The Celtic Music of Silly Wizard

Jun 28, 2014 by

In 1970, a group of young Scottish musicians in Edinburgh got together and formed one the most popular Celtic music bands ever–

Silly Wizard.

The band changed membership throughout the years, but included notable traditional music artists such as Andy M. Stewart, Phil Cunningham and Dougie MacLean.   By the time the band went their separate ways in 1988, they had recorded nine albums and toured throughout the world.

I’ve gathered a few of their best songs for you that will, hopefully,  inspire you to seek out more of Silly Wizard’s beautiful Scottish and Celtic music.

The Queen of Argyll was written by Andy M. Stewart and is one of Silly Wizard’s most popular tunes:

On the evening that I mentioned
I passed with light intention
Through a part of our dear country
Known for beauty and for style
In the place of noble thinkers
Of scholars and great drinkers
But above them all for splendour
Shone the Queen of all Argyll….


This is a recording of Silly Wizard performing live in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988, a concert I attended–it was fantastic!   Donald McGillivray, a song about a fictional Jacobite, is a fast paced traditional song first published in 1820. It’s guaranteed to get your blood up and your feet tapping!


The Fisherman’s Song/Lament For the Fisherman’s Wife was written by Martin Hadden and Phil Cunningham and released on their 1981 album Wild & Beautiful.

By the storm-torn shoreline a woman is standing
The spray strung like jewels in her hair
And the sea tore the rocks near the desolate landing
as though it had known she stood there.
But she has come down to condemn that wild ocean
For the murderous loss of her man.
His boat sailed out on Wednesday morning,
And it’s feared she’s gone down with all hands….



Silly Wizard sings of the call to arms for Bonnie Prince Charlie in this rousing Jacobite tune, “Wha’ll Be King But Cherlie?”, a traditional tune made bittersweet by the knowledge of what is to come for those brave Scots.

The effort to return the House of Stuart to the throne of Scotland cost many, many Scottish lives, especially at Culloden ( read my post on Culloden HERE), the last great battle on British soil.  As with the American Civil war, families were sometimes divided, and Scots fought and died on both sides of the battle.  Highlanders rallied around the young Prince Charles, fighting boldly for this man who would be king, though he had been raised in Italy and spent less than two years on Scottish soil during his lifetime.


The Valley of Strathmore is a song that often brings on tears (myself definitely, and I’ve seen others crying at SW concerts), yet it is probably the most requested Silly Wizard song.  Beautiful and elegiac, the song tells of man’s longing to walk the Scottish valley that he and his love once roamed together.   It’s been covered by other artists, but this is my favorite version, from their 1979 album,  So Many Partings.

By the clear and the winding stream
In the valley of Strathmore
Where my love and I have been
Where we’ll wander never more

But if time was a thing man could buy
All the money that I have in store
I would give for one day by her side
In the valley of Strathmore…..


It always surprises me to meet people interested in Celtic things–music, heritage, culture–who have never heard of Silly Wizard.  Although most of their music is Scottish, they also have numerous songs of Irish origin, and many songs with lyrics that are common to all Celtic cultures.  If you don’t own any of their music, but like what you heard above, I recommend checking Amazon for Silly Wizard CDs or digital music.  Download your favorite, grab a cuppa or a dram of single malt  and enjoy an hour of Celtic zen with Silly Wizard.

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Jan 25, 2014 by

Scotland’s favorite son, Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), was born on this day in 1759, in South Ayrshire, Scotland.   His poetry and songs, most in the Scots dialect are famous around the world, and are traditionally recited at Burns suppers, held on or near his birthday to honor the poet.

“A Red, Red Rose” is one of Burns’ most beloved romantic poems, originally sung to the tune of “Major Graham”, a song written by Niel Gow, the  famous Scottish fiddler and dancie (traveling dance instructor and bard) of the eighteenth century.


O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

A Red, Red Rose “, by Robert Burns, 1794

Burns described this song as one he heard a young country girl singing, as he passed by. Considered to be a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, Burns traveled throughout Scotland, writing down old songs and tunes he found, then adapting and revising them in his own style.  His efforts helped preserve part of the Scottish oral tradition that might have been lost forever.

In 2008, Bob Dylan was asked which lyric or verse has had the biggest effect on his life.   Dylan, whose own songs are often cited by other musicians as significantly influencing their work,  chose “A Red, Red Rose” by Burns as the biggest inspiration for his music and poetry.   Quite the compliment, aye, Rab?

