A POWERFUL Scottish production about the Pitlochry bagpiping binman, who sent shockwaves through the music world, is to feature in the 50th anniversary edition of Perth Festival of Arts.

Thunderstruck focuses on the legendary Gordon Duncan who caused a stir when he introduced his arrangement of an ACDC rock anthem at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999.

Arguably the most influential and innovative piper of his generation, Duncan was a Highland bagpipe virtuoso who inspired many younger pipers to follow his lead and take the instrument to its limits.

He died aged just 41 in 2005 but his legacy lives on and the play Thunderstruck, named after the ACDC song that Duncan memorably reinterpreted, comes to Perth after winning awards at festivals in Adelaide and Perth in Australia, as well as Edinburgh Fringe.

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It is the creation of Fife born actor and piper David Colvin who played the pipes and acted in the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Black Watch.

While some traditionalists frowned on Duncan’s freewheeling piping, many musicians, both in Scotland and abroad, were influenced by it, including the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. His version of Thunderstruck has also been performed by six-time world champions, the Canadian Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, and Spain’s Rondalla Santa Eulalia de Mos pipe band.

A prolific composer, Duncan left a rich reserve of idiosyncratic pipe tunes which are now included in the international pipe band and solo repertoire. The most popular, Andy Renwick’s Ferret, has been recorded by more than 100 pipe bands, solo pipers and folk groups but also played often are The Belly Dancer, Zito the Bubbleman and The Famous Baravan.

Duncan was born in Turiff and was started on the pipes at a young age by his father Jock, a tenant farmer and well-known bothy ballad singer.

The family moved to Pitlochry and, while still at primary school, Duncan began competing, winning many junior competitions. After he left school, he combined his day job as a refuse collector with his playing and composing and was known to jot down a new tune on the back of a cigarette packet.

His brilliance soon came to the notice of folk bands and he toured Europe and the US with Wolfstone, the Tannahill Weavers and Ceolbeg, also playing low whistle on some of Dougie MacLean’s albums.

His touring exposed him to other traditions like Breton music and his years with Atholl Pipe Band, along with his brother Ian as pipe major, saw the band rocket from Grade Four to Grade One and becoming European Champions within a decade.

Signed to Greentrax as a solo artist, his work was heard at Celtic Connections, T in the Park, Celtic Colours in Canada, and the Lorient Festival in Brittany where he won the MacAllan Trophy twice.

In the notes to Duncan’s first solo album, Just for Seamus, piper and pipemaker Hamish Moore wrote: “This man is precious and should be one of Scotland’s living national treasures.”

After his death, Roddy MacLeod, principal of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, said he was “a great traditional player but, as everybody knows, he pushed back the barriers. It’s just a tremendous loss.”

In the play, Colvin gives a rendition of Thunderstruck although he says he wouldn’t claim to be a piper like Duncan.

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“The play wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t play the tune it’s named after but the reason the play came about was to try to spread the word more widely about this fantastic musician who was known around the world in piping and traditional music circles but is largely unappreciated by the general public,” said Colvin. “He was an amazing composer and a real musical visionary. If Thunderstruck, the play, inspires people to investigate Gordon’s music, I’ll have done my job.”

Thunderstruck is part of Perth Festival of Arts’ ambitious anniversary programme which features internationally renowned names and the hottest emerging Scottish talent from the world of music, arts and culture. It is one of the largest programmes in recent years, featuring no less than 40 concerts and events in seven venues around the city between May 18 and 29.

Festival chair, David Brand, said this year would be particularly special as it marked not only 50 years but a return to a large-scale, live festival after two challenging years for the arts industry.

“We are looking forward to major celebrations in the city,” he said. “Our programme offers entertainment, inspiration and new arts experiences for people of all ages. Whether you’re a fan of rock music, drama, comedy, visual arts or classical music and opera, there will be something for everyone.”

Tickets are on general sale from March 21, with one week’s pre-sale for Festival Friends. For details of the line-up including dates, times and ticket information visit www.perthfestival.co.uk