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The Barren Rocks of Aden

This march tune is associated with the Gordon Highlanders Regiment, because it is played for the dance called The Gay Gordons.

The tune is said to have been composed by piper James Mauchline, who was delighted that his regiment was leaving the hot, dry port of Aden, in what is now South Yemen, in Arabia. It rains less than once a year in Aden and the Old Town is inside the shell of an extinct volcano.

In Scotland the tune is played as a 2/4 pipe march, but in Ireland it is played as a fiddle polka.

There is some disagreement about when the tune was composed and named. It may date from the mid-19th century. One website concerned with regimental tradition says that James Mauchline gave it no title. While a detachment of the 78th Seaforth Highlanders Regiment was stationed in Aden, Pipe Major Alexander Mackellar rearranged and named the tune.

The tune has four parts. People used to sing a verse that made fun of the way native Gaels used to speak English, as they danced to the first part of the tune.

See the laddie ower there, wi the tartan kilt and the twa legs bare
An aa the ladies they declare, 'She's a fine braw chiel is her nainsel'
(Music of the Scottish Regiments, Murray, 1994)

More recently, the Singing Kettle show recorded a song that uses a simpler version of the first part of the tune. Their song begins:

Ma, Ma, will you buy me a
Buy me a, buy me a
Ma, Ma, will you buy me a
Buy me a banana.

The mother buys her child one, then eats it all herself!

Read more about it and and listen to 'Ma Ma, Will You Buy Me'.

Barren Rocks of Aden

The Barren Rocks of Aden, played by Colin Campbell, fiddle, and Katherine Campbell, piano From Traditional Scottish Songs and Music, Gallus recordings.


  • The Barren Rocks of Aden