The Silkie were an English folk music group. Their name was derived from an Orcadian song The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, which they sometimes performed. They were briefly considered to be the English equivalent of Peter, Paul and Mary, with their common repertoire of Bob Dylan songs, and the original Australian folk group, The Seekers.
The four original members were all Hull University students who formed the group in October 1963. It consisted of Sylvia Tatler (vocals) (born 1945, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire), Mike Ramsden (guitar and vocals) (born Michael John Ramsden, 21 June 1943, Totnes, Devon), Ivor Aylesbury (guitar and vocals) (born 1943, Surrey) and Kevin Cunningham (double bass) (born John Kevyn Cunningham, 1940, Liverpool, Lancashire). Their very first recording was a flexi disc that was produced in 1964 for the Hull University Rag Week. This disc consisted of 3 tracks, one side featuring "John Henry" and "All My Sorrows" with "Blood Red River" on the other side. They were most at home performing folk-style cover versions of songs, especially Bob Dylan compositions. Following graduation in 1964, they spent the whole summer working at the Devon Coast Country Club in Paignton, Devon, where they also performed most evenings on stage in the ballroom. Coincidentally, another musician also working there at the same time was Liverpudlian Rod Pont (1942–2000), whose last band (Steve Day and the Drifters) had already played at The Cavern alongside The Beatles and had just split up following a stint at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg during the previous autumn.
Early in 1965, after appearing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they performed alongside The Spinners, they were signed by Brian Epstein who subsequently appointed Alistair Taylor as their manager. Their first single in June 1965, "Blood Red River", reached # 14 on the Wonderful Radio London Fab 40, but it failed to make any impression on the national chart. However, with some help from The Beatles, they followed this up with a Lennon–McCartney composition which became their one and only chart hit.
The group were helped by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison to record their cover version of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" on 9 August 1965 at the IBC Studios at around the same time as The Beatles' own version was released on their album Help! The song charted in the UK at # 28 and also reached # 10 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in the same year. Lennon produced, McCartney played the guitar and Harrison kept time by tapping his guitar and also playing the tambourine. When the recording was completed, Lennon was so pleased with it that he played it over the phone to Brian Epstein and told him that they had just recorded a Number 1 hit.
The Silkie were then scheduled to tour the United States in December 1965 and had even been booked to appear on both The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand, but were unable to obtain the necessary visas and work permits so their tour was subsequently cancelled. Two further singles released in 1966 failed to make either the UK or the US charts and in the autumn the original Silkie line up subsequently split.
Mike Ramsden and Sylvie Tatler had married in January 1966 and they subsequently continued to perform as a duo version of The Silkie for a further 35 years (sometimes with their children) and often appeared at their local pub, The Cott Inn at Dartington, Devon. Ramsden also guested as a vocalist on the album Western Flier, alongside the 20 year old keyboard player Mike Batt, recorded in 1969 by the proto-psychedelic folk band Hapshash And The Coloured Coat. Ramsden received a kidney transplant in 1993, but prematurely died on 17 January 2004 in Totnes, Devon, at the age of 60, after a long battle with kidney disease.
- "Blood Red River" - June 1965
- "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" - October 1965 - UK Singles Chart # 28, Billboard Hot 100 # 10
- "Keys to My Soul" - February 1966
- "Born to Be with You" - June 1966
A retrospective sixteen track album entitled You've Got To Hide Your Love Away was reissued on CD 30 years after the original group had disbanded in 1966. A track listing, together with brief audio samples, can be found here. * "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (click on the individual track song titles).