Burns: The Giftie Bard

Burns: The Giftie Bard celebrates the life, loves and letters of Burns through songs, tunes and words. It was first performed in 2009 for Homecoming Scotland! inaugurated to celebrate the work and legacy of Robert Burns. Researched and conducted by Alison Burns and performed by The Feral Choir and Cairn Chorus, Burns: The Giftie Bard weaves together music and carefully researched text.

The choirs are joined by The Cast, Edinburgh-based duo Dave Francis and Mairi Campbell, and local musicians Dave Orr and Wendy Stuart. Wendy is one of Scotland’s top harpists, and has an international reputation while Mairi was voted Scottish Singer of the Year in the Scottish Traditional Music Awards in 2007.

Burns The Giftie Bard CD cover
CD cover, Burns The Giftie Bard

“Back in 2008 I was thinking ‘Ahh! the Homecoming year is ahead of us – let’s do a concert of Burns material’. And it seemed like a good idea at the time, but the reality of squeezing the vibrant, garrulous, erudite, prolific, magnificent Burns into a two hour performance began to feel like trying to capture the force of a great gale in a jam jar in order to hold it up for clinical inspection. During the endeavour I often questioned what I was trying to say or present through my choice of text and songs. Representing every facet of Burns’ rich life was obviously impossible in an evening. So in the end I opted for some well known and loved songs and some other beautiful but rarely sung ones. Things that delighted me along the way I included in the hope that they would delight the audience too. The programme is woven together, using readings that illuminate the songs in some way and fiddle tunes from Burns’ time.”

Researched and devised by Alison Burns, with:
Mairie Campbell: vocals, viola, fiddle
Dave Frances: reading from the letters of Robert Burns
Wendy Stewart: traditional harp
Dave Orr: guitar

Project dates:
2009 – present (bookings taken)

The Letters

Extracts: Letter from Miss Riddell to Dumfries Journal, Annandale
7 August 1796

“The attention of the public seems to be much occupied at present with the loss it has recently sustained in the death of the Caledonian poet, Robert Burns; a loss calculated to be severely felt throughout the literary world, as well as lamented in the narrower sphere of private friendship.

Many others, perhaps may have ascended to prouder heights in the region of Parnassus, but none certainly ever outshone Burns in the charms – the sorcery, I would almost call it, of fascinating conversation, the spontaneous eloquence of social argument, or the unstudied poignancy of brilliant repartee.

His personal endowments were perfectly correspondent to the qualifications of his mind; his form was manly; his action, energy itself; devoid in great measure perhaps of those graces, of that polish, acquired only in the refinement of societies where in early life he could have no opportunities of mixing; but where such was the irresistible power of attraction that encircled him, though his appearance and manners were always peculiar, he never failed to delight and to excel.”

Extract from Burns’ letter to Mr Thomas Orr, Kirkoswald
September 7th 1782  05 to be rich and to be great

“To be rich and to be great are the grand concerns of this world’s men, and to be sure, if moderately pursued it is laudable; but where is it moderately pursued? The greater part of men grasp at riches as eagerly as if poverty were but another word for damnation and misery, whereas I affirm that the man who’s only wish is to become great and rich; whatever he may appear to be; or whatever he may pretend to be; at the bottom he is a miserable wretch. Avoid this sordid turn of mind if you would be happy.”

Extract from Burns’ letter to Mr Cunningham, Ellisland
January 24th 1789 07 love is alpha and omega

“I myself can confirm, both from bachelor and wedlock experience, that Love is the Alpha and the Omega of human enjoyment. – All the pleasures, all the happiness of my humble Compeers, flow immediately and directly from this delicious source. – It is the spark of celestial fire which lights up the wintry hut of Poverty, and makes the cheerless mansion, warm, comfortable and gay. – It is the emanation of divinity that preserves the Sons and Daughters of rustic labour from denigrating into the brute with which they daily hold converse. – Without it, life to the poor inmates of the Cottage would be a damning gift.”