOTA “SINNER GET READY”
3: NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS “CARNAGE”
4: AROOJ AFTAB “VULTURE PRINCE”
5: L’RAIN “FATIGUE”
6: PASTOR T.L. BARRETT “I SHALL WEAR A CROWN” (REISSUE)
7: ADAM GEOFFREY COLE “FALLOWING”
8: JESSICA GALLO “WALK TO THE SUN”
9: ABBA “VOYAGE”
10: NICO “DRAMA OF EXILE” (REISSUE)
Today, CHRIS CONNELLY and MONICA QUEEN present their collaborative album THE BIRTHDAY POEMS on Jnana Records. This album is a fictionalized account of the romance between celebrated Scottish poet and author George Mackay Brown and his muse Stella Cartwright, as well as their friendship with Edinburgh-born poet Stanley Roger Green, spanning three decades.
Named for the poems that George would write for Stella every birthday until she died, THE BIRTHDAY POEMS is a song cycle based on the relationship between these highly significant cultural figures of 20th-century Scotland. Stella’s voice is sung by Monica Queen throughout this colossal and historically significant 18-track album. The album is released the year in which the literary world celebrates the 100th birthday of Orkney-born poet George Mackay Brown.
This album represents a sometimes overlooked but very important part of Scottish culture. Stella had a deep relationship with Mackay Brown, which turned into a friendship enduring from the mid-1950s until her untimely death in 1985. It was not always a joyous one–neither of the pair were particularly happy, and their love of whisky did not help.
Video for the spoken-word track “Let Us Be Hushed” by Kimberly Blessing
“While she had relationships with many of the poets who would haunt the bars of Edinburgh’s Rose Street during the ’50s and early ’60s, her love of literature, art and culture was insatiable. She was never given credit or encouraged in her own art and expression. I hope that this album illuminates the beautiful treasure that she was, and how hugely significant she is to Scottish literature of a certain era,” says Chris.
You can hear more from Chris about the inspiration behind and the making of THE BIRTHDAY POEMS in A Conversation with Chris Connelly, an online event on Thursday, July 1st, 2021 at 7 PM CDT (midnight UTC on the 2nd). Tickets for the event are available on Bandcamp.
Reception of this new work has been enthusiastic. Writing for Louder than War, Neil Hodge called THE BIRTHDAY POEMS a “stunning alternative folk masterpiece”, further stating, “if anyone listens to this album and fails to be touched by the music, and the story of Stella, Stan and George, they have no heart or soul”. Fiona Shepard in The Scotsman gave the album four stars, calling it “a surprise gift”.
THE BIRTHDAY POEMS has been released on CD with 24-page libretto and is also available on these digital platforms: Apple Music | Amazon | Bandcamp | Spotify | Soundcloud | YouTube. A limited number of autographed CDs are also available.
You can now pre-order THE BIRTHDAY POEMS, Chris’s song cycle about the romance between STELLA CARTWRIGHT and GEORGE MACKAY BROWN, and their friendship with STANLEY ROGER GREEN. The album will be released digitally and on CD with 24-page libretto by Jnana Records on June 15th, 2021.
Pre-order on Bandcamp
Today the second single from THE BIRTHDAY POEMS drops, debuting MONICA QUEEN (Facebook, Twitter) as the voice of Stella Cartwright. “My Father Took Me Everywhere” introduces Stella and the unique upbringing which would lead to her becoming “the Muse of Rose Street”. As a young girl attending Mary Erskine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Stella would ravenously devour literature, art and music. On many nights her father would take her to bars, parties, the theatre and other social and cultural events where she would meet and charm Scotland’s cultural elite.
The single is introduced with the release of a video by Iain W. Mutch (Walkerandwilliam), in which Monica and partner Johnny Smillie re-enact scenes from a 1964 film short by Margaret Tait called PALINDROME, which features some of the only known footage of Stella.
To learn more about Stella Cartwright and the story behind THE BIRTHDAY POEMS, visit The Birthday Poems website.
Earlier this week, Chris’s first single and video from THE BIRTHDAY POEMS made its debut.
Tae the Poets! tells the story of how Orcadian writer GEORGE MACKAY BROWN was coaxed out of his shell to join the “clamjamfray of poets” (so-called by Stanley Roger Green) who congregated at the Abbotsford Bar on Rose Street in Edinburgh, while also being a rousing toast to all Scottish writers.
The Big Takeover debuted the single on Tuesday, saying: “There is a certain endearment here and the song pulls you into the different world – a world of yesteryear, a world experienced on familiar Caledonian corner pubs.”
Just yesterday, Spill Magazine premiered the video, and we were honored by their words: “This track has a feel good rating of 10, while actually capturing a point in Scottish history that few know about. Who are these personalities that inspired this album? Track by track, Queen and Connelly shall unveil why this story is so captivating and motivating. What we can say for now is that this track is brilliant and a delightful surprise. It has us eager to hear more from this duo, willing to learn as the reveal these highly relevant personalities in Scotland’s recent history.”
The video is an amazing creation by Sons of the Silent Age collaborator, MATT WALKER, and photographer DERICK SMITH. It was filmed at GMan Tavern in Chicago and the handcrafted glasses which Chris sports in the video were provided by State Optical Co.
What are you waiting for? Grab a pint or a wee dram, start the video or song, and raise your glass tae the poets! Slainte!
Chris’s new album, THE BIRTHDAY POEMS, will be released on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 by Jnana Records. The album draws on Chris’s Scottish origins and interest in Scottish literary history by presenting a fictionalized account of the romance between STELLA CARTWRIGHT and GEORGE MACKAY BROWN, and their friendship with STANLEY ROGER GREEN.
The album is performed by Chris Connelly and singer Monica Queen and features Levon Henry, Dave Eggar, Blake Collins, and Phil Faconti. Long-time collaborator Chris Bruce has produced the album.
To celebrate the release of this new album (and an easing of lockdown measures), Chris will perform to a limited audience on Saturday, June 26 at GMan Tavern in Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.
This very special release has its own website to support the unveiling of this story. Please visit The Birthday Poems for full information and stay tuned…