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Tributes / Tributes to ‘genius’ Shetland guitarist who worked with Kate Bush

Photo from the Ian Bairnson website.

A GUITARIST who grew up in Shetland before going on to play records by the likes of Kate Bush has died at the age of 69.

Ian Bairnson, who was raised in Levenwick before leaving Shetland, played the iconic guitar solo on Bush’s 1978 number one single Wuthering Heights.

He also reached number one with his band Pilot in the 1970s, whilst he performed with the Alan Parsons Project – and has album credits with Paul McCartney & Wings, Mick Fleetwood, Kenny Rogers and Tom Jones.

Bairnson passed away on Friday after a long battle with dementia.

Local music promoter Davie Gardner said he had the “pleasure – indeed the honour” of working with Bairnson at a Shetland Guitar Festival.

“A lovely, almost shy, certainly modest, but equally inspirational guy and a phenomenal guitarist and all round musician,” he said.

“For those of you who might not instantly know the name Ian Bairnson – Google him and be astounded what this incredibly modest, hugely talented guy from Levenwick achieved during his lifetime.”

Speaking ahead of the 2010 Peerie Willie Guitar Festival, Bairnson was quoted as saying: “I can tell you that I always look forward to “comin’ hame”, but to play in front of my ain’ folk is special.”

Bairnson’s website says the musician bought his first guitar at the age of just six with some birthday money – three pounds and 15 shillings.

He quickly became enamoured with the playing of the legendary Peerie Willie Johnson, spending evenings “over the hill in Bigton listening and learning from Willie’s rhythm playing”.

When he was nine his father Jacky died, and his family ended up moving to Edinburgh.

In his teenage years he became involved in the local Edinburgh music scene, before moving to London where he performed session work and joined the band Pilot.

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He then racked up years of recording credits, notably with Kate Bush and the rock band Alan Parsons Project, selling millions of albums.

Some other collaborators included Bucks Fizz, Elaine Page, Chris DeBurgh and Yes’ Jon Anderson, whilst he also played live with Sting and Stanley Clarke.

He appeared on Paul McCartney and Wings’s Mull of Kintyre – but not on guitar. Instead Bairnson provided backing vocals after being asked by McCartney, who was recording at Abbey Road studios at the same time.

Alan Parsons, who was a sound sound engineer on albums like The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon before launching his own music career, said Bairnson was a “musical genius”.

“He was a true master of the guitar – he knew every possible playable guitar chord and how to describe it – for example “G Minor Sixth Add 9” or C Sharp Major Ninth Add 13″, but amazingly, he never took the time to learn conventional musical notation,” Parsons wrote on social media.

“Another indication of his incredible talent was when he picked up the saxophone and played it like a pro on stage with the British incarnation of The Alan Parsons Live Project, he had only spent a few short weeks of learning the instrument.”

His wife, Leila Bairnson, said the guitarist was the “sweetest, kindest, loving husband I could ever have wished for”.

He ended up retiring from performing in 2018 due to his health.

“Although Ian has left us, his musical legacy stays with us and will continue to delight and brighten our lives, as it did his, forever,” Leila Bairnson said.


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