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 dance bands).
Martin Hadden manufactures CDs and DVDs for the recording industry (he owns Birnam CD ) and does radio presentation work with both Heartland Radio and Radio Scotland.
Phil Cunningham does much production and music writing work, presents TV and radio shows, is a fixture on BBC Scotland’s annual Hogmanay Show and continues to tour and play live with Aly Bain.
Johnny Cunningham, who sadly passed away on 15th December 2003 in New York,toured both solo and with other musicians - particularly with Celtic Fiddle Festival and Susan McKeown - and did a great deal of production work. Notably, Johnny wrote and played the music for the Mamou Mines production of Peter and Wendy. He is sorely missed by all of us who played music alongside him.
Alastair Donaldson sadly died at home in Edinburgh on Tuesday, 18 June, 2013. After leaving Silly Wizard in the summer of 1976, Ali joined Edinburgh band The Rezillos only to leave them in 1978. In the 1980’s Ali returned to his original career as an architect in Edinburgh and, in his later years, returned to music. Ali’s skills and musicianship on bass and flute played their part in Silly Wizard’s early development and we were all terribly saddened when news of his death reached us.
Andy M. Stewart continued to tour, firstly with Manus Lunny and then in more recent times with Gerry O’Beirne. Sadly, illness curtailed his touring and failed spinal surgery in 2014 resulted in Andy becoming paralysed from the waist down. Andy died on 27 December 2015 from complications arising from a major stroke. He too is sorely missed by all of us who played music alongside him.
You can read a history of the band's Early Years - 1969-1979.
Silly Wizard: XTRA 1158 (LP) - re-released on CD as 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 were recorded at one concert in Boston. Both were also 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 Scottish TV "soap" with "Donald MacGillavray" on the B Side
Silly Wizard - Live Again: a remastered 2012 re-release of GLCD 3036/37 on Martin Hadden’s Birnam CD label.
BAND MEMBERS’ PROJECTS
Johnny and Phil Cunningham
"Against the Storm": Shanachie
"Thoughts From Another World": Shanachie
"Fair Warning": Green Linnet
"Airs and Graces": Green Linnet GLCD 3032
"Palamino Waltz": Green Linnet GLCD 1102
Andy M. Stewart
"By the Hush": Shanachie
"Fire in the Glen": Shanachie
"The Songs of Robert Burns”: Green Linnet
"Man in the Moon": Green Linnet
“Donegal Rain”: Green Linnet
Andy M. Stewart with Manus Lunny
"Dublin Lady": Green Linnet
"At It Again": Green Linnet
Has been the most prolific of all...
Check out his extremel extensive discography!
Phil Cunningham has his own website where you can keep up with his goings on, as well.
Andy M Stewart sadly passed away in on 27th December 2015. Andy's website has vanished, however there is a page on Facebook where you’ll find tributes and stories.
Martin Hadden is running the excellent Birnam CD
Gordon Jones and Bob Thomas are running Harbourtown Records
Johnny Cunningham sadly passed away in New York on 15th December 2003. Please visit Johnny's website and please leave a message if you feel you would like to help celebrate his life.
Neil Adams played bass and keyboards with the band in the early days and now lives in Australia where he has continued his musical career both solo, with his wife Judy Turner and with the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club.