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”.
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.
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.
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!
One year ago we said goodbye to Bill Rieflin. Since then, with your support, the CC community has raised nearly $1,200 for the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute, which provided care and support for Bill. Today we have another opportunity to raise more funds, to further support their good work.
Back in September, on what would have been Bill’s 60th birthday, Chris and Jessica Gallo released an arrangement of Bill’s song Prayer, from the album Largo.
Largo is long out of print — but Chris has managed to find six copies of the CD and some promo photos to make available to fans as a fundraiser. Here’s how you can get one of these items and support the cancer institute:
Silent auction: Three copies of the CD are up for auction to the highest bidders. Winners in the US and Canada will have the option to make their donation directly to the foundation in order to qualify for a tax deduction.
Raffle: The other three copies of the CD will be raffled off — “tickets” are just $5 each.
Bandcamp: The promo photo sheets (see photo below) will sell for $10 on Friday, April 2nd (the next Bandcamp Friday). Look for them around 7 AM CDT!
Auction bids must be received by 12:01 AM CDT on April 1st, 2021. Raffle tickets will be available through April 1st, 2021 with the raffle taking place on April 2nd. Winners/buyers will be notified on April 2nd by email; they will have the option to have their CDs or promo photos autographed (alas, by Chris only). Our aim is to share the love (or Largo) as widely as possible, so we’ll only accept the highest bid from each bidder, and regardless of how many raffle chances purchased, you can only win one copy of the CD. Use the buttons below to bid or buy your raffle ticket!
Update: The silent auction has now closed. Thank you to everyone who submitted a bid!
Update: Raffle tickets are no longer available. Thank you to everyone who purchased a ticket!
If you wish to make your own tax-deductible donation, please visit the Virginia Mason Foundation Donate Page and select “Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute” from the Designation drop-down. After clicking the button, complete your personal and payment details, and indicate that the gift is in memory of Bill Rieflin in the Tribute section.
It’s the final First Friday of 2020, one of the most unkind years on record for the majority of the world. Musicians have had it particularly hard this year — but thanks to Bandcamp for their Bandcamp Fridays program, many artists have had an opportunity to receive a greater part of the revenue on the sale of their music and merch. Chris thanks everyone who has supported him and his fellow artists via this program.
In case you missed it, Chris created a number of Bandcamp-only releases this year:
And today comes A Many Acted Play, which includes unreleased demos from The Ultimate Seaside Companion, Blonde Exodus, The Episodes, and more. (Note: some of these tracks used to be available in the Downloads section of an earlier iteration of this website but have been unavailable for over 5 years.) You can stream the tracks on Bandcamp (and support, if you wish) now!
Meanwhile, Chris has been busy speaking with the world about his latest full album, Graveyard Sex, releases earlier this year, and about the year that was 2020… (sorry we’re a bit late posting some of these — you know, 2020 and all that)
Today, Chris officially announces the upcoming release of his next album, Graveyard Sex. The album is available for pre-order on CD and digital formats today and will be released on November 11, 2020 by Armalyte Records.
This marks the fourth year in a row that Chris will celebrate his birthday with a new album. Preview the track “The Hypnotic Stand-by” now.
I started writing what would become GRAVEYARD SEX in the autumn of 2019. I had been talking to a very ill Bill Rieflin, who had very recently lost his wife. We talked as we always talked, but he brought up the idea of my coming out to Seattle to work on some new music. I told him I would start getting some loose frameworks to perhaps work from, and we could start with a long weekend and see where we got and move on from there. At that time, there was a sadness in his voice and a fatigue from his illness, but the talk was very much of forward motion.
Sadly, it never happened; he became more tired and more ill, it quickly became apparent that we would not be able to get together and play music again. I continued to work on the music, and gradually the album became loosely based on Bill’s plight, his fight. Not literally, but for the most part figuratively and impressionistically.
The album is rich with musical references from things with which Bill and I shared a love — including the cover, which is a gallows humour homage to ROXY MUSIC’S “COUNTRY LIFE”, an album Bill told me was his favourite in one of our very frequent conversations about Roxy Music. The inclusion of a version of NICO’S “YOU FORGET TO ANSWER” was also a nod toward Bill, in that he introduced me to the song via a mixtape he made me just after we met in the late 80s.
