George Watson’s College Pipes & Drums – the End of an Era

P/M Iain Simpson with the Juvenile Worlds trophy

After 22 years of dedicated service teaching pipes at George Watson’s College, Edinburgh, P/M Iain Simpson has announced that he will retire from his position in April 2022.

Iain will leave an indelible mark upon the school and its pipe bands. The teaching programme has become one of the largest, and most successful, in the world. 

On the competition field, Iain’s pursuit of excellence has brought many significant awards for the bands. In his time at the helm, his Juvenile band has won 39 Major Championships, including six World titles and 11 Champion of Champions titles. 

In the Novice Juvenile grade, 19 Major Championships have been won, with four more World Championship awards for Watson’s. After completing a double ‘Grand Slam’ in 2011 and 2012 the Juvenile Band was crowned the ‘Pipe Band of the Year’ at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards. 

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Iain, a competing member of the Grade 1 Boghall & Bathgate pipe band, joined the staff at Watson’s on a temporary basis in January 2000 after his predecessor, Willie McBride, became ill. It soon became clear that, very sadly, Willie wouldn’t recover enough to enable him to continue teaching and Iain assumed Willie’s role initially as a visiting instrumental teacher.

Iain had an immediate, and very positive, impact upon the band, with outstanding success throughout the first season. This culminated in the band and drum corps winning the Champion of Champions title in Novice Juvenile and gaining promotion to Juvenile. 

The Juvenile band competing at the Worlds in 2016

In November 2000, the Principal and Governors of the school, with great foresight, appointed Iain and Mick O’Neill as full time members of staff and joint ‘Masters in Charge’ of the Pipes & Drums, with a remit to create a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for piping & drumming.

At the time there were approximately 30 pupils learning pipes and 30 learning drums with just one competing band of no more than 20 players.  

With drive, determination, and a strong commitment to make the band an enjoyable environment in which to learn, Iain and Mick very quickly expanded the pupil numbers.

The band having fun in Kincardine, Ontario

Soon a second band was created to compete at Novice Juvenile level. As pupil numbers expanded, there was a need for more instructors, so a further two visiting teachers were appointed, one piping and one drumming, to assist with the development of the programme. 

Today, there are over 250 pupils learning pipes and drums at Watson’s, with three competing bands, one in Juvenile, Novice A and Novice B grades respectively plus a development band to help feed new members into the three main bands. There are now four full time members of staff and two visiting teachers.

The bands are in great demand to perform at concerts and events within the school, as well as many charity and corporate events outwith. 

Iain leads the Novice band at Cowal

Iain has overseen the implementation of the PDQB teaching and examination programme at all levels within the Watson’s teaching structure, with hundreds of pupils gaining piping and drumming qualifications. This continues to flourish within the Watson’s teaching programme. 

After the band’s first trip to Japan in 2002, Iain recognised that overseas trips could play a major role in team building and improving the camaraderie that already existed between the pupils. They were so popular in Japan that the band was invited back time and again to perform mainly at an International Youth Rugby Tournament and various schools where they interacted with Japanese school pupils.

Watson’s in Arita, Japan

The band was scheduled to undertake their 18th trip to Japan in April 2020 but it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. The pupils have also enjoyed unforgettable experiences in places such as Canada, the USA, Russia and the WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium. 

Many current and former pupils comment on how they benefited from the experience gained on these trips. Much of the responsibility for the careful planning and organisation has been down to Iain and he has enriched so many of the young pupils’ lives as a result. 

For now, Iain is busy working with all three competing bands at the school for season 2022, so that when he does step down in April next year, the bands are well prepared to continue to achieve great things.

There is no doubt Iain Simpson leaves a lasting legacy of excellence in piping at Watson’s and he will be missed by pupils, parents and staff in equal measure.

P/M Simpson….a lasting legacy

Iain said: ‘I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Watson’s but after 22 years I felt it was time to hand over the reins to someone else. I would like to thank everyone involved with the band and the school for their support and encouragement over all these years.

‘I plan to play one more season with Boghall before fully retiring from competitive piping. I’ll then spend more time holidaying abroad with my wife Janice, cycling in Scotland and seeing more of my first grandson, Fraser.’

  • If anyone would like to offer congratulations and thanks to Iain or perhaps share a GW memory please do so in our Comment section.

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19 thoughts on “George Watson’s College Pipes & Drums – the End of an Era

  1. Many congratulations Iain, well deserved. I have you to thank for my juvenile years through the Boghall system where you won numerous prizes with, long before you went to George Watson’s. I think we even beat George Watson’s in 1992 to champion of champions under your leadership. All the best in your retirement. Thanks for the great memories!

