Hearts & Minds: A Review Of Beerjacket’s Silver Cords…

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It was an interesting development in Scottish writing that two of the most talked about books from the end of 2018 were published by record labels – Stephen Watt & Friends poetry collection MCSTAPE on Last Night From Glasgow, and Beerjacket’s Silver Cords on Scottish Fiction. There are good and understandable reasons for this. The former contains poems about all manner of music related experiences, many of which were written by some of Scotland’s best known musicians, while Beerjacket’s Silver Cords is not only a book of short stories and lyrics, but also the name of the accompanying CD  – his first collection of new songs for some years. However, you can’t help but wonder if this music/publishing industry crossover is, in some small way, a sign of things to come.

If you have listened to the recent SWH! Podcast interview with Beerjacket (also known as Peter Kelly) then you will know much of this. What you won’t have is a clear idea of just what the book Silver Cords is like. Musicians have tried their hand at fiction before with varying degrees of success. For every Nick Cave’s And The Ass Saw The Angel or Louise Wener’s The Half Life of Stars there’s more than a few which rank (rotten) alongside Bruce Dickinson’s The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace or Morrissey’s List of the Lost. Taking that in to account an understandable question must be, “Is Silver Cords any good?” Well, I’m here to tell you not to worry. The short answer is undoubtedly, “Yes”. The longer answer begins below.

I need to talk first about the structure of the book as it is deliberate and shapes your reading. The forward and afterword (which Peter reads on the podcast) frame the book in terms of themes, ideas, and intent. In them he touches upon the enduring nature of songs, the importance of giving things value, the significance of physical things, and examines why people write or sing their thoughts and dreams and choose to share them. 

Each “chapter” then begins with a song’s lyrics, followed by a page which reflects on that song before the accompanying story. Each section is vital to the whole, with Kelly’s reflections working as philosophical aphorisms and poems that are bridges between song and story. These should not be overlooked as they provide the writer’s insight into what you are reading while allowing you plenty of space for your own. When you add the hand-drawn illustrations, which are also Kelly’s, then it is clear that Silver Cords is not just an exercise in writing fiction, more a labour of love that the author felt he had to get out.

This is clear in the content and themes. Silver Cords is a very personal investigation of modern life which will chime with every reader. Philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, and questions on social and cultural concerns, are all examined, and the stories have characters who are dealing with existential crisis and self-doubt, often brought about by everyday living. Family, work, relationships, technology, individual and social expectations, all of these are touched upon as Kelly explores the concept of ‘happiness’ and what cost is paid in its pursuit.

The relationship between dreams and ‘reality’ also runs throughout, asking questions which are reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem ‘A Dream Within A Dream’. Kelly’s stories also put you in mind of some of the short fiction collections of Helen McClory (Mayhem & Death) and Kirsty Logan (The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales), and the recent poetry of Jenni Fagan (There’s A Witch In The Word Machine), in that they all examine the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious, and where the desire and compulsion for story telling comes from.

For Kelly dreams are the ‘silver cords’ connecting the creative and practical aspects of a person’s psyche, firing the imagination and inspiring an individual to create something from what occurs, whether in song, story, drawing, or poetry, all of which are a feature of this extraordinary book. It’s rare that an artist sets out a thesis on the importance of the creative process as clearly and then sees the resulting vision realised so fully.

The best art makes you understand yourself better through other people’s thoughts, ideas and expression. With Silver Cords Peter Kelly has created a work so unashamedly personal that we should be thankful he has shared it with us. We’re all the better for it.

Silver Cords is published by Scottish Fiction.

You can hear Beerjacket talking to Ali on the SWH! Podcast.

Telling Stories & Singing Songs : The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks To Beerjacket…

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Picture Credit: Robert Perry

For the first podcast of 2019, Ali caught up with Peter Kelly, better known as singer/songwriter Beerjacket, to talk about Silver Cords (out now on Scottish Fiction) which is not only the name of his latest collection of songs, but also of the accompanying book of short stories, (see below – & there’ll be a review on these pages soon).

The two talk about the project from its early days through to completion, how the stories images-1work with the songs, the reason Peter chooses to work under a pseudonym, the complex nature of the creative process, and why Beerjacket is now back after some time away.

They also discuss how essential it is to give art value, the cultural weight of physical things, the complex relationship between dreams and reality, just how important collaboration is, the enduring power of songs, and a whole lot more.

An absolute pleasure to take part in, it’s a conversation which will appeal to anyone interested in the artistic process, whether that’s making music, writing, or any other form.

If you are new round these parts there is quite a substantial back-catalogue of podcasts for you to discover. If you aren’t yet a subscriber you can do so, (or simply listen) at iTunes, on Podbean, or by RSS (but you’ll need to have an RSS reader to do so). You can also download the podcast by clicking on the relevant link to the right of this post, or, if you want it right here, right now, you can listen on SoundCloud

..or on YouTube:

A great way to kick off the new year, we hope you agree, and there will be plenty more podcast guests to keep you educated, informed, and hopefully entertained as 2019 unfolds. See you back here very soon…

New Musical Success: A Review Of The Best In New Music…

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It’s been a hell of a year for Scottish music so far, with many, many great albums (from the likes of Zoe Bestel, Roberts/Skuse/McGuinness, Modern Studies, The Scottish Enlightenment, Kathryn Joseph, L-Space, The Gracious Losers, Carla J. Easton, Starry Skies, & I could go on) and with the promise of more on the way. There’s also been a fantastic SAY Awards, all of the incarnations of Rip It Up: The Story Of Scottish Pop (exhibition, book, radio, TV and podcast), and then there’s the recent announcement of the nominees for the SAMA Awards, which again show the depth and breadth of talent around.

Add to that some amazing live gigs and we can only reach the conclusion that we are in something of a Golden Age. The music you’re about to hear only makes that argument stronger. It’s a mixture of the new to SWH! and the welcome return of old favourites, just as it should be. There is diversity, style and craft on show – and an unshakeable sense that for most of them they are only just getting started. This is the story… Continue reading