hero background

The Birthday Poems
A fictionalized account of the romance
Between Stella Cartwright & George Mackay Brown
And their friendship with Stanley Roger Green

The Birthday Poems album cover

Album Information

THE BIRTHDAY POEMS is a song cycle based on the relationship between the 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. It spans three decades, from the mid 1950s until Stella's tragic and untimely death in 1985.

Performed by Chris Connelly & Monica Queen

Produced by Chris Bruce

Featuring
Levon Henry
Dave Eggar
Blake Collins
Phil Faconti

Released June 15th 2021 on Jnana Records

Chris Connelly

Chris Connelly

Hailing from Edinburgh but residing in Chicago, Chris Connelly only moves forward. His forty years in the music industry have seen him release over twenty solo albums and collaborate with a wide range of bands. He is also the author of four books.

Monica Queen

Monica Queen

Monica Queen is a singer from Glasgow. She and partner Johnny Smillie are Tenement and Temple. Monica has also collaborated with Belle & Sebastian, Chris Coco, James Grant and Jim White.

Album Background

Chris Connelly

by Chris Connelly

This story is a romance that spans three decades, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s, intermittently. It takes place in the smoky bars of Edinburgh, bedsits, flats, the often cobbled streets cloaked in mist and the beautiful water of Leith at the heart of the city. And also the beaches of Hoy and Rackwick, in George's native Orkney.

Drawing of George Mackay BrownDrawing by Nicole Caggiano

George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown, much celebrated poet and author, fell in love with Stella Cartwright, “The Muse of Rose Street” — as did many of the poets of the time who could be found drinking in the bars of said street. She was the sole woman in a boys' club, and yet she managed to change the face of Scottish literature with her influence.

Drawing of Stella CartwrightDrawing by Nicole Caggiano

Stella Cartwright

By all accounts, Stella was not in any way a pushy, bawdy “groupie” type, but rather an intellectual with a true love of literature, music and art. (Her father, Jack, had introduced her to the riches of culture, theatre and social events from a very early age, when she would accompany him everywhere.) She was also creative herself, and by all accounts, because of her stature amongst those so-called pillars of the Scottish pen, was never given the encouragement and nurturing that she so richly fed her poetic male friends.

Drawing of Stanley Roger GreenDrawing by Nicole Caggiano

Stanley Roger Green

In this album you will also hear the voice of Stanley Roger Green represented, another poet and a close friend of Stella's.

Stella Cartwright didn't make it. As George Mackay Brown's literary star ascended, so Stella plummeted into illness and alcoholism, eventually dying alone in her Edinburgh basement flat in 1985.

Although George had long since moved back to Orkney, every year he would send Stella a poem on her birthday, right up until the end.

This album is historical fiction, in that, although the dialogue and the poetry I have created comes from my pen, the events described throughout are all true.

One of my hopes is that Stella may achieve more recognition for what she was: a strong, keenly intelligent lover of life. Her incredible spirit was sadly eclipsed by males she surrounded herself with—that, and the booze.

Still from the Tae the Poets video
Experience The Birthday Poems

Pre-order the CD with full libretto

Coming soon!

Track Listing

Notes by Chris Connelly

Sung by Monica Queen as Stella 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.

Sung by Chris Connelly as Stanley Roger Green Stan was an architecture student at Edinburgh College of Art, and wrote in his free time. He met Stella at Paddy's Bar in Rose Street where they drank, talked literature and ended up at Stan's bedsit for a (platonic) night after she had missed the last bus.

Sung by Monica as Stella & Chris as Stan A 'hoolie' is a party -- a celebration or a get-together with friends. One evening, Stella took Stan to the poet Norman MacCaig's flat for “a minor hoolie” (Stella's words). The “star struck” young Stan was amazed to see and meet George Mackay Brown, Robert Garioch, Sorley Maclean, Tom Scott and Sidney Goodsir Smith.

