Tune Origins – The Barren Rocks of Aden

The Barren Rocks of Aden is a march tune and is one of the first tunes our pipers learn to play on the pipes. It that has a strong association with the Gordon Highlanders Regiment because you can play it for the dance called ‘The Gay Gordons’.

We play it as part of a set along with The Brown Haired Maiden and Mhairi’s Wedding. 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 – not a very comfortable place to wear a wool kilt!

In Scotland, they play the tune as a 2/4 pipe march. In Ireland, they play is 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 on station in Aden with a detachment of the 78th Seaforth Highlanders Regiment, Pipe Major Alexander Mackellar rearranged and named the tune.

The Tune

As mentioned before, people of play the tune of four parts for the dance ‘The Gay Gordons’.

The Barren Rocks of Aden

Andy Stewart put some lyrics to the tune in 1963, saying  “It is one of the best-known pipe tunes of all time, and was a great favourite with my Uncle Frank. To please him, I wrote the words to celebrate the famous tune” (andystewart.info)