Robert Burns: Setting the bard's poetry to music is an exciting project – Scotsman comment

Setting the complete works of Robert Burns to music is a truly epic task.

Eddie Cairney is attempting to put the complete works of Robert Burns to music (Picture: Ross Cairney/SWNS)
Eddie Cairney is attempting to put the complete works of Robert Burns to music (Picture: Ross Cairney/SWNS)

But Eddie Cairney, 69, of Newtyle in Angus, has so far completed a grand total of 892 tunes for the Bard’s words, recording nearly 48 hours of music, and hopes to be finished by March next year.

While he began doing this some years ago, the Covid lockdown saw him get to work with renewed vigour and he has been releasing an album a week since July 2020.

Cairney was previously in a reggae band and thought about giving the tunes a West Indian flavour – which sounds like it might have been an interesting example of musical ‘fusion’ – but he ultimately decided against that idea and that the songs should sound like something Burns might recognise.

“It was very easy when I started writing music to his words – everything fits. He wrote them to traditional tunes and a lot of them are gone – nobody knows what they are,” he said.

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Only Tam O’Shanter resisted his efforts with Cairney deciding he “didn't want to desecrate it”.

The music is freely available online and Cairney has also published the musical notation for anyone who wishes to make their own recordings of his songs.

And as Nathan Evans’ TikTok sea shanty sensation Wellerman showed, there is an appetite for music of the past and that the international collaboration enabled by the internet can take off in spectacular ways.

So, who knows, perhaps Rabbie Burns is about to enter the internet age in a new and exciting way.

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