Tonights guest player was Ben Duncan of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and we caught him in a rich vein of form. However, before we get to the piping, there is a nice connection between Ben’s regiment and the Society, namely the Eagle.
For those of you that know your history you will be aware that on the 18th June 1815, the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars took place at Waterloo.
During the course of this action Sergeant Charles Ewart, on the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys – so called as a result of their grey coloured horses) saw the Napoleonic Eagle of the 45th Line and its escort and, in his own words ‘had a hard contest for it’, which was settled when he cut down the officer who bore it.
The Eagle can be seen in the museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards whilst the tomb of Ewart, which had been erected over his burial place, is on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.
The Eagle Bar (founded in 1690) was to become The Ensign Ewart and the Eagle Pipers’ were formed there around 1960.
Fresh from the his success at North Uist and having been named the Highlands and Islands Young Piper of the Year, we suspected that were in for a treat and Ben did not disappoint.
In Ben’s pre-pie spot he started with a great selection of marches, played in 4/4 time, that included The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society, Battle of Waterloo, Garb of Auld Gaul and one of Bens’ own compositions Farewell to the 7th Armoured Brigade.
Two great 2/4 marches followed, The Duchess of Edinburgh and Bonnie Ann. It was then into Strathspeys and Reels which included, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Tulloch Castle, Jacky Latin and Broadford Bay, before he concluded the first half with the Hornpipes Pat Ewart, composed by Peter MacLeod Jnr. Jimmy Tweedies’ Sea Legs and the jig Biddy from Sligo.
The break was an ideal opportunity to have a chat with Ben, over a pie and pint, to find out what makes him tick.
Aged 28 and from Edinburgh, Ben is married to Lee and is kept on his toes with Duke his Springer Spaniel. He is currently posted to the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming at the rank of Sergeant. Ben joined the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in 2007 and has been on Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Craig Robertson: So Ben where did it all start for you?
BD: I was about 4 when I first picked up a chanter. I didn’t start to take things more seriously until I was about 9 though.
CR: What about tutors and bands?
BD: I was initially taught by Harry McNulty, who had been the Pipe Major with Lothian and Borders Police, before receiving instruction from Andrew Wright. I played with Lothian and Borders Police under Ian Duncan, as well as the National Youth pipe Band
CR: Do you have a favourite composer?
BD: There are so many great tunes and composers. It’s a pretty tough one to answer but if I were pushed I would have to say G.S McLennan.
CR: The route you have chosen to take with your piping, is what I would call a more traditional military route. That chosen by Willie Ross, John MacLellan, Alistair Gilles and Gordon Walker, whereby you have your army commitments as well as your solo piping commitments. How difficult is it in the modern era to balance the two?
BD: I always wanted to be a soldier, it’s why I joined the army after all but I love my piping. The army has been so supportive in so many ways. I sat my Pipe Majors’ Course in 2012-2013 and managed to achieve a double distinction and I am currently on a two year posting to the ASBM&HD. When that is over I will return to the Regiment, wherever they may be.
In terms of balance the army positively encouraged me to compete where possible and they are really supportive. It is great for me and it is great for them. It shows that the two can co-exist in the modern era and that it isn’t something from a bygone age.
CR: With that in mind it sounds to me that you want to remain in the army. How do you see your career developing?
BD: I suppose I always hoped that someday I would be the Pipe Major of the Regiment and if I could achieve that it would be fantastic. I also want to give something back and if I was able to become Director of the ASBM&HD then that would be a massive achievement for me.
CR: Do you have a favourite tune?
BD : Again another tough one. Probably MacDougall’s Gathering.
CR: What would you class as your best piping achievement to date?
BD: I think winning the Gold Medal for the march at Lochaber in 2016. That was really special.
CR: Do you have a ‘go to’ tune when you have had a few too many beers?
BD: Fred Morrisons’, Frances Morton Reel.
CR: What is you current set up?
BD: Sheepskin bag, cane base, Ezeedrone tenors, and a Sinclair chanter.
CR: What interests do you have outside piping?
BD: Apart from Lee and our Springer Spaniel Duke I get a kick out of restoring old Landrovers. I have a Defender 90 that I have put back on the road. I suppose I just love tinkering with things.
CR: Final question Ben. Beer or Nip?
BD: Both. Preferably at the same time.
With that it was back to the music. A series of 6/8’s followed by an MSR set and then into something that had a full house absolutely mesmerised. Ben introduced the slow air, Oh My Dearest Dear that he would follow with another of his own compositions, a hornpipe – John and Patricia Duncans’ 60th Wedding Anniversary.
I looked around the room as Ben started to play and the place was jumping. I heard Ben play this tune at the Wheel of Fortune (which he won) earlier this year and it is an absolute belter. Rapturous applause followed and beaming smiles all round were evident. What a phenomenal tune!!
The evening was almost done but in true Eagles’ fashion no evening is complete without a Piobaireachd and The Battle of Waterish, which Ben played at North Uist, was the tune of choice.
This was a fantastic night and I can honestly say it was great to have the opportunity to chat with a true gentleman and talented musician.
It was nice to see our old chum Tracey Williams pop in for a visit after an absence of nearly 4 years. Her fiancé James, has been thrown in at the deep end, but seems to be surviving. Don’t leave it as long before your next visit.
Next meeting is our ‘Worlds week’ night on Tuesday the 8th August, where we hope to host many of our International friends, not least our regular chums from the Sons of Scotland Pipe Band. Please spread the word and come along if you can.
Hope to see you there.
‘so that’s how it’s done’