Atholl Highlanders Pipes & Drums Mark Musical Succession At This Year’s Parade

Entries are now closed for one of the first Highland games of the summer at Blair Atholl on May 29. Pipers have topped sixty with double figures in all grades P/A, B and C. The day before the games…..

This year’s Atholl Highlanders Parade at Blair Castle in Highland Perthshire marks the retirement of two very distinguished band members who hand over duties to two musical brothers.

The Parade will see the regiment’s long serving Pipe Major and Drum Major succeeded by a family double.

By Elizabeth Lambley

Pipe Major Ian Duncan (pictured above) and Drum Major Alister Walker will step back from frontline duties having each served for over 50 years with the private regiment, during which time they have forged the Atholl Highlanders’ Pipes and Drums into one of the finest ceremonial bands in Scotland.

Their roles will be taken by brothers Gary and Niall West, both born and brought up locally in Pitlochry, and whose own distinguished musical pedigree will build on their predecessors’ legacy.


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While not a competing band, the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums play regularly for the Regiment at Blair Castle, at other prestigious events, and on tours overseas. Made up mainly of people from Perthshire, joining the ranks of the Atholl Highlanders, Europe’s only remaining private army, is only by invitation of the Duke of Atholl. 

The retirement of Ian and Alister, and the succession of Gary and Niall will be marked by a ceremony during the Atholl Highlanders’ Parade at Blair Castle on Saturday 28 May 2022. It begins at 2.30pm and advance booking is recommended. Tickets for it, and Sunday’s Atholl Gathering, can be purchased here.

Regimental Sergeant Major, Graham Jack, said: ‘With a combined service of over 102 years, Ian Duncan and Alister Walker have both made a huge contribution to the Atholl Highlanders. To have had such leading figures in the world of pipe bands in our midst has been a great joy and a privilege. I know, however, that the band will remain in great shape under the leadership of Gary and Niall West. These brothers bring a wealth of experience and energy to our ranks.’

D/M Walker and P/M Duncan

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 maths teacher, Ian taught at both Pitlochry and Crieff high schools, before taking up a post as the piping instructor for state schools in Dundee.

As pipe major of Vale of Atholl Pipe Band, Ian’s skill and energy helped build a formidable band of young pipers and drummers, and his leadership established them as one of the top three bands in the world. He was appointed Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders P&D in 2002, building on the musical foundations laid by his predecessors, especially Pipe Major Sandy Spence, to create an outstanding band.

Drum Major Alister Walker: Since joining the Atholl Highlanders in 1971, still in his teens, Alister has shown huge commitment to the regiment and indeed to the wider pipe band movement in Scotland. Whilst 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 the local area. His teaching and encouragement helped to achieve this, both through the Atholl Highlanders and the Vale of Atholl band.

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 was promoted to Drum Corporal in the Regiment in 1981 and Drum Major in 2012.  Alister has led the pipes and drums from the front with great energy and dedication. 

Gary West: Gary is a musician, academic and broadcaster, and brings a wealth of Scots traditional music to his new role as Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders. Gary hails from Pitlochry where he played with the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band, winning the Scottish and European Championships before moving into the traditional music scene. He can be heard on Radio Scotland’s ‘Pipeline’ programme every Saturday evening. Gary joined the Atholl Highlanders in 2005. He will be only the ninth Pipe Major since the Atholl Highlanders were raised by Lord Glenlyon to accompany him to the Eglinton Tournament, Ayrshire, in 1839. 

Niall West: When 14 Niall joined the Vale of Atholl along with Gary. His first snare drum tutor was Atholl Highlanders D/M Alister Walker. Niall played with the Vale for 10 years under P/M Ian Duncan and was part of the Vale’s unprecedented competitive journey from a town band through four competition grades to Grade 1.

In 1988 Niall joined Strathclyde Police and with their band won the Grade 1 Worlds in 1990 and 1991 as well as numerous other major championships. He joined the Atholl Highlanders at the age of 16 (1976) and was promoted to Drum Corporal in 2013. Niall will be the Regiment’s 3rd Drum Major.

* Blair Castle is situated in the heart of the Atholl Estates and dates back to 1269 and is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl. Set in 145,000 acres, the castle is the venue for the annual Glenfiddich piping championship.


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