Few acts can boast more Scottish collaborations than the Cairn String Quartet and their expanded spin-off the Electric String Orchestra.
A group of classical musicians with an indie heart, they have worked with Camera Obscura, Admiral Fallow, Roddy Hart, Stanley Odd, Katie Sutherland, Will Hanson, The Bluebells, Francis Macdonald, Tommy Reilly, Aaron Wright, Attic Lights and We See Lights, while the Electric String Orchestra launch night in May 2012 saw them back up The Twilight Sad, Rachel Sermanni and Emma Pollock for a special West End Festival show.
They have become the go-to ensemble for guitar acts in need of some orchestration, but the Cairn String Quartet are also winning legions of their own fans with their exquisite instrumental covers of the latest Scottish alternative singles. Check out these videos and the positive responses they have garnered from Biffy Clyro, CHVRCHES and Frightened Rabbit.
— Biffy Clyro (@BiffyClyro) March 15, 2013
— CHVRCHES (@CHVRCHES) March 10, 2013
— Frightened Rabbit (@FRabbits) March 2, 2013
“Some arrangements take longer than others,” says viola player and co-founder Annemarie McGahon. “Backyard Skulls took three days as incorporating the drum lines took some imagination and had us slapping instruments and all sorts. We also had to tune the instruments down which was a bit of a brain tease. More straightforward songs take a day or so, but the hard ones are always better fun to play.”
The Cairn String Quartet is actually made up of three separate quartets – 11 girls and one guy – and when they all play together they form the Electric String Orchestra. They only occasionally rotate members.
Formed in 2007 by graduates of RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), the Cairn String Quartet also indulged in some mainstream pop glamour at the 2011 MOBO Awards, enjoying UK-wide television exposure during Emeli Sandé’s live collaboration with Professor Green. Demand for their services has seen doors open for them far and wide, from major festival appearances and corporate invitations to tours in Europe and South America.
Annemarie says: “The original quartet was formed by myself and Fiona McLachlan when we we used to busk on Buchanan Street to get enough money to go and see gigs. It is our full-time quartet with Katie Rush and Cat Robertson that you see in most of the videos and it’s us who started the Scottish cover videos.”
Kid Canaveral, King Creosote, Camera Obscura and Belle & Sebastian will be next to get the CSQ cover treatment on YouTube, although their repertoire isn’t confined to homegrown acts as their extravagantly realised versions of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android and Britney Spears’ Toxic attest to.
“The only song that has never worked is The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme tune,” says Annemarie. “Feasibly everything’s possible but rap’s a bit tricky as there’s not really a melody line. That’s why we loved collaborating with Stanley Odd and delving into the world of hip hop. We’re planning to work with them again soon.”
The Cairn String Quartet play Edinburgh’s Henderson’s @ St John’s on April 10 as part of Wide Days, while the Electric String Orchestra will appear at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.