The album’s title came from a joke I shared with Bill in my head. Very often, when I am writing, I use Bill as a sounding board or yardstick in my head to gauge the veracity or validity of what I am doing. (“Would Bill put a solo here? Would Bill think this was funny?”) GRAVEYARD SEX was me coming up with the most goth album title I could… I heard it being hissed through fangs in my head and I almost choked on my whisky, I laughed so hard. But after that, it became an image representing the meeting of death and life: graveyard and sex; and at the same time, it became a noun, a gender, a checkbox on a form? SEX: GRAVEYARD. It is all within the walls of this album.
One of the saddest parts of this record for me is the song “Lindsay Cooper”. Lindsay was musician we both admired, the beautiful bassoon player in the band HENRY COW, who suffered and eventually died from multiple sclerosis, like the tragedy of JAQUELINE DU PRE, the cellist who died from the same affliction. Both fought to keep playing, as did my friend Bill. They wanted to keep playing, and eventually, their efforts were thwarted.
This album is about facing death with life, inviting death into your life and trying hard to accommodate this unlikely guest.
Infinite Last Wish
The Hypnotic Stand-By
The Heart Has To Ache Before It Learns To Beat
For The Love Of The Tension
You Forget To Answer
Looking For A Coda
Album photography and artwork by Derick Smith. Album cover layout by Vlad McNeally.
Video for “The Hypnotic Stand-by” by Kimberly Blessing; shot on location all around Scotland.
CHRIS CONNELLY & JESSICA GALLO “PRAYER”
FOR BILL RIEFLIN’S BIRTHDAY
On Wednesday September 30th 2020, my beloved friend Bill Rieflin would have turned 60 years old. The journey for his loved ones after his passing has been a predictably hard and solitary one, but not exclusively so — despite the ugly cloud of COVID that prevented us from being with each other before and after his death, there have been glimmers of brilliant light that have helped all of us move forward and live with what has happened.
A short while ago, after his passing, a mutual friend introduced me to JESSICA GALLO, a harpist, and a certified music practitioner who became close with Bill, played for him during his long, painful struggle , and ended up collaborating with him, notably on “21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN” by Toyah & The Humans, which was to be Bill’s last recording, and what a recording it is!
In an early conversation, Jessica told me that part of her grieving process was working on an arrangement for harp of the song “PRAYER” that Bill wrote for our 1996 collaboration “LARGO”. The piece is instrumental and I have some hazy memories of trying to come up with lyrics and deciding mutually that it should remain an instrumental for the album. The idea struck me that I should try and write lyrics now, and record them with Jessica and do something that would have absolutely delighted Bill (if only because of our valiant struggle through his labyrinthian chord changes!!!). And of course, what better way to celebrate his life than to issue it with all proceeds going to the clinic that treated and helped Bill during his illness.
So with very special thanks to the incredible engineer DON GUNN, we have two recordings: “PRAYER” – an instrumental for Harp , and “PRAYER” – with new lyrics and vocals by myself.
If you wish to make your own tax-deductible donation, please visit the Virginia Mason Foundation Donate Page and select “Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute” from the Designation drop-down. After clicking the button, complete your personal and payment details, and indicate that the gift is in memory of Bill Rieflin in the Tribute section. Thank you.
The Sun Is A Maze (M-Descent Remix by Dan Milligan)
Also soon to be available is Chris’s book of lyrics and poems, The Heart Has to Ache Before It Learns to Beat, in paperback and digital download formats from Shipwrecked Industries. The book will include lyrics including those for Sleeping Partner, and other collaborative works of 2019.
“Five tracks inspired by artists or artwork I have seen in the last year,” is how Chris explains his latest digital and limited-edition cassette release. “There are a lot of sounds recorded on location in Scotland, including a piano I recorded at the Museum of Transport in Glasgow.”
Out today, 4 July 2019, is a special project to benefit Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), which works to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in the United States have legal representation in their deportation proceedings.
Chris has contributed an original song called “Waiting for Clouds” to this album, on which Chris Bruce also performs.