He's Bard! Jacko sets Robert Burns to music

The bizarre world of "Wacko Jacko" has taken another twist. Michael Jackson has taken the work of 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns and set it to music, but the result is unlikely to be a thriller for fans.

The reclusive recording artist, who broke out the fairy bread for his 50th birthday this week, has combined with David Gest (Liza Minnelli's former husband) to adapt Burns' work.

Gest (55) told the Guardian this week that he and Jackson originally teamed up to do a musical based on Burns' life but decided instead to "turn his poetry into show tunes".

Gest said the Bard's poetry was as "relevant today as it ever was".

While marrying lyrics like "when Chapman billies leave the street, and drouthy neebors neebors meet," with a 1990s disco beat may sound like musical genius, the reaction of those in Dunedin, the "Edinburgh of the South" was muted.

Scottish Shop store assistant Kay Foster, said the George St outlet "probably wouldn't stock the CD", even if it was available.

Poems by Burns were always popular but sold more around his birthday on January 25.

Gest and Jackson will be disappointed to learn the market is already covered.

Scottish actor John Cairney's recital of the Bard's work and those by folk artist Eddie Reader sell steadily.

Dunedin Burns Society past president Peter Smith, of Dunedin, said the Scottish poet's work had enduring appeal because it alluded to strong Scottish literary traditions, was often amusing, and contained cutting social insights.

"The Lowland Scots much of it's written in is not immediately understood by many - so God only knows what they [Gest and Jackson] were thinking.

"But anything which sheds light on Burns ahead of the 250th anniversary of his birthday is good. I think his works have universal appeal."

When asked what Scotland's favourite son might have thought of the Gest-Jackson collaboration, current club president Margaret Smith said Burns was a "down-to-earth" man, who also had a keen sense of humour.

"Apparently he was a convivial sort of a man and immense fun. He was also writing in a local dialect and reintroducing old songs and arrangements. He may have thought it was not quite such a bad idea," Mrs Smith said.

Dunedin Real Groovy store manager Morgan Jarvis said it was unlikely the store would stock any Gest-Jackson release.

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