Published: May 31, 2001

John Wilson

Commander A. John Wilson

By the age of 30, A. John Wilson had achieved in piping more than 99% of pipers do in a lifetime. By 50, Wilson has attained in his professional career with the Strathclyde Police force more than 99% of his colleagues. John Wilson is a man with aggressive goals, and he invariably reaches them.

Born in Campbeltown, Argyllshire, in 1948, John Wilson is the son, nephew and grandson of excellent pipers. Taught originally by his father, Pipe Major William Wilson of the 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, he continued his instruction with the great—and generally underrated—Archie McNabb, described by many as the best 2/4 march player ever.

At age 11 Wilson started serious piobaireachd tuition from Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE, who would shape his knowledge of ceol mor. Wilson would spend the next 21 years getting lessons from MacLeod, and it paid serious dividends.

In 1967, at the age of 18, John Wilson became the second youngest piper (next to John D. Burgess) to capture a Highland Society of London Gold Medal. At The Northern Meeting his tune was “Lament for the Castle of Dunyveg,” a rather esoteric tune for such a young man.

He would go on to win the Open Piobaireachd at The Argyllshire Gathering, as well as the Gold Medal at the same event in 1981, playing “The Battle of Aldearn, No. 2.” His Gold Medal win at Oban was preceded by a string of five second prizes, likely a record.

His light music prowess was also prodigious. Nearly every light music competition was his at least once, included both Former Winners’ events at Inverness and Oban. Following in the steps of Archie McNabb, Wilson was known for a brash and robust march style, and strathspeys and reels full of lift and panache. At his peak, Wilson’s light music and bagpipe made people sit up and take notice.

As a bandsman, his role as Pipe Sergeant with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band during its glory years under Pipe Major Iain MacLellan was an accomplishment unto itself. His participation in ten of the band’s World Championship victories gave him front rank stature in those feats.

Wilson did not originally desire to be a policeman. With an architecture degree from Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh, he set his sights on that profession. By his own account, he then came close to “growing his hair long,” and attending the Glasgow School of Art.

After landing an entry-level position at the architecture firm Wiley-Shanks & Partners in Glasgow, he quickly became concerned that gloomy drafting work might not be for him. He was initially attracted to the Glasgow Police in 1971 not because of piping, but rather that he would have the chance to interact with people. It was over a year later that Pipe Major Angus MacDonald approached him to play with the band, thus commencing his propitious tenure with the band under, at first, Pipe Major Ronald Lawrie, and then Pipe Major Iain MacLellan.

John Wilson’s decision to break from competitive piping to pursue his professional career with the Strathclyde Police force was obviously the right move also. Having already won in piping everything he desired, Wilson focused more on his career in 1989, when he was promoted to Chief Inspector of the force’s Maryhill division. Another promotion followed quickly when he was made Superintendent of A Division, which encompasses Glasgow’s city centre.

In 1994 he was made Deputy Division Commander for the Dumbarton area, which includes the Argyll and Bute, and covers everything from Drumchapel to Tiree. In November 1998, John Wilson was promoted to Division Commander of A Division, returning him to the centre of Glasgow. His recent successful overseeing of law and order at Glasgow’s outdoor Hogmanay festival was a first big test of his management abilities.

At age 52, John Wilson finds himself at the peak of his profession, after twenty years earlier reaching the apex of piping. He is still very active as a piper, performing recitals and completing his duties as piper to the famous Glasgow Highland Club. He is also on the RSPBA’s adjudicator’s panel, and frequently judges both band and solo events throughout Scotland and the rest of the world.

He also dedicates much of his time to his wife, Connie, and his children, Iain, age 22, and Claire, 19.

An engaging and thoughtful personality, John Wilson is known for his ready story, quip or quote. Although he carries himself with all the confidence expected of a born overachiever, he is a popular and friendly figure in the piping world.

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