Becoming a singer/songwriter, on the face of it, seems easy. Get a guitar, learn a few minor chords, let some feelings out.
However, once you have seen it done well, you realise how much talent is actually required. There is no hiding place when you do everything on your own, and there are few in Scotland right now who do it better than Peter Kelly.
Beerjacket, the name of Kelly’s homemade solo project, very nearly disappeared soon after it began. It started in 2004 “as a goodbye to music…a bitter farewell show”, after which he planned to stop for good. Thankfully, enough people liked the show to keep the project alive and, five years on, Beerjacket is still going.
Although he plays most of his live shows in Glasgow, Kelly says he can’t claim to be a Glasgow musician as he doesn’t spend much time there. Instead, “Beerjacket happens alone in a toy room in Lanarkshire,” he says.
His most recent album, Animosity, is a return to simplicity after Kelly felt previous work had become overcomplicated. The songs have the classic singer/songwriter appeal: simultaneously sad and uplifting. ‘Violent’ and ‘Drum’ perfectly sum up the honest tone of the album, whilst ‘The Gun’ is moralistic without any accompanying righteousness.
The album attains considerable diversity in its ten tracks too, especially on ‘Evil Air’, which adds colourful bluesy edges thanks to some neat slide guitar work.
The stripped-down, back to basics approach is certainly noticeable; Kelly describes his set-up as “one the most primitive you’re likely to find – acoustic guitar, vocal and foot-stomped tambourine”. The one-to-one feel of this minimal intervention policy gives his lyrics more immediacy.
There is also something hugely appealing about an artist who has decided to go it alone. As Kelly says, “I have opened for many of my heroes like Feist, The National, Kristin Hersh, Rilo Kiley and Arab Strap, released six albums and received airplay all over the world. And all this without a manager, PR, publisher, record label, agent or other band members to thank or blame.”
Kelly is also keen to praise those he has worked with: “I’ve been fortunate in playing with many of my influences. They have all inspired me”. The Second Hand Marching Band opened a show for him recently and also played along on a Beerjacket cover, which pleased Kelly to the extent that he forgot the words to his own song.
If comparisons are to be made, then the most obvious, in terms of style, seems to be Elliott Smith. But the tagline of ‘the new Elliott Smith’ has weighed heavily, usually unhelpfully, on many artists before. Kelly’s work stands alone perfectly well.
In a cluttered genre, Beerjacket has emerged as one of Scotland’s best singer/songwriters. Going it alone is a brave decision, but his work demands recognition. Wherever he goes next, it is sure to be well worth following.
The new Beerjacket album Animosity was released digitally on 8th June on iTunes, eMusic, LaLa and Amazon MP3. A limited edition digipack CD of the album will be in independent record shops soon.