Highland Laddie

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"Highland Laddie", also known as "Hielan' Laddie", is the name of an ancient Scottish popular folk tune "If thou'lt play me fair play",[1] but as with many old melodies various sets of words can be sung to it, of which Robert Burns's poem "Highland Laddie, Highland Lassie" has been the most memorable. Highland Regiments raised in the 18th and early 19th centuries employed many unique symbols to differentiate themselves from other regiments and enlisted distinctive music to announce their arrival, but as a result of the Cardwell Reforms of 1881, all British Army Highland Regiments were required to use "Highland Laddie" as their regimental march. Over time, many of these regiments had managed to return to their pre-Cardwell marches when, in March 2006, the establishment of the Royal Regiment of Scotland saw the disappearance of all Scotland's historic infantry regiments and their distinctions, including music, and the adoption of a new regimental march, "Scotland the Brave". "If thou'lt play me fair play" has been reworked several times since Burns set down his words and the latest has been a version recorded by the Newfoundland folk rock band Great Big Sea as "Donkey Riding."

Regiments[edit]

"Highland Laddie" continues to be the regimental march of a number of Commonwealth regiments with Scottish affiliations. Some of these regiments include:

United Kingdom

Canada

Australia

New Zealand

Highland dance[edit]

Highland Laddie is also the name of a dance in Scottish Highland dancing, of the "national dance" subtype. Most national dances are usually danced in an Aboyne dress, but the Highland Laddie is one of two national dances that are typically danced in the standard kilt-based outfit, the other being Wilt thou go to the barracks, Johnny?.

Settings[edit]

As a tune with martial affiliations Highland Laddie is still widely played by the regimental bands and/or pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments. As a traditional Scottish tune, Highland Laddie is also commonly played on the bagpipes for Scottish Dances. Typically categorized as a "Quick March," Highland Laddie is normally written in 2/4 time. The "standard" setting contains two parts (8 bars per part). As with any of the older melodies, variations have been composed and some published with the most distinctive settings appearing in Pipe Major Wm Ross' 1885 book containing eight parts to 'Highland Laddie'.

Canadian settings[edit]

"Highland Laddie", as a regimental march used by many Canadian Highland regiments, demonstrates a variety of settings depending upon which music book and/or instructor was used in any particular area. Some regiments play two parts and some a four-part version as their regimental march. Not all the parts are in the same order and some are not played at all.

Lyrics[edit]

As in the case of most traditional Scottish folk songs, "Highland Laddie" can be sung with lyrics. One version of the tune's ancient lyrics, which obviously has much to do with Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite Rising, goes:

Where ha' ye been a' the day?
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie
Saw ye him that' far awa'
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie


On his head a bonnet blue
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie
Tartan plaid and Hielan' trews
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie


When he drew his gude braid-sword
Then he gave his royal word.
Frae the field he ne'er wad flee
Wi' his friends wad live or dee.


Geordie sits in Charlie's chair
But I think he'll no bide there.
Charlie yet shall mount the throne
Weel ye ken it is his own

There is yet another version, apparently originated from Britain's colonial dates in America:

Was you ever in Quebec?
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
Loading timber on the deck,
My bonny Highland laddie.

High-ho, and away she goes,
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
High-ho, and away she goes,
My bonny Highland laddie.

Was you ever in Callao
Where the girls are never slow?

Was you ever in Baltimore
Dancing on the sanded floor?

Was you ever in Mobile Bay,
Screwing cotton by the day?

Was you on the Brummalow,
Where Yankee boys are all the go?

There is also a third version for the tune's four-parted variation

The Lawland Lads think they are fine
But oh they're vain and idle gaudy
How much unlike the graceful mein
And manly looks o' my Highland Laddie

If I were free at will to choose
To be the wealthiest Lawland Lady
I'd tak' young Donald without trews
Wi' bonnet blue and Highland plaidie

(Chorus):

Oh my bonnie bonnie Highland Laddie
Oh my bonnie bonnie Highland Laddie
When I was sick and like to die
He rowed me in his Highland plaidie


O'er Bently Hill wi' him I'll run
And leave my Lawland kin and daddy
Frae winters chill and summers sun
He'll screen me in his Highland plaidie

A painted room, a silken bed
Maun please a Lawland Lord and Lady
But I could kiss and be as glad
Behind a bush in his Highland plaidie


Nae greater joy I'll e'er pretend
Than that his love prove true and steady
Like mine to him, which ne'er shall end
While heaven preserves my Highland Laddie

(Repeat Chorus)

This is out of the Scottish/Irish songs of Ludwig van Beethoven:

Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie Beethoven Op. 108 no.7 (for Piano, Violin and Cello) Four Verses

Where got ye that siller moon?
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Glinting braw your bell a boon,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?

Belted plaid and bonnet blue,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Have yet been at Waterloo,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?

Weels me on your tartan trews,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Tell me, tell me, a’ the news,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie!

Saw ye Bonny by the way,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?
Blucher wi’ his beard sae grey,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?

Or that doure and deadly Duke,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?
Scatt’ring Frenchmen wi’ his look
Bonny laddie, highland laddie.

Some say he the day may rue,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Ye can tell gin this be true,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie.

Would yet tell me gin ye ken,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Aught o’ Donald and his men,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?

Tell me o’ my kilted Clan,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie,
Gin they fought, or gin they ran,
Bonny laddie, highland laddie?

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 1. Smith, Alexander, p. 264

References[edit]

  • Smith, Alexander, ed. Poems Songs and Letters being the Complete Works of Robert Burns, (The Globe Edition), London, MacMillan and Co., 1868.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ross, William, Ross's Collection Pipe Music, London, 1885.
  • Barnes, RM, The Uniforms and History of the Scottish Regiments, London, Sphere Books Limited, 1972.

See also[edit]