My life in a guitar
By Francesco Ferrua
Born in the Shetland Islands, Scotland, in 1953, Ian Bairnson dedicated his life to the guitar. Highly in demand as session musician, he mainly connected his name to the ones of Alan Parsons and Pilot, but he can claim a lot of collaborations with the biggest names in the international musical scene.
When did you approach guitar for the first time, and where are your musical roots?
Well, that was a long time ago, probably around 1959 at age of six. My musical roots were a mix. As I was still living in Shetland and traditional music it was one of them and the jazzy guitar of Wes Montgomery they used to play in the radio was another. I suppose that Gospel has influenced me as well. I used to play a lot on my own and started composing my own songs as my guitar was my companion.
It is true that you never learned to read music?
Yes, indeed. Iíd always play by ear.
The move to Edinburgh opened for you new musical horizons. I read that at the age of fifteen, you already played supporting for John Mayall, Edgar Broughton Band, Argent, and Rory Gallagher.
I started very young and I remember going around with some pals using an old van to go to the venues where we eventually played. Good memories!
The turning point arrived once you moved further south, in the central London. In the beginning of your career in the music industry, in 1974, you had to make a choice that I supose was not easy to take. On one side there was Steve Harley who wanted you with him as a Cockney Rebelís member Ė a band already in the spotlight in the recording market Ė on the other side there were the emerging Pilot. Why you chose Pilot?
I suppose I preferred Pilotís style, the fact that David Paton invited me and we were all Scottish.
Your name is mainly connected with The Alan Parsons Project. Besides Eric Woolfson and Parsons himself, you are the only one in the band to be there on every albums. I know that, in the studio, Alan and Eric always gave big freedom of expression to you and the other musicians. Do you feel somehow responsible for the musical arrangements on some tracks?
Of course. Iíve always created my own solos and with that Iíve put my own stamp on all the songs. I think Iím very privileged to been part of the band for so many years and to collaborate with Eric and Alan.
After fourteen years spent exclusively in the studio, finally The Alan Parsons Poroject went live on stage at the Night Of The Proms in Antwerp, Belgium. How it was, for you and the other band members, playing live the music you dedicated so many years to, at last?
To play for such a big audience was very rewarding and performing besides a full orchestra certainly an amazing experience. The result was that Alan felt confident about us going live. So we started our tours to U.S.A., South America and Europe. It was amazing to realise how big we were in some countries and to prove we could do our songs live.
Once Parsons started his solo career, ended his partnership with Woolfson, youíve been one of the main characters in Alanís albums, finally showing yourself also as a composer. TRY ANYTHING ONCE, ON AIR and THE TIME MACHINE owe you a great debt in terms of composition. I suppose it was a nice opportunity for you showing you also as author, at last.
Yes, it was an opportunity to share my songs through those projects. Iíve been always composing and writing songs, but to be given the opportunity to show them off was good. In the past I had contributed to some Pilot songs and Panarama as well, but I think ON AIR is my masterpiece.
The Project is now marked by two sad losses: Eric Woolfson and Chris Rainbow. Can you give us your personal memories in order to track down their personality?
They are both sadly missed by me. Eric was a very kind person with an amazing sense of humour. Chris was a very talented and funny person as well and we had lots of good moments together.
Are you still in contact with Alan Parsons and the other Projectís members?
More with Stuart Elliot, David Paton, Richard and Laurie Cottle. Since Alan moved to America and started his new band we kind of lost touch.
You can claim an enviable career as session musician. You worked for Kate Bush, mainly Ė but not only Ė on THE KICK INSIDE and LIONHEART. What do you remember regarding your experience on her side?
Well, she was and still is a very talented artist. She always knew what she wanted, but again we had a good collaboration together with trust and freedom.
Paul McCartney wanted you and David Paton for the backing vocals on Mull Of Kintyre. How was born this fleeting collaboration and what represent The Beatles for you?
The Beatles were a big role model to all of us. When we were recording at Abbey Road Paul was already with Wings and we used to meet all the time. I think because Mull of Kintyre was a Scottish folk song he invited us to sing on it.
In 1980 you joined Jon Anderson as a member of the New Life Band, taking part to the recordings for the SONG OF SEVEN album, together with John Giblin, Morris Pert, Ronnie Leahy, Dick Morrissey, Chris Rainbow and many others. How you entered the band?
I think it was John Giblin who introduced me to Jon Anderson. It was very nice, he was very easy going and very complimentary about my performance.
The KEATS album see you playing together with the late Pete Bardens, formerly a Camel member, for Alan Parsonsí production. What do you remember about this great keyboardist?
It was a long time ago, but playing alongside him was a good experience.
Speaking of Camel, what do you think about Andy Latimerís guitar style?
Very good and sensitive guitar player. Even though we have different styles I believe he is a brilliant guitar player.
In addition to taking part in the recordings for so many albums, in your career youíve been active on the live-in-concert scene too. Between the two things Ė recording in the studio or playing live on stage Ė what gave you greater satisfaction?
Playing live of course. The feedback from the audience is a feeling that you can not describe.
You worked a lot for the Japanese music market too, sharing the studio time with great musicians such as Simon Phillips, Bill Bruford, Max Middleton, John McLaughlin and Kuma Harada. How your involvement with Japanese artists began?
Both Pilot and The Alan Parsons Project are very big in Japan. So some Japanese artists wanted me to be part of their albuns because of that.
Is it true that you never had a manager and that you kept yourself the relationship in the music industry, dealing your affairs yourself?
We had some bad experiences with managers, so I did certain things by myself. We had managers when we were touring and again we ended losing some money. Very sad that you can not trust people.
Letís play the typical Ďdesert islandí game. If you could bring with you, on a desert island, just three albums you worked on, what albums would you choose?
FREUDIANA, ON AIR and THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD.
And if, on the same desert island, you could bring with you just one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar and one amplifier, what would you bring with you?
Taylor (acoustic), a vintage eletric Paul Reed Smith and a Fender amplifier.
In 1997 you approached the sax too, and it soon became your second-choice music instrument. Do you feel that there is some sort of affinity between sax and guitar?
Yes, I suppose so. You can do solos with both of them.
In 2015 you played guitar on the track Comfortably Numb, included in the album titled THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA PLAYS PROG ROCK CLASSICS. How it was for you having to face with David Gilmourís style?
Not a problem at all as Richard Cottle who was producing it asked me to play my own solo in my own style.
Have you ever crossed your path with Pink Floyd?
Yes, years ago. Iíve always admired them as a band and Gilmour as a guitar player.
Do you have any preferences in the progressive rock world?
Again Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Steely Dan are some of my favourites.
If you should give a suggestion to a young guy longing to approach guitar, dreaming to become a professional guitar player someday, what would you suggest him?
Practising and trying to find their own style. I think you should first concentrate in the more technical approach, but never forgetting to put your emotions while you are playing. The music industry has changed a lot so it is difficult for me to suggest which way to go, but pursuing your dreams is the beginning.
Musically, do you have a dream hoping to make it true someday?
Re-uniting with my old pals and jamming together. Not impossible to achieve!
A big thank you to Leila Bairnson for her lovely collaboration.