Scottish alternative music legend Chris Connelly and vocalist Monica Queen have announced their collaboration for a new album ‘The Birthday Poems’, a fictionalized account of the romance between Scottish personalities Stella Cartwright and George Mackay Brown and their friendship with Stanley Roger Green.
‘Tae The Poets’ is the first song to be revealed from this album, to be released on June 15 via Jnana Records. While Stella’s voice is sung by the incomparable Monica Queen throughout the album, this first taster features vocals by Connelly. The clever video for this song was filmed on location at Chicago’s GMan Tavern and created by Derick Smith, who also handles photography, and Matt Walker.
“A very shy George would visit the Rose Street bars of Edinburgh and nurse a pint, hoping to meet his poetic heroes. When invited to join the throng one night by Sydney Goodsir Smith, George, cripplingly shy, did not accept the offer. It would take a little time, and a few more pints of McEwan’s Heavy, before George became a part of the group himself,” explains Chris Connelly.
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 celebrated Scottish poet and author George Mackay Brown and his muse Stella Cartwright. It also addresses the platonic relationship between Stella and the Edinburgh born poet Stanley Roger Green, spanning three decades (from the mid 1950s until Stella’s tragic and untimely death in 1985).
With 2021 being the 100th birthday of Orkney-born poet George Mackay Brown, this album represents a sometimes overlooked but very important part of Scottish culture.
Stella started going out with Mackay Brown, with whom she had a deep relationship that turned into a friendship that endured from the 50’s until her death in the ’80’s. It was not always a happy one – neither of the pair were particularly happy, and their love of whisky did not help.
“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. As a child and younger man in Edinburgh, I walked the same streets, drank in the same bars and walked the same hills. I was also lucky enough to be close friends with Stanley Roger Green’s children, who, highly creative in their own ways, greatly informed and inspired my life,” says Chris Connelly.
This album was produced by 30-year Connelly collaborator Chris Bruce, a long-time musical partner and band member of Meshell Ndegeocello, who has also worked with Seal, Aaron Neville, Bob Dylan, The Waterboys, My Brightest Diamond, Cheryl Crow and Sam Phillips, amongst others. This album also features strings by Dave Eggar and sax by Levon Henry, as well as contributions by Blake Collins and Phil Faconti.
While Monica Queen ronted early 90s band Thrum and released a couple of mellow, introspective albums under her own name with her partner John Smillie, she has gained a reputation as Glasgow’s guest vocalist of choice. Her formidable voice is now widely familiar thanks to her vocal turn on Belle & Sebastian‘s much-loved ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’.
For Chris Connelly, art only moves forward. For almost forty years, he has completed creative pieces ranging from the triumphant to the tragic, from the humble to the hilarious – each time promptly moving on to seek his next inspiration.
Since his nascent beginnings with FiniTribe in his native Edinburgh, Connelly has in excess of twenty solo releases, impressing with their beauty, diversity, earnest intent and wit. He is also a frequent and keen collaborator with other musicians, building on long-established projects with Ministry, The Revolting Cocks and Pigface by evolving and contributing to newer collectives such as Cocksure and The Joy Thieves.
As an explorer of art as a broader endeavour has also issued four books, encompassing the realms of poetry, autobiography, and fictional narrative. For Connelly and Queen alike, ‘The Birthday Poems’ project feels like the beginning in such an exciting way.
To celebrate the release of this album, Connelly will perform a short run of limited-seating shows in Chicago, two of which have already sold out. ‘An Evening with Chris Connelly’ will feature performances of songs from ‘The Birthday Poems’, as well as stories associated with Connelly’s discovery and investigation of the relationship which inspired the album. An online event is also in the works. Links to all events can be found here!