THE connection is unusual. So unusual in fact, that some have found it hard to believe. One of the world’s most celebrated songwriters naming Robert Burns as his greatest inspiration?

As it transpires, the ties which bind Bob Dylan and Scotland’s national Bard go beyond the realms of mere inspiration. Dylan has actually played alongside Robert Burns and counts him amongst his most trusted collaborators.

The connection was established with an advertising campaign – one which was brilliantly executed by the HMV music store. Targeting world-renowned musicians and artists, it asked them to select a line or verse which has given them their greatest inspiration.

The late David Bowie picked a verse from Gigolo Aunt, from Syd Barrett’s second and final album, Barrett. Liam Gallagher chose a verse from Oasis’s hit, Supersonic, penned by his brother Noel. Beatle Paul McCartney selected a line from Bob Dylan’s She Belongs To Me.

As for Dylan himself – a man who reluctantly accepted a Nobel prize in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” – his choice was, to say the least, surprising.

Incredibly, the 78-year-old opted for Robert Burns’s poem A Red, Red Rose, selecting the lines:

“O my luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my luve’s like the melodie

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonny lass.

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry.”

It would be fair to say that the admission sent a shockwave through the community of scholars and enthusiasts who study the Bard’s life and work. They awaited further word; where did this connection come from? Who introduced Bob to Rabbie? They have been waiting ever since.

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Dylan remains one of the most secretive and elusive figures in music. In his rare interviews since, he has never expanded on the link. And, as Chris Waddle, one of the staff at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway explained, this connection continues to tantalise experts and enthusiasts.

“As a Dylan fan myself, it’s a very exciting connection and one that people still mention. Unfortunately, he’s never told us more about it and he’s never visited the museum here either!”

Chris continued: “I think the thing with Burns is that he finds a place in different cultures, different hearts. He is in with the bricks in American culture. If you think about it, he’s been there for 200 years. There’s a statue of him in Central Park, Burns is taught in the school system, there are statues of him in college campuses, and we know that Abraham Lincoln kept a copy of his work on his bedside table.

“This is a man that, despite the linguistic difficulties, speaks to people, and I think that’s at the real heart of it. Burns speaks to people directly, in a way that a lot of other poets don’t. You sometimes feel that he is talking directly to you when you read his poems, because there’s so much of the man in his poetry.”

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“Going back to Bob Dylan and A Red, Red Rose, this is about ever-lasting love – there is a primal, unstoppable avalanche behind it. And, if you’re a person like Bob Dylan, I can see why there is a connection between two great poetic minds. He’s going to think “that blows my mind” you know, that’s where I think the connection is. It’s something as simple as that.

“You can talk about how clever Burns is, you can talk about how clever Bob Dylan is, but there is raw, human, absorbing emotion in their work.”

There is another link, however; a truly human connection between the men that binds Dylan to Burns directly. During his career, Dylan, who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941, has counted a certain Robert Hunter among his greatest collaborators. Hunter was born just one month after Dylan, halfway across the States in California. Best known for his work with the Grateful Dead, the poet, singer and songwriter has worked with Dylan since 1988 and co-wrote songs on the albums Down in the Groove and Together Through Life.

“We could probably write a hundred songs together if we thought it was important or the right reasons were there,” said Dylan of Hunter in a rare interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2009. “He’s got a way with words and I do too. We both write a different type of song than what passes today for song writing.” If Dylan is aware of the direct link between Hunter and Burns, his own and greatest source of inspiration, he has never spoken about it.

Hunter was born Robert Burns and, according to friend and food critic Charles Perry, he is a direct descendant of the Bard and is actually his great-great-grandson.

Their tragic family history throws up other interesting coincidences. Not only has Hunter inherited Burns’s talent with words, song and poetry, his dad was a publisher in the United States.

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Like Burns, his Dad had issues with alcohol and when this spiralled into full-blown addiction, young Robert spent the majority of his childhood in foster homes, finding solace in books and literature.

It remains to be seen whether Dylan will ever expand on his link with Burns in other interviews. Or if he has even realised that he has shared a stage and his life with a Robert Burns – a direct descendant of the man who inspired him.