Silly Wizard - Silly Wizard [Talking Elephant - 2019]The latest folk-rock obscurity to be revived by Talking Elephant is the 1976 self-titled album from Edinburgh based Silly Wizard. Originally formed in 1970 by multi-instrumentalists Gordon Jones and Bob Thomas, they spent two years playing a succession of free gigs before they managed to seal their first paid gig in 1972. A name was needed in a hurry and they settled on Silly Wizard. On the strength of that gig a host of other bookings ensued, and the band elected to stick with the name. A debut album was recorded in 1973, but alas the master tapes were lost, and it would never see the light of day. It took another three years before the band would finally release, this, their self-titled debut album.
The album slowly creeps into life with the opening instrumental "Pibroch", a pleasant reel that sets the tone for the rest of the album. "Jenny Gray’s Whiskey" is however the first song proper. Reminiscent of the more traditional side of bands like Steeleye Span, it tells the bawdy tale of a woman named Jenny Gray, sadly not much is known about the inspiration for Jenny, but she is noted as a purveyor of fine spirits.
"Carlisle Wall" fits well with the music of the time, infusing traditional music with a definite 1970s feel. The song is a tragic ballad about an English lady, her brother and her Scots suiter, but I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t heard it. "My Love’s in Germany" is another favourite of mine, it is an 18th century poem about a woman’s lament for her lover written by Hector MacNeill and set to music. Along with "Carlisle Wall" and "Jenny Gray’s Whiskey" this is one of the album’s highlights for me, an eminently sing able song that gets into the head. "Election Jig" is next and is a short piece that lifts the tempo in preparation for "The Heron Election Ballad No. 4", a reasonably upbeat track written by the legendary Robert Burns. The album features a number of short reels that work as a pleasant way of book ending some of the more serious songs, or simply as a good way of leading into the album’s next phase.
"The Shearing" is one of the stronger tracks from the album’s latter stages, a self-explanatory song title that does exactly what it says on the time. Whenever I hear it, I can visualise listening to it in a remote highland cottage, watching the clouds roll across the lush green hills and valleys. It just screams picturebook Scotland to me. The album closer "Land of the Leal" is a beautiful ballad about a dying wife’s farewell to her husband. The Land of the Leal of the title operating as an alternative name for heaven, the track is a beautiful and poignant way to end the album.
Overall, Silly Wizard is a strong debut album, naturally so, when we consider the band took 6 years to reach this point in their evolution. On the other hand, the band have often been forgotten or overlooked since those days and I think it’s great to see this album back out on CD again for the first time in over 20 years. Talking Elephant are doing a remarkable job with rejuvenating these oft forgotten classics and I for one am really grateful to reappraise them in the modern age. Darren Charles