Rob Burns

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Rob Burns
Rob Burns recording in London, 1971
Background information
Birth name Robert George Henry Burns
Born (1953-02-24) 24 February 1953 (age 64)
Willesden, London, England
Genres Pop, rock, Jazz, Country, R&B
Occupation(s) Musician, arranger, author, lecturer
Instruments Bass guitar
Years active 1972–present
Notable instruments
Wal basses

Rob Burns (born Robert George Henry Burns, 24 February 1953), earlier also known as Robbie Burns, is an English/New Zealand bass player, author and academic. Dr. Burns' career spans four decades, encompassing the varied musical genres of Pop, Rock, R&B, Soul, Jazz, Gospel, Folk and Country. From the late 1970s until 1999 he toured and worked several sessions a week for artists of international fame, as well as for many major British TV shows, before embarking upon an academic career.[1] Burns earned a PhD in music from the University of Otago in 2008 and has published work in several academic publications. He resides in Dunedin, New Zealand and gained citizenship of New Zealand on 4 June 2014.

Early life[edit]

The only child of George and Doris Burns, Robert Burns was born in Willesden, London. When he was four years old, the family moved to the new town of Hemel Hempstead, some 27 miles (43 km) north-west of central London, where he attended Blessed Cuthbert Mayne School, St. Albert the Great and Hemel Hempstead Grammar School (now Hemel Hempstead School).



Burns began his career as a professional musician in Britain in the early 1970s, performing as a touring bass guitarist for visiting major American soul artists Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, The Stylistics and Edwin Starr.

Live performances and touring continued with jazz trumpeter Ian Carr (author of biographies of Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett) as a member of Carr's band, Nucleus, and an appearance in 1981 with Morrissey-Mullen.[2] Burns also worked with Christian singer Garth Hewitt[3] and performed on two world tours as musical director for Eric Burdon of The Animals between 1982 and 1987, appearing on his 1985 That's Live album.[4] Between 1989 and 1996, he played the bass in the Dolphins[5] with Robin Lumley of Brand X, Willie Wilson of Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, and Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour, within whose ranks Clem Clempson and Mick Ralphs would come to jam in the band's fluid line-up. Burns also performed live with James Burton, Frank Gambale and Albert Lee during this period.


Burns became a studio bass guitarist in the 1980s and recorded for Jon Lord and Ian Paice of Deep Purple for their Paice, Ashton and Lord project, Donna Summer, Atomic Rooster, Zoot Money's Big Roll Band and Vivian Stanshall of The Bonzo Dog Band (including the track "(There's) No Room To Rhumba In A Sports' Car" on the NME 1990 compilation album in aid of the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy charity).[6] He appeared on Jerry Donahue's solo album Neck of the Wood,[7] David Wilcox's Bad Reputation and Arthur Louis' Back From Palookaville.[8] Burns also arranged songs for Chris Martin in his pre-Coldplay era of the mid-1990s.[9]

In 2001, Burns joined ex-David Bowie musician Robin Lumley in the formation of a band called SETI, including drummer Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues and Rod McGrath (former cellist in the WASO and LSO), being an attempt to integrate of the styles of Classical cello and a Rock band. Despite a prolonged period of inactivity, due in part to Burns’ move to New Zealand, the SETI project is described as “ongoing”.[10] In 2011, Burns traveled to Toronto to play on Canadian artist/musician Martin Springett's album, Diving Into Small Pools.[11]

Film and Television[edit]

He has played on several major television and film soundtracks including Not the Nine O'Clock News, Three of a Kind, The Lenny Henry Show, Alas Smith and Jones, Red Dwarf,[12] Blackadder, Mr. Bean, A Perfect Spy, 2.4 Children and French and Saunders. During this time, Burns became a mainstay of composer Howard Goodall's "TV" Band.

In 1987, he formed Robert Burns Music and composed film and advertising music for MTV, DeBeers Diamonds, The Sunday Times, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, IBM, P and O Cruises and British Aerospace.


In 1979, Burns was invited to perform in the West End production of the rock opera Tommy, by its composer Pete Townshend of the Who, and in 1984 joined the Abbacadabra musical, working with Elaine Paige for Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson of ABBA and Sir Tim Rice.

Following on from his work on British TV comedy shows, Burns played bass in subsequent theatre productions, namely the "Rowan Atkinson in Revue" tour (1981), which won an Olivier Award, and "Not in Front of the Audience" with the Not the Nine O'Clock News cast in London (1982).


