Macpherson’s Rant barndance

Also known as Antarctic Ice, Macphersons Lament.

There are 10 recordings of this tune.

Macpherson’s Rant has been added to 8 tune sets.

Macpherson’s Rant has been added to 156 tunebooks.

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Three settings

X: 1
T: Macpherson's Rant
R: barndance
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:D2|G3 A B2 AG|B2 A2 A2 DE|G3 A B2 AG|E6 DE|
G3 A B2 AG|B2 A2 A2 DE|G3 B AG E2|D6:|
|:Bd|d3 B cBAG|B2 A2 A2 Bd|d3 B cBAG|E6 e2|
d3 B cBAG|B2 A2 A2 DE|G3 B AG E2|D6:|
X: 2
T: Macpherson's Rant
R: barndance
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
D2||G3A G2B2|A-GA-B A2E-F|G3A B2A-G|E4- E2D2|
G3A B2AG|A-GA-B A2B-A|G3B A-GE2|D6 Bc||
d3B c-BA-G|B2A2 A2B-c|d3d c-BA-G|E6 e2|
d3B c-BA-G|B2A2 A2D-E|G3B A-GE2|D6||
X: 3
T: Macpherson's Rant
R: barndance
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmix
|:D2|G3 A B2 AG|AGAB A2 DE|G3 A BA G2|E6 DE|
G3 A B2 AG|AGAB A2 DE|G3 B AG E2|D6:|
|:Bc|d3 B cBAG|B2 A2 A2 Bc|d3 B cBAG|E6 ge|
d3 B cBAG|B2 A2 A2 DE|G3 B AG E2|D6:|

Nine comments

This is the melody to a Scottish song which was very popular when I was a student frequenting folk Clubs in Yorkshire almost every night. The ‘A’ music is the verse and the ‘B’ music is the chorus. I remember part of the chorus :- “he played a tune and he danced it aroond below the gallows tree” this being the last four bars of the ‘A’ music.

Bracking fiddles Oooer stanes…

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem did this one way back in pre-history. They had it down as Mac Phersons lament, although I suspect from the tone of the words, ‘Rant’ would be a better title.
‘He took his fiddle in baeth of is hands and brack it Oooer a stane, saying there’s nay other hand will play on thee when I am dead and gone’
I know fiddlers who should seriously contemplate a similar course of action 😉


Just a slight variation of the same tune. This is how I learned it.

X: 1
T: MacPherson’s Lament
R: air
M: C|
L: 1/8
K: G
D2 || G3A G2B2 | A-GA-B A2E-F | G3A B2A-G | E4- E2D2 |
| G3A B2AG | A-GA-B A2B-A | G3B A-GE2 | D6 Bc ||
|| d3B c-BA-G | B2A2 A2B-c | d3d c-BA-G | E6 e2 |
| d3B c-BA-G | B2A2 A2D-E | G3B A-GE2 | D6 |]


Just a note, this tune was composed by James MacPherson in the 1700s.


Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong
Farewell, farewell to thee.
Macpherson’s rant will ne’er be lang
On yonder gallows tree.

Chorus: Sae rantingly, sae wontonly
Sae dauntingly gaed he
He played a tune an’ he danced aroon
Beneath the gallows tree.

It was by a woman’s treacherous hand
That I was condemned to dee
Beneath a ledge at a window she stood
And a blanket she threw o’er me.

Well the laird o‘ Grant, that highlan’ sa’nt
That first laid hands on me
He played the cause on Peter Broon
To let Macpherson dee.

Untie these bands from off my hands
And gie to me my sword
There’s nae a man in a’ Scotland
But I’ll brave him at a word.

There’s some come here to see me hanged
And some to buy my fiddle
But before that I do part wi’ her
I’ll brak her thro’ the middle.

He took the fiddle into both his hands
And he broke it o’er a stone
Says there’s nae other hand shall play on thee
When I am dead and gone.

O, little did my mother think
When she first cradled me
That I would turn a rovin’ boy
And die on the gallows tree.

The reprive was comin‘ o’er the brig o’ Banff
To let Macpherson free
But they pit the clock a quarter afore
And hanged him to a tree.

This song is an air

I forgot to mention that this song is typically known as an air, not a barndance.


Similar tune - different name.

There’s a version of the tune, though not the song, in the Patrick MacDonald collection (late 18th century) under a Scottish Gaelic name, “ ’S fheudar dhomh fhein a bhith falbh”, which translates as “I must be going” …

Not McPherson

Apparently there is no early reference to McPherson having composed this tune, and it might even have been by Peter Broon, another fiddler who appears in the song as villain…

…and Burns claimed to have written all the words, with the exception of a fragmant of one verse and the chorus!

Not the Rant Either

This is not MacPherson’s Rant - it’s MacPherson’s Farewell, the melody to the song. The tune named MacPherson’s Rant (written by MacPherson) turns up in the 18th Century Angus Cumming collection. It is a strathspey that’s a close relative of the reel High Road to Linton, but pitched a 4th lower (i.e., in Dmix rather than Amix). The B-parts of the two tunes are essentially identical, though the A-part of Linton is more major in its tonality, whereas McP’s Rant is very Mixolydian. It’s also one of the oldest known strathspeys.

A “Rant” is a lively tune, from an older meaning of the word that meant “speak excitedly”, and was often applied to common-time strathspeys in the 18th century. The confusion probably arises from the modern derivative meaning of “rant”, which is more of an angry tirade, rather like MacPherson in the song.

Re: Macpherson’s Rant

I found it interesting that when I hired Norman Kennedy back in the 1970’s for a concert, he reversed the melodies, and sang the A part with the B melody, and vice versa. Since he is a traditional singer (i.e. he learned from veteran singers who would not allow him to sing in public until he sang the songs exactly as they were sung to him), it was a very interesting interpretation.