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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW (OT) 08/22/2014: MacPherson's Lament

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

rudy - Posted - 08/21/2014:  19:33:43

I'm throwing one of my favorite tunes "MacPherson's Lament" into the ring as tune of the week.  I had been asked about the origin of the tune by some who have heard it played as the background music for a raw brass polishing video I made for my YouTube channel, so I thought it might interest others, too.

I've been familiar with the tune for many years, having first heard it done by the Scottish band "Old Blind Dogs".  Although it's technically a song, the melody itself is catchy and lends itself to banjo very willingly.  I technically play it using a thumb/index finger style (anyone knowing what this "style" is please feel free to chime in, I'd love to know...) but it is easily done as a clawhammer tune as well.  One of my friends plays it as a clawhammer tune and has it on a CD released a few years ago by his band, Euphor (link below).  I've played it many times at contra dances, so its bonified as danceable.  I had previously believed it to be a commonly played tune, but after checking the TOTW list, evidently not.  It should be...

About the tune:

The tune is derived from a commonly-sung Scottish song variously known as "MacPherson's Lament", "MacPherson's Rant". and "MacPherson's Farewell", the tune itself being very popular with Scottish Fiddlers.  Although generally considered to being a "fiddler's selection" it lends itself quite nicely as a banjo piece and can be played at various tempos and graciously accepts hammer-ons, pull-offs, and large amounts of syncopated rhythm, as demonstrated in my example.

The song version of MacPherson's Lament details the true story of Jamie MacPherson (1675-1700), who in addition to being a fine fiddle player, developed a taste for being a bit of a Robin Hood type character in Northeast Scotland, although it seems he took particular delight in extracting the wealth from those who had a disproportionately large share.  As a result of his ill-deeds MacPherson was eventually captured, placed on trial, and sentenced to be publicly hung.  During the week he spent in jail before his hanging date he composed "MacPherson's Lament", although most likely not titled as such.  During his short incarceration the song was passed on to MacPherson's young lady friend whom he lived with.  She sang the song often after his demise as "The Remains Of Jamie".  The song was passed on in oral tradition and adapted to poetic form by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Integral to the story and song, MacPherson's case had been appealed to a higher authority, and fearing that an appeal would arrive before MacPherson's scheduled hanging at noon the local officials advanced the clock tower time by fifteen minutes to be sure they could execute MacPherson before any pardon could arrive.  The plan worked, with the pardon arriving by horseback rider shortly after he was publicly hung.  As his last request MacPherson was allowed to play his last composition from the gallows platform.  When he finished playing he asked if anyone would take his fiddle to play the tune at his wake, but there were no takers as this would have publicly exposed them to the authorities as a friend of MacPherson's.  With no one to entrust his instrument to he chose to  smash his fiddle to bits and hurl the remains into the crowd rather than have it played by any of his detractors.  The smashed fragments of MacPherson's fiddle are displayed prominently in the MacPherson Clan House Museum in Newtonmore,  Inverness Shire, Scotland.

It's a great story and a great tune.

"MacPherson's Lament"

Key: A

Banjo Tuning: aEAC#E

(MacPherson's also works well in other tunings, and I often play it in double C)



Here is the direct YouTube link:


Banjo only:


A “backing tracks” version (twin guitars / bass only)  to play along with:

The Old Blind Dogs version; my original source for this tune:


As played by Euphor (CDbaby preview only):

The Robert Burns poem:



Sorry in advance for the text shadowing, I'm working with a new text program and I'm still green on the finer points!

Edited by - rudy on 08/21/2014 20:07:11

NealR - Posted - 08/21/2014:  19:52:23

WOW that was freaking awesome.

llrevis - Posted - 08/21/2014:  21:05:36

Hope someone will put up a tab for us tab for us that tab dependent.

llrevis - Posted - 08/21/2014:  21:09:00

Excuse garbled reply. I am having a senior moment and it's past my bedtime.

banjered - Posted - 08/21/2014:  21:29:37

Very nice rendition. I've played it almost every time I have played at a local Irish pub, claw hammer along with the singing. So many of the Celtic ballads fall so easily into the banjo but I am not sure how welcome the five-banger is doing traditional Celtic material. At least no one complained directly to me. I probably sing/play(ed) too many ballads on the banjo as opposed to the guitar and octave mandolin which I also brandish in said establishments. But hey, what can I say except that I am a little too banjo-crazed like a few other folks here at BHO. Nice job Rudy - hope to hear more from you! Banjered

Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/22/2014:  02:32:11

Very nicely played.  Great tone on that banjo.  Did you build that one?

So nicely played that I'm sorry we can't see the face of the banjo operator. 



skiptomylou - Posted - 08/22/2014:  04:58:21

thanks so much, i've always loved this tune and this is a stunning rendition. any tab as i'd love to learn? here's a bit more background and the lyrics Robert Burns wrote to it.

Robert Burns (1788)

MacPherson was hanged on the Gallow-Hill of Banff, on the 16th Nov, 1700. He was an excellent violin player, and, after playing before his hanging, he offered the instrument to several bystanders. But, none having the courage to accept, he dashed the instrument to pieces, so that it might perish with himself. It is believed that a pardon was on its way to Banff and was to arrive before noon, the hour of MacPherson's execution. The authorities, anxious to ensure the cataran's death, set the Banff clock ahead, and so MacPherson was hanged before the pardon arrived. 