From 1992, Burns was departmental head at the Guitar Institute, BassTech and Drumtech, the contemporary music departments of the London College of Music and Media at Thames Valley University in London. He led the design team that developed a one-year foundation programme in popular music followed by the first popular music performance degree, validated by Thames Valley University in 1999.

He taught as a visiting lecturer at Brunel University, Leeds College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and The Royal Academy of Music. He was principal examiner for grade exams in bass guitar for Rockschool/Trinity College of Music from 1992 to 1998. He gained a B.A.(Hons) at Brunel (1996) and became a Fellow of the London College of Music in 1997 and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2006.

Since 2001, Burns has lectured in music at the University of Otago where he earned his PhD and currently holds the position of Associate Professor in Music .[13] He specialises in popular music performance, arranging, composition, music industry studies and cultural studies and is a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. His interests include progressive rock music, jazz, research into the globalisation of traditional English folk music and jazz/fusion bass guitar performance.

Dr. Burns' authored works include:


Some of Burns' former students play for bands and artists such as Basement Jaxx, K. T. Tunstall, Chaka Khan, Moby and Radiohead.

Other current activities[edit]

Burns currently performs and records with his own jazz/fusion sextet, Subject2change NZ,[24] The Verlaines,[25] country songwriter John Egenes, and the Oxo Cubans.[26]

Instruments and endorsements[edit]

Burns plays 4, 5 and 6-string bass, and has long been a proponent of Wal basses.[27][28] He first began holding Musicians' Union clinics during his session career to showcase the Wal basses (originated by electronics specialist Ian Waller and luthier Pete Stevens) and Trace Elliot amplification, leading to a long-standing relationship with Mark Gooday and Ashdown Amplification.[29]

He has been endorsed by Picato Musicians' Strings, Electric Wood Basses (Wal) and J Retro preamps.[30]


  1. ^ "Playing Favourites with Rob Burns". Radio New Zealand. 2008. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "Rob Burns (bass)". Musicians' Olympus. 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "I Never Knew Life – Garth Hewitt". 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "That's Live – Eric Burdon & Band". 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  5. ^ "Moments Like These: Rob Burns". NZ Musician. 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  6. ^ "Vivian Stanshall & The Big Boys". 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "Jerry Donahue: Neck Of The Wood". 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  8. ^ "Back From Palookaville". 1998. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Dunedin Artists: Robert Burns". Ltd. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  10. ^ "Robin Lumley". Ltd. 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2017. 
  11. ^ "Martin Springett: Diving Into Small Pools". 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "Red Dwarf: List of Musicians". Howard Goodall. 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  13. ^ "Department of Music". University of Otago. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  14. ^ "IASPM-ANZ Conference 2016". 2016. Retrieved 4 December 2016. 
  15. ^ "Transforming folk: Innovation and tradition in English folk-rock music.". Manchester University Press. 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  16. ^ "Access All Areas: Dr Robert Burns – Transforming Folk". Ltd. 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  17. ^ "Steven Knopoff review". Musicology Australia. Routledge. 36: 151–153. 2014. doi:10.1080/08145857.2014.911064. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Review by Britta Sweers (University of Bern, Switzerland )". EFDSS, Folk Music Journal, Vol. 10 No. 5 pp.657-8. 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  19. ^ "British Folk Songs of the Great War - Then and Now". Society for Military History. 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  20. ^ "Rammstein on Fire". McFarland & Company. 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "Music and Art: The International Journal of Music Iconography". Research Centre for Music Iconography. 2010. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  22. ^ "German symbolism in rock music: national signification in the imagery and songs of Rammstein". Cambridge University Press. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  23. ^ "Folksong: Tradition, Revival and Re-creation". Elphinstone Institute. 2005. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  24. ^ "subject2change". Pud. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  25. ^ "Review of Verlaines: Untimely Meditations". all 2013. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  26. ^ "Robert Burns". Oxo Cubans. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  27. ^ "Wal players discuss their basses". Trevor Raggatt. 2012. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  28. ^ "Rare bass worked a treat for session musician's overseas career". APN Holdings NZ Limited. 3 January 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  29. ^ "Ashdown Bass Legends". Ashdown Engineering. 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016. 
  30. ^ "East UK website – Reviews". John East. 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2013.