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Burns poems and songs helped Rose blossom

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By Fiona Reid
Burns poems and songs helped Rose blossom

IF Annandale teenager Rose Byers has a guardian angel it would surely be Robert Burns himself.

For the Bard has played a key role in the 17-year-old’s life so far and been part of some of her biggest experiences.

She credits him with helping her secure her dream university place at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow, where she will start a traditional music degree in September.

And he’s been behind many of her musical triumphs to date as well.

“I always remember finding Burns really interesting before I even got into it with singing,” said Rose.

“The Rights of Women is my favourite poem, I always choose that.

“I like how he put his story into the songs. I love the way he talks about nature, it moves me hugely.

“He was such an interesting man, very controversial in many ways but so interested in man and in humanity and quite ahead of his time.”

Her passion started at primary school at St Mungo, near Lockerbie, with a school trip to Burns’ house and mausoleum in Dumfries.

It deepened when she began to take part in the regional Burns festival, also via school.

She said: “I was entered into the regional school Burns competition. The school was quite involved in that. I came second in singing so went to the finals,” she recalled. “From there I wanted to do it again, I thought it was really fun and it was always something I looked forward to – and dreaded! I can get quite nervous.

“But it’s been a great experience and it’s been in my life quite a lot.”

Rose has become well known locally for her prowess on the fiddle and singing ability, both as a solo artiste and as part of both the Rainbow Tribe community choir and the Spectrum band.

Always fond of singing, she got into it properly at aged eight when she started going to the Rainbow Tribe in Annan, followed a year later by taking up the fiddle.

She said: “I saw others playing the fiddle and wanted to do it. I’ve been having lessons for about eight years.

“I play a bit of ukulele too and started guitar during lockdown. I played bit of piano too but it became too much.”

Over the years she has done poetry recitations and played her fiddle in various contests but says singing is what she prefers, adding: “Singing is my favourite thing to do and that’s been one of the most successful for me in competitions.”

And it’s singing that she will be focussing on at the Conservatoire where her principal study during the four years will be in Scots song.

She said: “It looks like such an amazing community and a lot of people have been successful from there.

“Most of my favourite people in the traditional music industry have come from the Conservatoire, so it was always one that attracted me.

“It’s very prestigious and really hard to get into but I got an unconditional place after my audition. I got the email at school, there were tears.”

She’s come a long way from that first Burns festival in Dumfries and Galloway when she performed Ca’ The Yowes, but it was her extensive knowledge of Burns and his works that helped her secure the coveted place.

Rose has gone from singing about a shepherd calling his sheep at the age of eight to being one of the region’s premier young Burnsians.

Returning to the competition ‘year after year’, she was soon noticed by Burns scholars and enthusiasts and started to be asked to perform, one year even notching up 14 Burns Supper appearances.

A gig at Ellisland Farm, Burns’ former home near Dumfries, sparked other requests and she’s now much in demand as a performer, as well as being Ellisland’s young ambassador.

She said: “It was because of the Burns competition that I went out performing.

“I was asked to sing at the Scottish Parliament to address the haggis in 2019 at the Consular Burns Supper.

“I was invited to sing in Russia too several years ago for the Days of Scotland Festival in St Petersburg. It was an amazing experience.”

The Bard has become the sixth member of the Byers family with everyone now a fan of his works and younger brothers Gabriel and Seth following their sister’s success at the festival.

Rose said: “It’s been a family thing, we just love it.”

Mum Sara added: “It even led me to becoming chair of the Ellisland Trust for a time. It was all through taking her to umpteen million Burns events.

“We have made amazing friendships in that community.”

Songwriting is another passion for the teenager and she always has a notebook to hand to jot down ideas.

Inspiration comes from everywhere and her own musicals tastes are varied and not just restricted to the traditional world.

One of her songs, The Lament of Anne Boleyn, has even been released as a single thanks to Creative Scotland. They teamed her up with Aaron Jones, who put an accompaniment to it, which Rose describes as ‘really cool’.

Covid and the pandemic restricted her performances so she put them on YouTube instead, where she has her own channel.

The ‘cool’ experiences keep coming and she’s thrilled to be asked to appear as a support act for Talisk at Stranraer next month as part of this year’s Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival.

“They are one of my favourite trad bands,” she said. “They are one of my dream bands and to be playing alongside them at this age is such an honour.

“It was amazing to get the email – I was in maths at school when it came through, so I could not scream but it was pretty cool.

“I am looking forward to it but do not know yet what to sing, I’ve got a 15 minute set, so I might play my fiddle too.”

She dreams of one day having her name in lights like Talisk and continuing the Burnsian tradition of singers from this area such as Emily Smith, Claire Hastings and Robyn Stapleton, some of her idols.

“One thing that really appeals to me is Feis Rois as that was how I got into music, seeing them come into our school.

“People like Emily Smith and Claire Hastings work for Feis Rois but at the same time are releasing albums and touring around performing,” added Rose.

The local competitions have now finished for her but she has ‘always wanted’ do the national Young Traditional Musician of the Year contest, saying: “I watch it and dream it will be me one day.

“And I would like to sing Auld Lang Syne on BBC Scotland at New Year to bring in the bells – that would just be the dream, I would feel I have made it then and done well.”

Bringing a modern approach to ‘trad’ is another ambition, as she explained: “Trad is growing, not just in Scotland but everywhere, and people are using dance beats and disco ballads.

“I would like to keep singing Burns etc and bringing my own modern approach to it and work with a band and use modern accompaniments to bring it to life.”

As she prepares for the next, and new, chapter in her life to begin, there’s a few people that she wants to thank: “Barbara Lewis has been a great mentor, without her I definitely would not be where I am now.

“My school, Lockerbie Academy, has been really supportive too.”

But the biggest thanks must surely be reserved to the man himself, who will no doubt be looking down on Rose and willing her on to a glittering future.

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