This version by Burns was composed from the recitation of a very old person who was said to use the words composed by MacPherson, himself, while he waited for sentencing. The preservation of the words is owed to a young woman who lived with MacPherson. She learned her lover's "Farewell" while visiting him in prison. After his death, she sang the composition, which she referred to as "The Remains of Jamie", whenever she could.  


Farewell ye dungeons dark and strong, 

farewell, farewell to thee 

MacPherson's time will no' be long, 

on yonder gallows tree 


Sae rantin'ly, sae wantonly, 

sae dauntin'ly gaed he 

He played a tune and he danced it roon 

below the gallows tree 

It was by a woman's treacherous hand 

That I was condemned tae dee 

Below a ledge at a window she stood 

And a blanket, she threw o'er me 

"Untie these bands from off my hands 

And gi'e to me my sword 

There's no' a man in all 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 o' his hands 

And he broke it over a stone 

There's no' another hand shall play on thee 

When I am dead and gone 

The reprieve was comin' o'er the brig o' Banff 

To let MacPherson free 

But they pit the clock a quarter afore 

and hanged him frae the tree 


skiptomylou - Posted - 08/22/2014:  05:00:11

sorry, just realised you already posted link to the words,



LyleK - Posted - 08/22/2014:  05:39:44

Well, there's chording, and then there's "Cordle-ing" which is how I refer to this playing style.  It gives some nice effects that I suspect would be rather difficult in CH.

Anyhow, real purty tune and playing.  I'm game to try to tab (per the request above), but will hold off if someone else wants to do it.

Edited by - LyleK on 08/22/2014 05:40:47

skiptomylou - Posted - 08/22/2014:  05:44:38

much of my childhood musical education was through The Corries, whose records were always around the house. here's their version of MacPherson's Lament (or MacPherson's Rant as it is otherwise known) no banjos unfortunately, but a great version



rudy - Posted - 08/22/2014:  05:59:53

Hi Jill, It's nice to have the poem displayed; a bit easier than following a link. Sorry, I don't do tab, but it sounds like Lyle or someone else might tab it out.

Lew, Yes, it's one I did a while back.  I set the camera up to maximize what folks could see of both playing hands so the headshot was sacrificed!

banjo bill-e - Posted - 08/22/2014:  06:32:33

Very nice Rudy. Nice banjo, too.

rudy - Posted - 08/22/2014:  07:19:03


Originally posted by banjo bill-e

Very nice Rudy. Nice banjo, too.

Thanks!  The banjo is the "Workingperson's 11", details and photos in this past topic:

blockader - Posted - 08/22/2014:  08:16:50

I really enjoyed that, Rudy. I also enjoy stories about robbing the rich, so that was icing on the cake!

strokestyle - Posted - 08/22/2014:  08:41:38

Enjoyed your p[laying again Rudy!

JanetB - Posted - 08/23/2014:  08:55:49

Tis quite the lovely performance you've given us, Rudy.  Thanks for a Scottish song and something new to work on.  I can tell from the video by The Corries that it must be a well-known folksong there, since people joined in on the chorus.  I like it when they sing, "He played a tune and he danced it roon."  Here's a clawhammer version in open G tuning, with lots of tied notes and some optional brushes.  I listened to the Old Blind Dogs to learn it and wonder whether they were playing in Grass Valley, near my hometown.  I hope to hear other versions, too.

MacPherson's Rant (TOTW)

MacPherson's Rant (CH) tab

UncleClawhammer - Posted - 08/23/2014:  10:19:44

It is a great song. I first heard it from the Weavers, but I never added it to my repertoire as I made it a rule long ago that I would not sing any folk songs that relied on dialectical pronunciations other than my real ones to make the rhymes work.

llrevis - Posted - 08/23/2014:  10:41:42

Thanks for the tab Janet. Love your interpretation. Will be my project for the weekend.

skiptomylou - Posted - 08/23/2014:  12:03:28

lovely Janet - really beautiful, and thanks so much for the tab


Brooklynbanjoboy - Posted - 08/23/2014:  15:56:16

I thought I'd take a crack at it:




rudy - Posted - 08/23/2014:  16:14:10

You guys (and gals) are doing a great job with the interpretations.  One thing I like about this tune is it flows so nicely that it makes a great tune by itself, no lyrics or singing is necessary to make it a great tune in itself.  Heavy syncopation and H/Os P/Os can add a lot to the feel and contribute to imitation of the grace notes that would be added if it were played on the small pipes.

Keep 'em coming, the more the merrier!

skiptomylou - Posted - 08/24/2014:  04:50:10

Rudy: 'One thing I like about this tune is it flows so nicely that it makes a great tune by itself, no lyrics or singing is necessary to make it a great tune in itself.'

i agree completely - i always knew it as a sing-along, but you are right it has a real beauty and flow simply as a banjo tune. (i love your version also Lew) am definitely going to have a go best Jill

(sorry, i don't seem to know how to do quotes) smiley

Edited by - skiptomylou on 08/24/2014 04:53:32

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