I've been on a real Gordon Duncan kick lately... and by lately, I mean ever since I first heard this absolute genius over half of my life ago. What always blows me away is that he will have taken a tune he recorded, do it live, and make it even better.
I'm sure I'll miss things, not do some tracks justice, or over-sell others. Tell me what you think in the comments!
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Anyways, here we go:
**Click the Track Title to Listen to Each Track**
10) The Edradour Stagger, The Panda, The Soup Dragon, Roll Out The Snake (Track 11, Just for Gordon)
Just pure fun. There's nothing to not love about this track - it's unique, creative, and gives a glimpse into Gordon's prowess as an expert composer, and even more impressively, as an improviser.
There are two things about this track that really stand out - how well each of the tunes compliment each other, and when Gordon repeats the tunes and makes the second-time-over even better than the first. Mind blowing.
9) Marie Madeleine, Fest an Hoc'h, Suite De Gavotte Pourlet (Track 12, Just for Gordon)
I couldn't leave out Gordon's incredible Breton influence from the list. This track starts off with the beautiful but intense Marie Madeliene. Follows is the incredibly catchy Fest an Hoc'h. A mark of an excellent tune is that it makes you feel like dancing - this tune does that. Finally, we have Suite de Gavotte Pourlet which shows Gordon's unequivocal composition skills and grasp of the Breton style. The last 4 or 5 parts of this tune are absolute magic.
Also props for one of the coolest endings of any tune, ever, at the end of the track.
8) Eileen Mary Connelly, Angus John MacNeill of Barra, Kenny MacDonald's Jig, Storm in A T-Shirt, Mrs Crehans, The Wild Irishman, Madame Bonaparte (Track 3, Just for Gordon)
This track just gets better as it goes... and it starts off great. A few classics followed by some real creativity and innovation. I love Storm in a T-Shirt and the execution is next to flawless. The highlight for me is Madame Bonaparte - one of the most exciting tunes in the bagpipe world.
7) Lorient Mornings/ Grande Nuit in Port Du Peche/ Davy Websters (Track 8, Thunderstruck)
A very polished piece of music with backing music that puts some other bagpipe accompaniments to shame (see High Drive, Circular Breath). Again, this track just gets more exciting as you go. Like the Zeppelin masterpiece Stairway to Heaven, it just builds to a climax with Davy Websters. This track proves Gordon has more in his repertoire than fast hands and clever false notes... the composition of this piece as a whole is what makes it spectacular.
6) Rond De Loudeac, Gavotten Ar Menez, Old Hag You Have Killed Me, Langstrom's Pony, Andy Renwick's Ferret (Track 4, Just for Gordon)
So many things make this a masterpiece track - the incorporation of Breton music, stopping and starting the drones completely (I've yet to see anyone else do this as well as he does), and the inspiring (now) classic Andy Renwick's Ferret which has been covered by hundreds of artists.
5) Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie / Ash City / The Inverness Incident / The High Drive (Track 1, Just for Gordon)
I love the opener. This tune needs to be much more popular in the piping world than it currently is. The Inverness Incident is a Gordon Duncan classic...more about that tune to follow. Finally, the High Drive is another Gordon Duncan classic that undoubtedly will be a mainstay of pipers' repertoires as long as the pipes are played. From the first slur on D of this tune his hands are flying and he delivers a flawless performance. What more could you want?
4) Breton Air/
Naimh's Capers/The Inverness Incident/Where's Ma Mace (Track 9, 1st Grand Concert of Scottish Piping)
I swear it was a total coincidence that "Where's Ma Mace" AKA "The Fourth Floor" is number four on the list.
The last two tunes in this set are absolutely incredible. Gordon's hands are just flying and his ability to add new execution and little twists and turns at that speed is unmatched. Yes, this track has a few flaws, but that's not the point. To play at that speed and with that much creativity and innovation takes a lot of risk. Put down your judges crit sheet and just sit back and enjoy.
Another incredible performance of these two tunes is from Northwich 1991. Here he plays the same two tunes but with so many new things added. Proof that Duncan is not of this Earth. Check it out (skip to 4:10 for The Inverness Incident, but you won't be aggrieved to watch the whole thing):
3) Ian Green of Greentrax and Mr and Mrs. Gordon Duncan's Golden Wedding (Track 10, Just for Gordon)
This track made its way to third position because of how much the piping world loves these two tunes. How is it that someone can take an instrument hundreds of years old and make music that is so different and yet so good?
2) The Belly Dancer (Track 3, Thunderstruck)
Incredible musicianship with the backing musicians combined with bagpipe innovation (Duncan's MO) catapults this track to near the top of the list. This track always leaves me speechless. That's it... I've got nothing. Just listen.
1) Thunderstruck/Angus' Thing (Track 12, Thunderstruck)
No surprises here. A favourite of pipers and non-pipers across the world and probably the most requested bagpipe tune by common-folk at bars, parties, weddings etc. The problem, hardly any of us can play it anywhere near as good as Gordon. Do I really have to explain why this is at the top? The simple fact that Gordon figured out how to make the bagpipe replicate the hammer-on effect of the electric guitar is an incredible feat. And that's just the first 10 seconds of this track.
Thank you Gordon for your creativity, innovation, musicianship, and willingness to take risks with your playing for the sake of our enjoyment. We in the piping community tend to cling to the notion that traditional and clean = good playing. And it might be. But sometimes we need to stop judging and start enjoying. And I think that is how to best enjoy the virtuoso that is Gordon Duncan.