April 01, 2014

Ian P. Duncan, 1934-2014

On March 29, 2014, the piping world has lost one of its finest composers with the passing of Ian P. Duncan from respiratory problems at age 80 on March 28.

Ian Duncan was born in Motherwell, Scotland, in 1934. He began piping at Dalziel High School where the janitor, a former Black Watch Pipe-Sergeant, was Pipe-Major of the school band. The band never competed but playing in the band was invaluable experience for a young piper, and Ian became Pipe-Sergeant in 1952 at the age of 18.

Ian P. Duncan is shown back row second from left, beside P-M Tom McAllister Jr. in this 1974 photo. P-S John Barclay, the subject of one of Ian P. Duncan’s finest tunes, is on the right.
Ian P. Duncan is shown back row second from left, beside P-M Tom McAllister Jr. in this 1974 photo. P-S John Barclay, the subject of one of Ian P. Duncan’s finest tunes, is on the right.

Around the same time, Ian joined the Grade 2 Wishaw Highland Pipe Band, where he began to hone his skills at a competitive bandsman.

It was here that he had his first real attempt at composing pipe tunes, entering a tune competition held in Ibrox in 1953 and gaining second prize.

Ian joined Clyde Alloy Works as a young apprentice and in 1958 did his National Service in the RAMC. Being in the Medical Corps prevented him from pursuing his piping experience within the army.

Returning to work after his National Service, he was given a job in the steel works at the famous Ravenscraig site located between Motherwell and Wishaw. He became a Training Officer there, a post he held until the closure of the works.

In 1966, he joined Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band under P-M J.K. McAllister. In 1968 Tom McAllister Jr. became P-M and Ian was with the band when they won three Grade 1 World Championships under him.

During this time they also won three Scottish, four British, three European, three Cowal and three RSPBA Champion of Champions titles. He played in the band when it won the Intercontinental Competition in Toronto in 1978. He left Shotts at the end of that season and to become P-M of the Grade 3 Larkhall British Legion Pipe Band.

Four years later, he became Pipe-Major of the Tennant Caledonian Brewers Pipe Band based in Glasgow, and this was his final pipe and involvement.

During this whole period Ian became famous for his compositions of light music for pipes. Some of these are now well-established classics. The strong melodies of such greats as “Cullen Bay,” “Flora Duncan,” and “Pipe-Sgt. John Barclay” have found favour with folk groups, pipers, and pipe bands alike.

Ian published his first book of tunes in 1998. The Cullen Bay Collection contains many of his own compositions as well as contributions from piping friends.

He continued to compose during his lengthy retirement from active playing right up until his passing.

Ian P. Duncan’s funeral will take place on Friday April 7th at Holytown Crematorium near Motherwell at noon.


  1. I find it quite sad how little our art is documented. I made contact with Ian P. Duncan in the last year so that I could get some of his fabulous tunes on my pipetunes site. Part of that process is acquiring and mounting a bio of the composer. As far as I know that bio (reprinted here) is the only extant bio of the man, and even it is very incomplete. When I first began putting bios up on the site I was stunned by how little documentation there is on our greatest artists. Google bios of G. S. McLennan and you’ll find very little. Google bios of fiddler James Scott Skinner and you’ll find screens and screens of them. The saddest thing is that as these people and the people who knew them pass away, their stories are gone for good. I’m more than happy to receive information and emails from people who knew people like Ian P. Duncan, or any other recently deceased composers and who can share their stories. Check out the composer bios on and/or email me at

  2. Very true, Jim. In the 1980s that was a lot of the thinking behind the p|d interviews. No one else had done them in any quantity until then, so I hope they will be a lasting contribution. Willie Donaldson suggested that historians of the future will be grateful, and now reprinting ones of pipers and drummers who have since died, like Angus J. and Seumas and P-M Angus and more to come, I hope opens a few eyes to younger readers who might not even have heard of these greats. A while back when I was trying to find graves of famous pipers, I was particularly struck by the dilapidated state of some of the final resting places of history’s most significant contributors to the art: G.S. McLenann’s site in southern Edinburgh is probably close to being plowed under; Sandy Cameron’s grave in Inverness was strewn with garbage and syringes from addicts; John McLellan DCM isn’t even marked. We don’t do a very good job of commemorating our best, except in the occasional competition and trophy.



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