Silly Wizard “evolved” in Edinburgh in about 1971 – around a nucleus of Gordon Jones, Bob Thomas and Johnny Cunningham. We didn’t play many gigs away from town at first as Johnny was still at school! (although he had been known to be picked up by the band at the school gate to be driven to Sutherland for a gig and be decanted from the van at the school gates next morning!). The band then ran the Triangle Folk Club in Edinburgh on Saturday Nights. The first foreign tour was in 1972 when the three of us went off to France – a seriously memorable tour – we discovered some wonderful people who remained friends throughout the band’s touring years and also discovered that we could indeed play concerts! After some hard touring mostly around Britain with a girl (Maddy Taylor) singing with the band we were approached by Transatlantic Records to record an album. we did – Maddy left the band and the album never saw the light of day. It was recorded in two days and has never been seen or heard since!
Soon after this great plans began to grow for a “big” Scots band with two guitars (doubling on other string things – bouzouki, mandolin, banjo etc.), accordian, fiddle and bass.
An album was started, and around the same time a band we had seen a lot of at festivals in Scotland broke up. They were from Perthshire and were called “Puddock’s Well” they included Andy M. Stewart as singer and tenor banjo player, Dougie MacLean on fiddle and Martin Hadden on bass.
We needed a Scots singer (up until then Gordon had handled most of the vocals but he didn’t feel that he, from Liverpool, should sing Scots songs) so we asked Andy to join. Johnny’s brother Phil came into the studio (from school) and played some accordian and Alastair Donaldson took over on bass from Neil Adam who had worked with us for a while. This produced a set of demos that got us a deal with Transatlantic’s XTRA label and after some re-mixing and extra accordian from Freeland Barbour (who joined us at that time) the album was released as “Silly Wizard” (This was later re-released under license on the Highway label). Now we were a six piece band and as such toured for many years throughout Europe. A high point of these years was being asked to write music for and perform in some plays at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool – a great learning experience. Around this time Alistair and Freeland left and their obvious replacements were Phil Cunningham (he’d now left school) and Martin Hadden. They arrived just in time to record our second album “Caledonia’s Hardy Sons” on Highway Records. With this line-up and the reputation the band had already built up things began to get very busy – lots of festivals, tours throughout Europe. Very soon we started on “so Many Partings” and immediately lost Bob Thomas one of the original Wizards – Bob had married and had been offered a job near his home, so we lost the old trademark two guitar sound.
We recorded “So Many Partings” as a five piece band and at that time began our first forays into America. The first trip over was for Philadelphia Folk festival – really for us an unforgettable gig. Once we added America to our already busy touring schedule things became frantic and also we found our reputation growing again, before long we could book the Edinburgh Playhouse for a concert once a year during the Edinburgh Festival and fill its 3000 seats – we never forgot how hard it was to bring 20 or 30 into the Triangle Folk Club in 1972 – these were exciting times. One month in particular we played main stage sets at Winnepeg Folk Festival, Vancouver Folk Festival, Nyon Folk Festival (Switzerland) and Cambridge Folk Festival – on consecutive weekends!
Around this time Johnny Cunningham left the band to settle in America. For a short time Dougie MacLean joined (he also played a little on “Wild and Beautiful” made around this time) but generally we worked as a four piece that seemed to work as well as ever (and travelled very lightly!). Eerily however whenever we played within travelling distance of Johnny he would come to see us – and always seemed to have his fiddle with him!! Somehow over a period of time he seemed to just “return” and the old settled five piece band got back down to business.
After 9 albums and around 17 years of touring the band decided to call it a day and gently closed for business after a final album “Glint of Silver” in 1986 and a couple more tours taking us to our final gig which was at Bill and Andy Spence’s “Old Songs” in Voorheesville NY. in April 1988!
Today Gordon Jones and Bob Thomas run Harbourtown Records (they also both play guitar in local dance bands), Andy M. Stewart still tours regularly and does freelance technical work for TV production, Martin Hadden does duplication and replication work for the recording industry in Scotland (he’s Birnam Duplication) and does radio presentation work with both Heartland Radio and Radio Scotland. Phil Cunningham does much production and music writing work for BBC Scotland and still tours and plays live, mostly with Aly Bain. Johnny has toured both solo and with other musicians – most recently Celtic Fiddle Festival and Susan McKeown and done a great deal of production work. Notably Johnny wrote and played the music for the Mamou Mines production of Peter and Wendy. Sadly Johnny passed away on the 15th December 2003 in New York – he is sorely missed by all of us who played music alongside him.
You can also read Bob’s alternate view of the band’s history.
- Silly Wizard: XTRA 1158 – re-released Highway SHY 7022
- Caledonia’s Hardy Sons: Highway SHY 7001 / Shanachie 79015
- So Many Partings: Highway SHY 7010 / Shanachie 79016
- Wild and Beautiful: Highway SHY 7016 / Shanachie 79028
- Kiss The Tears Away: Highway SHY / Shanachie 79037
- The Best Of Silly Wizard: Shanachie 79048
- Golden Golden, and Silly Wizard Live In America: Green Linnet 3036/3037 – these two albums represent the material from one concert in Boston. They were released on REL records on the UK.
- Live Wizardry: A CD release from Green Linnet (GLCD 3036/37) of the same material as the above two Live albums (one track is missing)
- Glint of Silver: Green Linnet GLCD 1070 The final studio album from the band.
- Single: Take the High Road: Highway Records (the theme music from a TV “soap” of the same name with “Donald MacGillavray” on the B Side)
Band Member’s projects
- Johnny and Phil Cunningham “Against the Storm”: Highway SHY 7011 / Shanachie
- Johnny Cunningham “Thoughts From Another World”: Highway SHY / Shanachie
- Johnny Cunningham Fair Warning”: Green Linnet
- Phil Cunningham “Airs and Graces”: Green Linnet GLCD 3032 (also REL records in UK)
- Phil Cunningham “Palamino Waltz”: Green Linnet GLCD 1102
- Andy M. Stewart “By the Hush”: Highway SHY 7018 / Shanachie
- Andy M. Stewart with Manus Lunny “Fire in the Glen”: Shanachie 79062
- Andy M. Stewart with Manus Lunny “Dublin Lady”: Green Linnet
- Andy M. Stewart with Manus Lunny “At It Again”: Green Linnet
- Andy M. Stewart “The Songs of Robert Burns”
- Andy M. Stewart “Man in the Moon”: Green Linnet
Written by Gordon Jones. All complaints to him, please!
The “Ramblin’ Rovers” mail list is up and running. If you want to sign on go to “http://groups.yahoo.com/group/the-rovers”
Or for The Rovers Web Site go to “http://www.ramblingrovers.com/”
Phil Cunningham has some spiffy new pages so you can keep up with his goings on, as well.
And Andy Stewart has his very own Dot.Com
Martin Hadden is running the excellent – check out his site for news
Johnny Cunningham sadly passed away in New York on 15th December 2003 check his site and please leave messages if you feel you would like to help celebrate this life
Neil Adams played bass and keyboards with the band in the early days and now lives in Australia and has just released his third CD of his own songs. His web site is really fine and includes excellent pages on DADGAD guitar playing.
Laurie Divine has writen a number of articles about various band members over the years for Dirty Linen, and they have agreed to let us share them with you: