Ian Duncan’s 50 years’ Atholl Highlander service recognised

Alister and Ian photographed on Saturday. (Photo: Steven Rennie).

Legendary Scottish piper, Ian Duncan’s 50 years’ service with the Atholl Highlanders, was recognised at Blair Castle last weekend.

Also recognised was Drum Major Alister Walker, another well-known face in Perthshire. Alister is also one of three Drum Majors in local band, the Vale of Atholl.

Ian and Alister were presented with a 50 year Service bar [clasp] by the Marquis of Tullibardine, after the Atholl Highlanders’ Pipes and Drums surprised the duo with a performance of two tunes specially written by band members for the occasion. Piper Jim Stout composed the march, Pipe Major Ian Duncan, Atholl Highlanders while Pipe Corporal Gary West composed another march, Drum Major Alister Walker, Atholl Highlanders.

Ian and Alister were asked to join the regiment in 1971, a few years after Ian Murray, the 10th Duke of Atholl, decided to revive it for ceremonial reasons. The regiment, named the 77th Foot Atholl Highlanders initially, was raised in late 1777 after the outbreak of the war between Great Britain and America. It remains the only private regiment in Europe, as a result of Queen Victoria awarding it the colours in the mid-1840s, thus giving the regiment official status, in perpetuity.

The first parade of the revived regiment took place on April 8, 1966 at Blair Castle, the regimental home. At the parade in 1969, with eight new recruits, the regiment and its colours were carried on parade for the first time. At this point, the regiment’s band had only six pipers and no drummers.

Ian told Bagpipe.News: “My first Pipe Major was Alex MacRae and I took over as Pipe Major from Sandy Spence. Some of the best times I’ve had in piping have been spent with the Atholl Highlanders on trips to places such as South Africa, the Netherlands and the USA. I also remember one great trip we made to the Isle of Man, which used to be owned by the Duke of Atholl.

“It’s been a privilege to have been there when the regiment was getting up and running once again and to be part of the build up over the years to what it is today.”

The citations read out at the parade are as follows:

“Pipe Major Ian Duncan – Since joining the Atholl Highlanders in 1971, Pipe Major Ian Duncan has gone on to make an enormous contribution to piping internationally as a player, band leader, teacher and judge. Trained initially as a mathematics teacher, Ian taught in both Pitlochry and Crieff high schools before taking up a post as the piping instructor for state schools in Dundee.

“As Pipe Major of the other local pipe band in this area, the Vale of Atholl, Ian’s skill and energy helped to build a formidable band of young pipers and drummers, and his leadership established them as one of the top three pipe bands in the world. Since his appointment as Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders in 2002, Ian has built on the musical foundations laid by his predecessors, especially Pipe Major Sandy Spence. While not a competing band, Ian has forged the pipes and drums into one of the finest bands in the land.

“Ian continues to be in great demand as a teacher and serves as one of the senior piping adjudicators in the world. He also serves as the Chair of the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust, which was set up in 2007 in memory of his younger brother and fellow Atholl Highlander following his untimely passing in 2005. The Trust raises funds to help support emerging traditional musicians in Scotland, and reached a remarkable milestone earlier this year when the total amount given out to good causes reached £100,000.

Drum Major Alister Walker –Since joining the Atholl Highlanders in his teens in 1971, Alister has shown huge commitment to the regiment and indeed to the wider pipe band movement in Scotland. While the Atholl area has always had great strengths in piping, drummers were in short supply, and Alister was one of the key figures in ensuring that a new generation of drummers was established in this area.

“His teaching and encouragement helped to achieve this, both through the Atholl Highlanders and with the neighbouring Vale of Atholl. He has remained closely involved with that band for many decades, and has played his part in creating wonderful opportunities for several generations of young men and women from across Perthshire to get involved in piping and drumming. He has his own photography business in Perth and regularly turns out for the Vale of Atholl. He was promoted to Drum Corporal in the Regiment in 1981 and on the retirement of Drum Major Joe Goodfellow and under his expert tutorship, Drum Major in 2012, Alister has led the pipes and drums from the front with great energy and dedication.”

A message from the Duke of Atholl, a resident of South Africa, was also read out.

Regimental Sergeant Major, Graham Jack told Bagpipe.News: “As another ‘boy from Pitlochry,’ it has been my great privilege to serve alongside two very good friends and colleagues for the best part of 45 years in the regiment.

“Both Ian and Alister exude professionalism from every pore and during our time together we have performed all over the world in the promotion of Scotland, its traditions, music and culture. The achieving of 50 years’ service tells a lot about their character.”

On behalf of the National Piping Centre, we salute Ian and Alister in achieving this milestone.

* Watch the Atholl Highlanders’ Pipes & Drums surprise Ian Duncan and Alister Walker at Saturday’s parade: