Michael Alexander speaks to award-winning Tayside-based songwriter Eddie Cairney about his new Robert Burns songs.
Eddie Cairney is no stranger to celebrating the works of Robert Burns.
His cousin John Cairney, a Scottish film and television actor, became well known internationally through his one-man shows on Burns, and Eddie organised a Burns Centenary Festival in the 1990s.
Then in 2009 he brought a whole new lease of life to Burns’ work by writing new music to Burns’ lyrics.
Perth-born Eddie, who now lives in Arbroath, set out to write just a few songs when he launched the project.
Five years on, and Eddie has made the most of recent Covid-19 lockdowns to launch “Robert Burns the new songs”.
Complete rewrite of Burns
“Robert Burns the new songs is a complete rewrite of the verse of Robert Burns,” explains Eddie.
“The total song count stands at 892 but the final count is expected to be around the 900 mark as new rewrites are added.
“Burns had a very short career as a writer, no more than 10 years but in that time he managed to craft some of the greatest song lyrics ever written.
“He was a musician, could play the violin and notate music but his attempts at composing weren’t a success so he gave it up as a bad job and instead relied on collecting tradition tunes which he crafted his lyrics around.
“Because of his untimely death, he didn’t have time to form collaborations with composers of the day. “Who’s to say what heights of greatness he would have scaled had he lived out his allotted three score years and 10?”
Eddie said he has felt for years that Burns’ handful of songs has belied his true greatness as a songwriter and that is why he set out to redress the situation with Robert Burns the new songs.
Whereas before, where many of his songs had to share the same melody between them, all his songs now have their own dedicated tune with several having a choice of two or even three melodies.
The project was launched on July 21 to mark the 225th anniversary of Burns’ passing and will run until March 2023.
One new album will be released every Wednesday and can be accessed via https://rbtns.scot
Eddie found Burns’ verse very easy to put music to and melodies materialised in quick succession with very little effort.
This was helped by the fact that Burns’ words, apart from being very well written, usually have their own rhythm which dictates the melody.
“Burns was a modern thinker and part of the Scottish enlightenment,” adds Eddie.
“Burns, although no saint, espoused the notion of women being equal to men which wasn’t a widely held view in the 18th century.
“You could say that Burns was obsessed with the love of women and this is evident in his collection of songs on that very subject.
“When Bob Dylan was asked what song was his biggest influence he said “Robert Burns: Red Red Rose”.
“That’s praise indeed which demonstrates the regard he’s held in as a songwriter.”
Eddie hopes his new collection of songs will re-kindle people’s interest in Burns.
The songs have been written in several different styles so there’s a song for everyone.
He is keen that Robert Burns the new songs should be there as a resource for schools, groups and individuals.
He adds: “Someone suggested, the other day, that I have to be the most prolific songwriter the word has ever seen. It was very flattering but I doubt that’s the case. Scotland maybe?”
However, his earlier life was not always destined towards music, let alone the bard.
Story of reinvention
A former pupil of Perth’s Craigie Primary School, Eddie left Perth High School aged 18 and took on a few jobs including potato delivery driver and worked for General Accident.
Always musical, yet discouraged, he says, at school, he played in various bands including October.
When they split, he helped form Dundee-based band Rokotto.
But his dad – a drummer who knew the late accordion legend Sir Jimmy Shand – had always encouraged his son to get a ‘proper job’.
Before Rokotto hit the big time, including a show at the Glasgow Barrowland and several appearances on Top of the Pops, he left the band to train as a TV engineer.
Marrying Elaine, the couple emigrated to New Zealand in 1981 where they raised two boys. Eddie continued his interest in music, writing radio jingles, performing regularly in a piano bar and, wrote the music for the 1984 New Zealand Olympic anthem.
Moving back to Dundee, he and his wife opened the Goodness Me health food shop in Broughty Ferry.
Eddie actually gave up music for around 15 years. But in 1999, after his wife spotted an advert in the paper, he entered a competition to write a Millennium song for Carnoustie – and won!
If anyone want to use any of the songs, the music is completely free to download via https://rbtns.scot
Eddie can be contacted and is more than willing to help with chords, accompaniment and intros.