THERE’S a nice appropriateness in the presence of the celebrated Irish piper Paddy Keenan at Perth Concert Hall for this Saturday’s sixth National Treasure concert in memory of the late Gordon Duncan, Highland piper and tunesmith extraordinaire.
Keenan’s virtuoso command of the uilleann pipes, both as a founder member of the now legendary Bothy Band and as a soloist, was a major influence on Duncan – who died tragically in 2005, aged just 41 – and on another formidable and highly individualistic piper on Saturday’s bill, Fred Morrison.
Morrison and Duncan first met as young contemporaries on the junior piping competition circuit then frequently travelled together to Brittany for the Festival Interceltique at Lorient, where they were regular competitors in the Macallan Piping competition (which Morrison won yet again last month).
“I wouldn’t say Gordon was an influence on me – obviously, we were both doing our own thing,” says Morrison, “but without a doubt we were both influenced by top uilleann pipers like Davy Spillane and Paddy Keenan.
“Gordon and I used to talk about them, thinking, ‘Isn’t that amazing what they’re doing?’ They encouraged us to break moulds.”
Duncan, he adds, “was just a top, top player and the nicest guy you could ever wish to meet. He was also utterly prolific [as a composer]; his tunes just hit the spot with so many people and they’re played everywhere.”
On previous occasions where Morrison and Keenan have shared a bill, they’ve usually ended with an exuberant pairing of Irish uilleann and Scottish bellows-blown pipes. “It would be more likely than unlikely,” laughs Morrison when asked whether similar pyrotechnics can be expected at Perth.
Their impromptu duetting won’t be the only collaboration – and indeed not the only Scots-Irish pairing – during what promises to be an eventful evening.
The adventurous Scots piper and saxophonist Fraser Fifield will appear in a new duo with the Irish sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, with whom he has been playing in the Afro-Celt Sound System.
Further folk-fusion of the high-energy sort will come from the Treacherous Orchestra who, apart from playing in their own right, will support some songs from Duncan’s son, Gordy Jr, now establishing himself as a singer-songwriter.
Some of the Treacherous players will also join the ranks of the Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band, while Scotland’s other national instrument also features on the bill, played by this year’s Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician, fiddler Rona Wilkie.
For the 12-strong and widely acclaimed Treacherous Orchestra, who combine traditional instruments such as bagpipes, fiddles and accordion with double bass, electric guitar, drums and some judicious electronica, the Perth gig kicks off a seven-venue tour from the Highlands to London. One of the Orchestra’s two pipers, Ross Ainslie, is also a member of the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust, which organises the annual tribute but also dispenses the funds raised by the concert as well as by tune book and CD sales to promote piping and other traditional music and assist rising young players.
It could be argued that the whole rumbustiously eclectic concept of the Treacherous Orchestra was directly inspired by Duncan, agrees Ainslie. “We play a renegade sort of music; we’re all traditional musicians and all into other music and I suppose it was people like Gordon and Martyn Bennett who made us see what was possible. Gordon is a huge influence, not just for Ali [fellow Treacherous piper Ali Hutton] and me as pipers, but he’s very much respected by everyone.”
Duncan was widely felt to be the most innovative and influential piper of his generation – a view reflected in the concert’s National Treasure title.
He left an enduring legacy of music – a second tune book is due to be published by the Trust next year. Expect more than a few examples be aired on Saturday night.