  2. What a loss this will be for GWC! Iain leaves such a fantastic legacy of success and those times will be remembered by every pipe band pupil he has taught . . . And their families too!
    Thank you Iain, and of course Janice.

  3. So many happy memories of GWC pipe band trips. Cowal being a particular favourite. Thank you Iain and Janice for all your hard work over the years. Hope to see you at a pipe band competition in 2022. Enjoy your retirement. Violet, Ross and Murray Blair

  4. Iain and Janice, both of you deserve a full and eventful retirement. When sipping a glass of something reflect on the significant part you have played upon the lives of many young people and their development not just musically but as strong and impressive individuals. Thank you.

  5. Had so much enjoyment following the juvenile band where my nephew and niece both played under the leadership of Iain guiding them to winning ways throughout the years his experience and expertise have been invaluable to them both .Wishing you many congratulations on your retirement Iain

  6. As a former colleague (until 2012), parent helper and proud father of a piper, I want to add my congratulations and thanks to Iain for his magnificent, talented and caring leadership of piping in the GWC Pipe Bands.. My son (he comments above!) gained enormously from Iain’s insight, high standards and drive. And this, not just musically, but by witnessing the consistency, commitment and human values, goodwill and humour that any parent would wish their child to see. And Janice had as much a role socially in the trips & competitions as Iain had musically. Her generous care & gentle firmness … and humour (“I’ve moved him to the front of the bus. He’s a boaker!”) … completed the formidable ‘Team Simmo’. It may be admired & copied, but it will never be repeated.
    Enjoy a well-deserved retirement from GWC.

  7. It’s been a strong, steady and happy ship with you and Janice at the helm, we have benefitted enormously! All the best to both of you for this next bit, love from the Park / Hawkins clan

  8. FP from 1999-2007; Iain was first class educator, role model and peer during my formative years at GWC. I can only thank you for the blood, sweat and tears you have given to the school and the band(s). You are one of a kind and were the reason I continued to pipe whilst at school, if not for you I would have likely given up. I am immeasurably grateful for impact the band had on my life through international trips, friendships and a lifelong skill that is popular no matter where I end up in the world. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  9. Sorry to hear you are to leave Watson’s after so many years of outstanding contribution to all the pupils who have been lucky enough to be part of the Pipe Band Family. On the other hand there is life after Watson’s and you deserve to have the time to travel and enjoy your new grandchild. I am sure you will love this new chapter. Enjoy your last weeks and all the very best for the future.

  10. Congratulations Iain on all your achievements with George Watson’s College.
    Simply amazing !!!
    From all at Kintyre Schools.

  11. Thank you for many happy memories as a parent helper and for all the encouragement and training you gave to the many young people who have been members of GWC Pipes and Drums.
    What fun we have all had.
    Thanks Iain – hope Janice is making a decent job of cleaning your glasses whilst whistling ‘Greenwood Side’. Love Val

  12. A public announcement doesn’t get you out of playing at the family getherin’s. Nice try though. Congratulations on all your achievements Uncle Iain.and happy retirement. F x

  13. Outstanding commitment and achievements Iain, both with Boghall and Watson’s, what a remarkable legacy you have left for the next generation. Enjoy your retirement !

    All the best from Toronto !

    1. Well done Iain, I remember when Jack Calder called and asked me if I thought you were a good fit for the job. And boy have you proved me right. All the best in your retirement. I’ll be joining you next summer.
      You’ll be a hard act to follow.

  14. Many congratulations to you Iain for a great career. I must admit when Bev and I met up with you and others at Antigonish one year, we were so impressed not just by the skill of the band by the whole dedicated organization of the band. I remember a group of parents sitting together in the ‘main’ room of the residence, enjoying a glass of wine as they could not leave, since they had to look after the kids, and wash all of their shirts and hose for the next day due to the rain that day.
    Here’s hoping that the MBE is not far behind you!!

  15. Very best of luck to you Iain x many happy memories of the “friendly rivalry” between Watson’s and my Bucksburn kids. Hopefully see you around in the 2022 season

  16. Many congratulations Iain, an outstanding contribution to the development of young people. It’s a pleasure to know you and having visited your school as a PDQB Assessor it’s clear to see the impact the pipe band programme has had. A well earned next chapter awaits. Wishing you every success.

  17. Sad to see you retire from teaching at Watson’s, but congratulations on all that you have achieved and for all the encouragement and life experience you have given to all the young Watsonians, many of whom have gone on to achieve even more success at high levels within the pipe band fraternity. Have a long, happy and healthy retirement Iain.

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