My favorite song version of Red, Red Rose is by Andy Stewart, lead singer for the late, great Silly Wizard:


Robert Burns’ poetry is also meant to be spoken, to feel the Scots words rrroll across your tongue:


Mastering the Scots dialect used by Burns is easier than you might think, especially if you listen to it sung and read as in the above videos.
Besides, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner–what better way to win fair lady than with the beautiful words of Burns’ most romantic love poem?

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Apr 2, 2013 by



His ambitions and beliefs inspired many Highlanders, Catholic and Protestant alike, but ultimately brought death and defeat to the clans of Scotland in April of 1746.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of poems, books and songs have been written about him throughout the years, praising him and those who followed him.    BUT—was he worth it, was the noble Jacobite cause worth all the loss of life and the destruction of the Highland Clans?    Scholars continue to hotly debate this issue, and those of us with Scottish ancestry must make our own evaluation of the wisdom of Prince Charlie’s campaign.

As we approach the anniversary of Culloden, I thought I’d give you a brief history to help you decide about this young man who saw himself as the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland….


Prince Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart (31 December 1720 – 31 January 1788), commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Young Pretender,  or  Teàrlach Eideard Stiùbhairt in Scots Gaelic, was the Stuart heir to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland.   His claim was as the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart ( The Pretender, so called because of his convenient and perhaps illegitmate birth), himself the son of King James VII and II.  Charles is perhaps best known as the instigator of the unsuccessful Jacobite uprising of 1745, in which he led an insurrection to restore an absolute monarchy, ruled by his father, James,  to the Kingdom of Great Britain.  Those plans ended in bloody defeat at the Battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746, a devastating loss that effectively ended the Jacobite cause and the Highland Clan system.



Prince Charles was born in Rome, Italy, on 31 December 1720, where his father had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI.  He spent almost all his childhood in Rome and Bologna, where he lived a life of privilege and wealth in the Catholic community. As the son of the Old Pretender, Prince James, son of exiled Stuart King, James II & VII and his wife Maria Clementina Sobieska and great-grandson of John III Sobieski, Charles was immersed in the Jacobite cause almost from birth.  The Stuarts were absolutely convinced of their right to rule and no doubt made sure that the young prince understood his royal duty was return to Scotland as the only legitimate claimant to the throne of that country, as well as England and Ireland.  Dubbed the Young Pretender by some, he was described as bold and brave by those who knew him well, and  was considered a good marksman with a crossbow.   He was well educated and spoke English, French, Italian and Latin, but not Scots Gaelic, the native language of the country he wanted to rule.


 'Action on the 9th of July 1745 between the Lion of 60 guns, Captain Percy Brett / and the Elisabeth of 64 guns, the Doutelle in the distance making / her escape with the Pretender on board./ Painted for Admiral Lord Anson'.  Inscription by the painter, Samuel Scott(1702-1772)

‘Action on the 9th of July 1745 between the Lion of 60 guns, Captain Percy Brett / and the Elisabeth of 64 guns, the Doutelle in the distance making / her escape with the Pretender on board./ Painted for Admiral Lord Anson’. Inscription by the painter, Samuel Scott(1702-1772)


In December 1743, Charles’s father named him Prince Regent, giving him authority to act in his name, and Charles began to plan in earnest for his father’s return to Scotland as king.   At that time, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) was fully underway, with Britain allied to Austria and France allied with PrussiaFrance did not openly support the Jacobite cause, but pragmatically understood that assisting the Stuarts could cause trouble for Britain, an outcome that would benefit France and its allies.   The French government thus agreed to an invasion of England as part of the effort to restore the Stuart monarchy, and Charles quickly journeyed to France to led the French expeditionary forces.  Charles immediately started raising funds (partly by pawning some of his mother’s jewelry) to fit out two ships made available to him through Franco-Irish privateers: the Elisabeth, an old man-of-war of 66 guns, and the Doutelle (le Du Teillay) a small frigate of 16 guns, equipped with a force of about 700 men (on the Elizabeth)and numerous weapons.   The expedition left on 4 July, 1745, but was overtaken and attacked just one day later by a British man-of-war, the Lion; the battle caused heavy damage to the Elizabeth, but Charles escaped on the Doutelle, which successfully landed him and seven companions at Eriskay, in the Outer Hebrides, on 23 July 1745.   Additionally, the French fleet that was supposed to land at Dunkirk in support of Charles instead was badly damaged by strong storms, forcing it to return to France. France abandoned plans for the invasion and Charles received no further open support from the French government.



