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Robert Burns Lives!
A Lazy Saturday Morning with Two New Burns Friends

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

On a recent Saturday morning Keith Dunn and John Falstaff drove from the Atlanta area to our home, Waverley, on Lake Lanier in north Georgia. We spent the better part of the morning discussing a subject near and dear to a lot of people – Robert Burns. They had come to see my Burns collection and, in the process, we talked about the Kilmarnock and other Burns editions in my library. I have attempted to limit my collection to books published no later than 1850, but I have not always been successful in that attempt. Of particular interest to John, a Dubliner, were the Dublin editions consisting of an original 1787, a 1790, and a 1793. All, I might add, carry the moniker as “pirate” editions. Poor Burns never got a cent from the penny-pinching Irishmen James Magee and William Gilbert who literally stole the Kilmarnock contents and reissued it as their own.

I shared various stories with Keith and John regarding the acquisitions of my collection that now numbers over a thousand volumes and which is very dear to Susan, my wife, and me. Over the year we have acquired a couple of large busts of Burns and recently were able to attain two manuscripts of Burns, “Once Fondly Lov’d” and “Jessie - A Scots Song”. But before going any farther, let me introduce you to Keith and John.

Keith is a fellow member of the Atlanta Burns Club and has entertained our membership with his fiddle playing. He has his own website, and you may want to check it out at and learn more about this talented Scotsman. Keith said in a recent email to me, “I do know that Burns had an interest in playing the fiddle…which relates to me personally…but along with that, I very much appreciate the depth of Burns bare bones psychology that is woven into his poetry”.

I asked Keith to give me a paragraph or two regarding his fiddle playing, and it is my privilege to share so much of this man’s life with you on the subject:

Photo (L-R):  Keith Dunn with the Kilmarnock  (Photo by John Falstaff)

Keith performing with fiddle at Burns Club of Atlanta  (photo credit unknown)

“I attended the Atlanta School of Performing Arts for Violin for 2 1/2 years afterwards playing in a small church orchestra for 13 years.  Because of the lack of traditional "Scottish" fiddle music in the Atlanta area, I slowly moved from the orchestral music to Irish, bluegrass, Gospel and a little old-time fiddle music.  I have been in a few loosely organized acoustic bands, one of whom I still occasionally join for special volunteer benefits.  I play at a monthly "Gospel Jam" session in Hiram, Georgia.  In 2006 I was invited to join with the Celtic fusion group "Keltic Kudzu" for a season.  Traveling became intense in a tri-state area and after a season I left the group. I have attended Alasdair Frasers "Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School" five years, this Aug. 2010 being my 6th year and have had teachers there from Sweden (Elika Frizell), Norway (Annbjorg Lien), Quebec (Andre' Brunet), Scotland (Alasdair Fraser), Shetland Islands (Catriona MacDonald), Ireland (Martin Hayes), California,(Deby Grosjean and Laura Risk) the northern U.S. (Darol Anger) and the Appalachian mountains (Bruce Molsky), Boston, U.S. (Liz Carrol) and more.  One of many memorable moments at the Valley of the Moon was learning one of the Shetland tunes "Da Slockit Light" inside the trunk of a redwood tree at midnight, playing it until I learned it, well beyond the midnight hour.  I have been a member of the San Francisco Scottish Fiddler Club (S.F.S.F.) since 2003.  The S.F.S.F. is directed by master Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and is under the umbrella of the "California Scottish Fiddlers". I aid the "Scottish Fiddle Tent Committee" at the Stone Mountain Highland Games and I have played for the Emory University Christmas production "Celtic Christmas" for 2 years.”

I met John Falstaff thanks to another great Irishman, distinguished Emory University scholar, Professor James Flannery. Jim invited me on behalf of Falstaff to speak in January of 2010 on WRFG (89.3) radio about Robert Burns as celebrations around the world were beginning to kick-off in celebration of the 250th birthday of the beloved Bard. I enjoyed being on John’s radio program and can understand why many Scots and Irish people speak so highly of him. His laid back demeanor while interviewing makes you feel at home. I particular enjoyed the format of the show when he would ask a question, I would answer, whereupon John would then play one or two Scottish songs to compliment the discussion.