Spoken by Monica as Stella There is scant evidence available to us that Stella wrote, but she did. In lieu of giving up my life to try and find and obtain the rights to anything, I decided it would be more poignant and more creative to write in what I think maybe approximates her mind, her process. This poem happens after the minor hoolie: all have gone to bed except Stella and perhaps a companion, amongst the empty bottles, the stale ashtrays and the dying embers in the hearth at dawn.

Sung by Chris as George Mackay Brown When George Mackay Brown first moved to Edinburgh to attend the University, he felt depression, isolation and loneliness. He was impoverished and his already weak lungs had to cope with the smoke and pollution of a big city.

Tae the Poets

add remove

Sung by Chris as George A very shy George would visit the Rose Street bars 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.

Spoken by Chris as George Remorse and homesickness drench this poem, written by me to approximate the emotion of a cold and remorseful George in his cold room in a Marchmont flat. As his pain grows, his interest in study falters into ennui.

Sung by Chris as George & Monica as Stella George Mackay Brown met Stella Cartwright at the Abbotsford Bar in Rose Street, one evening in 1957. Thus the beginnings of the romance.

Sung by Chris as George A Saturday afternoon lovers' stroll down the Water of Leith, the heavens opened and the couple were drenched. They found temporary shelter in an abandoned railway shed where they laugh, talk and drink bottles of beer.

Sung by Chris as George & Monica as Stella Perhaps this is the pivotal song on the record, reflecting a most pivotal time in their relationship. George proposed marriage, but the marriage was not to be. Even though Stella was delighted to be asked, when it became apparent that the wedding was not going to happen, Stella remained loyal, showering George with understanding, friendship and words of great beauty. Her deep well of empathy is undoubtedly one of the reasons they remained close over the span of thirty years until her death.

Spoken by Chris as George In which George moves back to Orkney. Ill health and a dislike of the city fuel his homesickness. Although it would be a while before he would write the book MAGNUS, George was already very interested in St. Magnus.

Sung by Monica as Stella Suffering through a meaningless and menial day job, Stella spends her nights trying to keep the party going, still a lonely female soul in a sea of men. Her artistic aspirations are still discouraged or ignored. Taking other partners who were already in committed relationships with others, she would ultimately always end up alone.

Sung by Chris as George George would write Stella encouraging letters from Orkney, but he still suffered depression and was drinking far too much. He urged her to distance herself from the Rose Street poets, telling her they were not good for her.

Spoken by Monica as Stella In turn, Stella would write George letters of warmth and encouragement, reminiscing of the happy times they had shared in the past.

Spoken by Chris as George George finds more and more success and becomes very prolific, his historical fiction and poetry garnering prestigious reviews.

Sung by Chris as George George always referred to whisky as “the smiler with a knife”. On his increasingly infrequent visits to Edinburgh, his visits with Stella would reveal old wounds and would end up in drunken arguments.

Sung by Chris as Stan Years after the literary scene of the “Rose Street Poets” had faded away, Stella kept drinking hard and frequenting the same bars. At a point in the mid 1970s, Stan Green visited her at her flat—only to be shocked how much she had aged, and was walking with the aid of a walking frame.

Sung by Monica as Stella Stella died alone in her flat. Many times she had tried to achieve sobriety and it had not worked. Her father, with whom she had been close, stopped visiting with her after her mother's death. A funeral was held at Warriston Crematorium. Stan Green was the only one of the “old guard” in attendance.

Events

An Evening with Chris Connelly

Friday, June 25, 2021
Doors at 7 PM, show at 8 PM
Gman Tavern, Chicago

SOLD OUT

An Evening with Chris Connelly

Saturday, June 26, 2021
Doors at 7 PM, show at 8 PM
GMan Tavern, Chicago

SOLD OUT

An Evening with Chris Connelly

Sunday, June 27, 2021
Doors at 3 PM, show at 4 PM
Gman Tavern, Chicago

On sale now!
Still from the Tae the Poets video
format_quote

I hope that this album illuminates the beautiful treasure that Stella was, and how hugely significant she is to Scottish literature of a certain era.

Chris Connelly