The Tannahill Weavers have been consistent trail blazers for Scottish music since the mid 1970s. Formed by a group of school friends in 1968, they took their name from Robert Tannahill, the ill-starred master poet, songwriter and weaver from Paisley, to denote their proud origins in the town.
They made their first performance at St. Peter’s Folk Club in Paisley and went on to play all over Scotland, recording a single and an album that remained unreleased due to technical problems. In 1970, the band as it was to become known began to coalesce around new arrival and band mainstay, guitarist and singer Roy Gullane, and flautist, whistle player and singer Phil Smillie. Numerous musicians, including piper Gordon Duncan, passed through the band in those early days before, in 1974, faced with the choice of keeping their day jobs and taking up offers of tours from Europe, the Tannies turned full-time professional.
Within eighteen months they were building a major following in Germany and had recruited a new fiddler in Dougie Maclean by pulling up beside him in their transit van at Kinross Folk Festival and offering him a German tour at a few days’ notice. They also became the first group to sign with Plant Life Records and in 1976, with fiddler and guitarist Hudson Swan joining Gullane, Smillie and Maclean, they released their first album, Are Ye Sleepin’ Maggie, which featured a liner note by the great Scottish troubadour Alex Campbell and production by Steeleye Span drummer Nigel Pegrum.
From playing support to Billy Connolly and Dire Straits, the Tannies had become headlining artists and appeared at twenty major European festivals in 1976 alone, and although the personnel would change with almost every album, the collective sound remained tight and strong. They were notable for being the first Scottish band to fully incorporate the great Highland bagpipe into their sound, through the mighty Alan MacLeod, and they achieved further impetus with the integration of another staple feature, bass pedals.
Their third album, simply entitled Tannahill Weavers, won them the Scotstar Award for Best Folk Group in 1980 and as they began to tour America and Canada to popular acclaim they signed to the prestigious US label Green Linnet in 1984, by which time Hudson Swan and fiddler Mike Ward had departed and bouzouki and keyboards player Les Wilson, who would shortly leave but later rejoin the band, had arrived.
Further personnel changes saw Canadian singer and bouzouki player Bill Bourne, piper Iain MacInnes, fiddler Stuart Morison and singer-guitarist Ross Kennedy all feature with the Tannies. There was no let up in the band’s momentum, however, with Gullane’s ability to write songs in the traditional style, first showcased on the Land of Light album, proving a further asset. When former Contraband and Ossian fiddler John Martin joined in 1990, they went from strength to strength, winning the North American Independent Record Distributors Celtic Album of the Year award with Capernaum in 1995.
With Gullane, Smillie and Martin forming a formidable core that’s been enhanced by a series of first-rate pipers, the Tannies continue to champion music from the Scottish tradition across the world, wowing audiences with music that is by turns reflective and hard-driving and is always delivered with passion and panache.