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Gordon Duncan (1964-2005) was a Scottish piper from Pitlochry. He began playing at the age of eight, taught initially by Bill Hepburn (Pipe Major at the time of The Turriff and District Pipe Band) then by his father and his older brother Ian Duncan, himself a successful piper and Pipe Major. He was a successful junior competitor, but at the age of seventeen stopped competing regularly to focus on the folk scene. He recorded with a number of bands, including Wolfstone, The Tannahill Weavers, Ceolbeg, and the Dougie MacLean Band.

He continued to compete at local competitions and invitational competitions, such as the MacAllan competition in Brittany, where pipers are expected to showcase their mastery of different types of Celtic music and their virtuosity. This came to a head in 1993 after a blistering display at a knockout competition (which he won - in fact it was won by Gordon Walker with Gordon Duncan as runner up) hosted by the College of Piping in Glasgow. The principal of the College, Seumas MacNeill stood up, and famously said "If that's what piping's about today, I'm sticking to the fiddle,"'.

A year later (1994), Duncan released a solo album (his first widely available, although he had produced a self published album some years earlier), entitled Just for Seumas. It displayed the full range of Duncan's mastery of piping, opening with a tune from Seumas MacNeill's own collection of music, through traditional competition material, piobaireachd and music arranged with snare drum, guitar, and bouzouki accompaniment, to the memorable closing track consisting of a heavy dance beat accompanying Duncan's playing. This track included what was then seen as sacrilege - the first line of the piobaireachd Lament for Mary MacLeod was used as a harmony line for a reel. MacNeill's reaction to this album is not recorded.

He followed up this album with the circular breath, with Gerry O'Connor on banjo. One interesting feature of this album is that almost all Duncan's compositions played on the album are included as sheet music in the sleeve notes.

Musically, Duncan was hugely innovative and his first 'hit' composition is a classic example. Although pipers have known for hundreds of years that it is possible to manipulate the bagpipe chanter to obtain accidentals outside the bagpipe's mixolydian scale, these were never used or their possibilities considered until the 1980s when a few pipers began to look into them. Duncan was the first piper to write a 'hit' tune using them, and the result Andy Renwick's Ferret, an exciting reel in A minor swept the piping world in the late 1980s. Duncan continued to look for inspiration from all sources and his last album, Thunderstruck released in 2003, continued this process. With the distinctive The Belly Dancer, a piece in the Arabic Hijaz mode, and the title track, variations on an AC/DC riff, Duncan proved he was not standing still.

Duncan was also famous for his support and encouragement of young pipers, often preferring to hear others play than to play himself. Tragically, he was also famous for his battle with alcoholism, which at times detracted from his performances. Gordon Duncan tragically committed suicide on the 14th December, 2005 at his home in Edradour, Pitlochry, Perthshire.


DiscographyEdit

BooksEdit

  • A Few Tunes, Ian & Gordon Duncan, published 1987 (?) and revised, extended and republished 2009.
  • Gordon Duncan's Tunes, published 2007.

External links Edit

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