Artist Profiles: Phil Cunningham

Phil Cunningham – Photo by Annie Tuite

Accordionist Phil Cunningham was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1960. His musical career began with accordion lessons at the age of three and violin a few years later. His initial training was in classical music with a deep interest and love of the traditional music of his homeland developing simultaneously. In 1976 he joined his brother Johnny Cunningham in the highly acclaimed Scottish band Silly Wizard and was a full-time member until 1983. Phil contributed many of his own compositions to their mostly traditional repertoire adding to the musical heritage of Scotland and keeping the tradition alive.

Phil left Silly Wizard in 1983 to pursue a solo career as he found himself in demand as a composer and performer for television, radio, film and stage. Between 1985 and 1987 he toured and recorded with supergroup Relativity with his brother Johnny and Irish brother and sister Michael and Triona O’Domnaill.

Phil and fiddler Aly Bain formed one of the most celebrated acts on the Scottish traditional scene. The duo first worked together on a television series in 1988 and embarked on their first tour shortly after. They were so well received that they have been touring Scotland annually ever since in addition to frequent performances in Europe and North America.

Phil has produced albums for many popular traditional artists including Dolores Keane and Altan. In 1990 he wrote the music for Bill Bryden’s spectacular theater productions “The Ship” (1990) and “The Big Picnic” (1994). He has worked as music director and composer for various BBC Scotland series and also wrote The Highlands &Islands Suite, an orchestral work which was performed at The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. He has also toured with Bonnie Raitt and Kepa Junkera in addition to running CAP recording studios with his partner Donna.

In 2002 Phil was awarded the MBE for services to Scottish Music and was voted Best Instrumentalist in the inaugural Scottish Traditional Music Awards in 2003.

His compositions are covered by musicians the world over and he continues to write and add to his prolific repertoire. His proudest moments have been the premiers of his two orchestral suites for Symphony orchestra and Celtic instruments. His piece Ceilidh was written for and performed by acclaimed Scots percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Discography:

Caledonia’s Hardy Sons, with Silly Wizard (1978)
So Many Partings, with Silly Wizard (1980)
Against the Storm, with Johnny Cunningham (1980)
Wild and Beautiful, with Silly Wizard (1981)
Kiss the Tears Away, with Silly Wizard (1983)
Airs and Graces (Green Linnet 1984)
A Glint of Silver, with Silly Wizard (1986)
Relativity, with Relativity (1986)
Gathering Pace with Relativity (1987)
Live Wizardry, with Silly Wizard (1988)
Palomino Waltz (Green Linnet, 1989)
Fire in the Glen (Shanachie, 1989)
Somebody, with Connie Dover (Taylor Park Music, 1991)
The Wishing Well, with Connie Dover (1994)
The Pearl, with Aly Bain (1996)
If Ever I Return, with Connie Dover (Taylor Park Music, 1997)
The Ruby, with Aly Bain (Green Linnet, 1998)
The Border of Heaven, with Connie Dover (Taylor Park Music, 2000)
Another Gem, with Aly Bain (Compass, 2001)
Spring The Summer Long, with Aly Bain (Whirlie Records, 2003)
Best of Aly and Phil, with Aly Bain (2004)
Roads Not Travelled, with Aly Bain (Whirlie Records, 2006)
Portrait, with Aly Bain (Whirlie Records, 2010)
Mark the Hard Earth, with Kris Drever (2010)
Five and Twenty, with Aly Bain (Whirlie Records, 2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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