Despite the failure and harsh reprisals of previous Jacobite uprisings in support of the Stuart dynasty, some Highland clan chiefs did periodically send requests to Charles and his family, asking them to return “across the stream” to Scotland.  Early in 1744, a small number of Scottish Highland clan chiefs had sent Charles a message that they would rise if he arrived with as few as 3,000 French troops.   The majority of Highland clans were still generally in support of the Jacobite cause, but showed less enthusiasm when Charles arrived without a French army to back up his claims.  Clan Ranald Macdonald was the first to announce their support for Charles, and other clans soon followed suit, enabling Bonnie Prince Charlie (as he was known amongst the clans) to raise enough men to march on Edinburgh, which quickly surrendered.  On 21 September 1745, he defeated the only government army in Scotland at the Battle of Prestonpans.


By November, Charles was marching south at the head of approximately 6,000 men.  Having taken Carlisle, Charles’s army progressed as far as Swarkestone Bridge in Derbyshire where, despite the objections of the Prince, the decision was made by his council to return to Scotland, largely because of rumors of a large government force being amassed.  The Jacobites marched north once more, winning several more battles.  The reports of a government army turned out to have been false, but Charles’s retreat gave the English time to muster an actual army.   The Jacobites were pursued by King George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who caught up with them at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.



The battle that ensued on the moorland of Culloden was the last battle on British soil, the bloodiest of all Jacobite battles and the action that ended the Jacobite cause forever, all in less than 90 minutes.  Despite advice from his adviser,  Lord George Murray, to take to the hills and fight, Bonnie Prince Charlie  instead made the catastrophic choice of  Culloden Moor as the place to stand against the government army.   The swords and muskets of the Highlanders were no match for the cannons and superior numbers of Cumberland’s forces;  more than 1000 Jacobites died, with the Hanoverian forces of King George II losing only 300 men.



Charles’s subsequent flight has become the stuff of legend and is commemorated in the popular folk song The Skye Boat Song (lyrics 1884, tune traditional) and also the old Irish song Mo Ghile Mear by Seán Clárach Mac Domhnaill.    He was a fugitive for many months, hiding throughout the Highlands, with a large bounty on his head.   Though many Highlanders saw Charles and indeed aided him, none of them betrayed him for the £30,000 reward offered.     Assisted by loyal supporters, Charlie managed to stay one step ahead of the Crown forces, and many legends about Prince and his travels have been handed down through the years. One of the most well known tales is about his meeting with Flora MacDonald, with whom he supposedly had a romance, although little evidence of such a tryst has been found.  Flora did, however,  help Charles escape pursuers on the Isle of Skye by taking him in a small boat disguised as her Irish maid;  he evaded capture and eventually left the country aboard the French frigate L’Heureux, arriving back in France in September of 1746.   The cause of the Stuarts now lost, the remainder of Charles’ life was mostly spent in exile.


Charles Edward Stuart in later life(1775), portrait by Irish artist Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740-1808)

Charles Edward Stuart in later life(1775), portrait by Irish artist Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1740-1808)




The Bonnie Prince, no longer so bonnie after his bitter defeat, returned to France, where he engaged in several affairs and led a life of heavy drinking, until he was expelled by the French under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought the Austrian Succession war between Britain and France to an end.   While the clans of the Scottish Highlands suffered severe reprisals, destruction of their homes and famine in the aftermath of Culloden,  their former leader lived a life of relative ease in Europe.   The British army spent the months after Culloden killing everyone who was suspected of taking part in the Jacobite Rising and deporting those who were suspected of supporting the rebels.  Charles, in contrast, lived luxuriously, finding an outlet for his disappointment by attacking his lovers in violent rages brought on by his constant drinking.   After his father died in 1766, Charles returned to Italy, where he spent the remainder of his life.   Charles died in Rome on 31 January 1788 and is buried at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.   His heart is interred in a small urn beneath the floor in the Cathedral of Frascati in Rome, where his brother Henry Benedict Stuart was bishop.  On Henry’s death in 1807, the direct male Stuart line died out.

Charles fathered one illegitimate child, Charlotte, in 1753, with his Scottish mistress, Clementina Walkinshaw.  Clemintina was frightened by her lover’s increasingly violent behavior, and left him, taking their daughter with her.   Charles refused to acknowledge or provide for Charlotte until 1784, when he legitimized her and created her Duchess of Albany in the Jacobite Peerage.  She left her own three children (also illegitimate) with her mother, and became her father’s caregiver and companion in the last years of his life, before dying less than two years after him.



A Jacobite Gazetteer

Rampant Scotland: Bonnie Prince Charlie

British Battles: Culloden

Electric Scotland: Prince Charles Edward Stuart

Am Baile Highland History


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