Iain was born in Glasgow on December 2nd, 1935, the son of Highland parents who had settled in Govan. Like his three brothers, Iain took up the pipes and was taught in the Highland tradition by his father from the age of twelve. He made rapid progress and by the age of sixteen, having enjoyed success in the College of Piping competitions in Glasgow and at the Cowal Games, he was competing at all the major piping events.
In those days pipers were not nearly so numerous as they would become and Iain soon became known around Govan as “The boy who plays the pipes.” This nickname was his calling card and anyone looking for a piper to play at a wedding or any other social function would automatically come to Iain.
As well as competing individually, Iain played with the Red Hackle Pipe Band, which came second in the World Championships in Belfast in 1962, and was pipe major of the Glasgow Corporation Transport Pipe Band.
Iain won first prize at the Inverness Meeting in 1957 and at Oban the following year but his greatest achievement was in qualifying for the Glenfiddich Championship, in which the top ten pipers of the year in the world compete, sixteen years in succession. Iain won the overall title at Glenfiddich four times between 1977 and 1986, before retiring from competitive piping in 1988.
In 1973, when piping became part of the schools’ music curriculum, Iain took up the post of piping instructor for Skye and Lochalsh. Many of his pupils have gone on to win gold medals and Iain is particularly proud of one pupil, his son, Iain Neil, an internationally capped footballer who followed in his father’s footsteps as a successful competitive piper and now plays with the Power of Scotland Pipe Band. Iain also taught his daughter, Karen, who like her mother became a highland dancer, to play the pipes.
In 2001 Iain retired as a piping instructor for Highland Regional Council but he continues teaching at the Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School.
Piping has taken Iain around the world. He has judged piping competitions in America and Canada, as well as here at home, and piped in the haggis at Burns suppers as far afield as Russia. His influence can be heard in the upsurge in piping standards both in the Highland region and nationally through his work as a teacher, examiner and advisor to the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
In recognition of his contribution, Iain has been awarded the Yamaha Trophy for top tutor and in 2003 he became the first piping instructor to be made an honorary fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland, a fitting tribute to, as one of his recordings aptly put it, the Master Piper Supreme.