(L-R):  John Falstaff holding Burns' Kilmarnock edition and Frank Shaw.  (Photo by Keith Dunn)

Just who is John Falstaff? Briefly, he has hosted the Celtic Show on WRFG Atlanta (Georgia) on 89.3FM since 1995.  This show, which airs each Sunday from 5 to 7pm, and may be enjoyed streaming on the web at, features the finest modern traditional offerings from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and wherever Celtic music is found, as well as gems from the past.  In 2009, there were several special broadcasts devoted to the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns, and most recently the passing of tenor Kenneth McKellar was noted with a selection of his wonderful Burns recordings.

Last summer, for the first time in decades, John returned to Scotland for a short visit, the highlight of which was cycling along the canal towpath from Edinburgh to Glasgow.  He was pleased to find Scotland relatively unchanged after all the intervening years; the highlands were as stunningly beautiful as ever.

John, in addition to being host of The Celtic Show, is also a freelance writer. In an email after his visit with us, he wrote, “I was telling an (Irish) Burns fan in Edinburgh about my trip up to see you, and what really got his attention was the mere existence of the Dublin editions. We have so much to learn.” I might add here that I recently acquired a 1787 Dublin edition on the internet. In sharing that find in a conversation with Dr. Ross Roy, a.k.a. “Chairman of the Bard”, he could not recall a Dublin first edition (1787) being for sale in the last 25 years. So you see, “the luck of the Irish” is not always reserved for them, and every now and then a Scotsman has his turn.

Of particular interest to the two men were the Burns busts in the collection. The bronze was crafted by artist Whisper Frankel, General Manager of the Fine Arts Foundry of Texas in Houston. The marble one was done by renowned English artist David Cornell and was purchased from Alistair MacDougal, Director for Stone Icons, Ltd. in London. Both busts are excellent works, and they stand guard 24/7 over the Burns and Scottish books in the library. Interestingly, the Burns bust commissioned by the Heather and Thistle Society of Houston and located in the city’s International Commemorative Sculpture Garden is the work of Frankel as well. With the great assistance of my friend Jack Hume, ironically I was able to convince Whisper to make our bronze of Burns from the same mould. Both bronze works were made possible because the Burns Club of Atlanta loaned the Heather and Thistle Society (Jack Hume at work again) their bust so the mould could be made for the society. .

The three of us have something else in common beside our love of Burns and that is our love of books. It was interesting to observe each of my new friends as I pointed out to them and handed them the various editions of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, beginning with the Kilmarnock, both Edinburgh editions, then London, followed by New York, Philadelphia and Belfast. Of particular interest to me was watching their expressions as they held the two manuscripts of Burns’ own handwriting in their hands - not a facsimile - but the real thing. Julio Iglesias and the Captain and Tennille have thrilled us by singing what I am trying to describe - the joy of friendship. But Beethoven’s 9th Symphony based on Friedrich von Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy says it best - Come sing a song of joy!

Our all too brief meeting of over two hours was capped off around the table as Susan had prepared lunch and we shared the wonderful desserts brought by John. Yes, we ate from the famous Royal Doulton Burns plates featuring the various people or characters in the life of Burns. They have been collected over the years from eBay sellers.

While this small meeting of Burnsians might not qualify in the strictest sense of Auld Lang Syne, I can assure you that all three of us will remember it as long as we live and somewhere down the road of life, it will become a grand memory of three friends who gathered one lazy Saturday morning long, long ago, becoming days gone by, or even “once upon a time” that will always be remembered. New friends cannot replace old friends as another song says but in this case, I’ll take these two new friends over some of my old friends any day.

We are in Columbia, SC as I write this. At dinner last night with Drs. Ross Roy, Patrick Scott, Susan and Lucie Roy, Ross and I were engaging in a wee sidebar about friendship when he casually quoted the poet John Burroughs, summing up this article, “The friends I seek are seeking me.” (FRS: 5.10.10)

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