Silly Wizard

Silly Wizard was a Scottish folk band that began forming in Edinburgh in 1970. The founder members were two like-minded university students—Gordon Jones (guitar, bodhran, vocals, bouzouki, mandola), and Bob Thomas (guitar, mandolin, mandola, banjo, concertina). In January 1972, Jones and Thomas formed a trio with their flatmate Bill Watkins (guitar, vocals, fiddle) and performed occasionally (unpaid) under various band names in Edinburgh folk clubs. In the spring of 1972, Watkins returned to Birmingham and, in June 1972, Chris Pritchard (vocals) came in as his replacement. In July 1972, this newly formed trio were offered their first paid booking at the Burns Monument Hotel, Brig O' Doune, Scotland, and needed a band name in a hurry. The name "Silly Wizard" was chosen and the continuing stream of bookings ensured that the name became permanent. In September 1972, the trio recruited Johnny Cunningham (1957-2003) (fiddle, viola, mandola, vocals)[1] and Silly Wizard started to take off.

Silly Wizard
Members of Silly Wizard perform at Celtic Connections with Phil Cunningham and Friends, February 2007
Background information
OriginEdinburgh, Scotland
GenresCeltic, traditional
Years active1970–1988
LabelsTransatlantic, Highway, Shanachie, Green Linnet
WebsiteSilly Wizard's "Official" History Pages
Past membersAndy M. Stewart (deceased)
Johnny Cunningham (deceased)
Phil Cunningham
Martin Hadden
Bob Thomas
Gordon Jones
Bill Watkins
Chris Pritchard (folk singer)
Madelaine Taylor
Neil Adam
Freeland Barbour
Alastair Donaldson (deceased)
Dougie MacLean



Thomas credited the name of the band to a flatmate who was writing a book of children's stories, and the group first performed as "Silly Wizard" in summer 1972.[2] Chris Pritchard (vocals) replaced Bill Watkins (vocals, guitar) in 1972. From September 1972 until March 1974, the band organized the Saturday night bookings, and regularly performed at, the Triangle Folk Club in Edinburgh. In February 1973, vocalist Pritchard left the band and was replaced by Madelaine Taylor (guitar, bodhran, vocals). In October 1973, the band was signed to Transatlantic Records XTRA label. An album was recorded but before it could be released, Madelaine Taylor left the band in December 1973. The master tapes were subsequently lost and the album has never been released.

Jones, Thomas, and Cunningham began touring as a trio in January 1974, and went on the first of many French tours in April 1974.

The band added Neil Adam (bass, harmonium) in September 1974 and Andy M. Stewart (vocals, tin whistle, tenor banjo) in December 1974. In March 1975, Silly Wizard began work on their next album. The band was then joined by Freeland Barbour (accordion, bouzouki) and Alastair "Ali" Donaldson (1955-2013) (bass, flute), who replaced Neil Adam in July 1975 when the latter decided to return to university. Their eponymous LP Silly Wizard was released on the XTRA label and the band began touring throughout the UK and Europe.

Departure of Barbour; addition of Phil Cunningham

In late 1976, Freeland Barbour left the band and was replaced by Johnny Cunningham's younger brother, Phil Cunningham (accordion, tin whistle, harmonium, synthesizer, octave mandolin, vocals), then sixteen years old.[1] At the same time Alastair "Ali" Donaldson left and was replaced by Martin Hadden (bass, guitar, piano). This six-member lineup then recorded the band's second LP, Caledonia's Hardy Sons (Highway/Shanachie, 1978). Founding member Bob Thomas left just as the group began work on their third LP, So Many Partings (Highway/Shanachie, 1979).

Departure of Johnny Cunningham

Cunningham departed the band for the U.S. in 1980[3] and was replaced for six months by Dougie MacLean of the Tannahill Weavers. MacLean had once been in a band Puddocks Well with Andy Stewart and Martin Hadden, and contributed to Silly Wizard's fourth album, Wild and Beautiful (Highway/Shanachie, 1981) before returning to the Tannahill Weavers. The last five tracks on Wild and Beautiful were often played as an opening set to their live performances.

Dissolution and aftermath

They continued recording until the late 1980s, when the band decided to dissolve after performing for seventeen years and releasing nine albums. The band played its final performance in Voorheesville, New York in April 1988. Johnny Cunningham died on 15 December 2003 in New York.

On 16 February 2012, speculation over the potential release of a re-mastered live album was laid to rest when Silly Wizard 'Live' Again (BCD619) went on sale exclusively through bass player Martin Hadden's company Birnam CD. Hadden had overseen the reissue project. The packaging was designed and the discs pressed by Birnam CD. As of 2016 many of their albums, including the re-mastered live album, were available on iTunes.

Alastair "Ali" Donaldson died at home in Edinburgh, Scotland on 18 June 2013

Andy M. Stewart died in hospital in Melrose, Roxburghshire, Scotland on 27 December 2015 as a result of medical difficulties that arose after failed spinal surgery in 2012.


Musical style

Silly Wizard played a variety of Scottish folk music, both instrumental and vocal, from fast jigs and reels to slow airs. While the majority of the items they played were traditional songs or tunes, the band did write many compositions of their own. Phil Cunningham generally wrote instrumental music centered on the accordion, and Stewart wrote several songs in a style often distinctly traditional. Once Stewart's singing and the driving, impassioned instrumentals of the Cunningham brothers had established themselves at its centre, the group's overall sound changed little until their final album, A Glint of Silver, which introduced the synthesizer as a prominent part of the band, giving them a slightly new-age sound.


  • In Scots Trad Music Awards, 2003 Silly Wizard were nominated for the best folk band award.
  • Members of Silly Wizard played at Celtic Connections in February 2007.
  • In December 2012, Silly Wizard was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.



  1. Laurie Devine (July 1993). "Johnny Cunningham 1957-2003: Defining Wizardry". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012.
  2. Silly Wizard's "Official" History Pages Archived 4 April 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Gordon Jones. "Silly Wizard". Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
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