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Cape Breton's Còig leave wintry home for UK and Australia tour – and band's Inverness Eden Court debut

By Margaret Chrystall

FIRST there were five musicians from Cape Breton in Canada who got together by chance and found they liked it – so they called themselves Còig, which means ‘five’ in Scottish Gaelic.

Between them they play around a dozen instruments, specialise in traditional music – old and new – played in a non-traditional way and have now been wowing the world since 2014 with a growing reputation as one of Canada’s most exciting Celtic groups.

Darren McMullen – who plays guitar, mandolin, mandola, banjo, bouzouki, whistles and flute – is remembering how it all began.

We had so much fun playing together we kept doing it every time we had a chance!

“We were playing all together on a promotional tour for the Celtic Colours festival which happens every year in Cape Breton – we had all played the festival as solo acts.

“So we went down to New England in the States as a promotional thing, all played our own thing and backed each other up too, but we didn’t really all play together at the same time most of the night.

“But when we did, we just had so much fun playing together that we kept doing it every time we had a chance.

“One time we were just playing tunes together and having fun and the guy who used to run the Shetland Folk Festival came up and said ‘What’s the name of your band?’

“We said ‘Well we’re not really a band…’ and he said ‘Well go get a name … cos you’re coming to Shetland’.

“So we thought we better start thinking about it more seriously!” laughed Darren.

“The first year we toured we didn’t even have a record because we hadn’t had a chance to get into the studio and record one.

“Now we have five!”

The band has also begun to specialise in Christmas shows in Canada, America and since a few years ago, Belgium.

“That was another thing that came together by accident, the fact we even have a Christmas show.

“There was a venue we really wanted to play and the only way we could go to that area again and play more shows was if it was a Christmas thing because we had just been in that area and the venue said ‘Well, you know it’s too early to come back’. So we told them we would do a Christmas show and we put together material. It went really well and a lot of them asked us to come back next year.”

Their latest album – following up Ashlar released in the UK last spring – is another Christmas one.

Coig with Darren McMullen. Picture: Ryan MacDonald
Coig with Darren McMullen. Picture: Ryan MacDonald

But they have left the wintry weather of home behind to play dates in the UK before heading off for their first time playing a tour of festivals and smaller dates in Australia.

Darren said: “We are hoping everything is OK with the Coronavirus situation.

“We’re looking forward to it, though. We have been thereindividually over the years, but it is a first for the band.

“At home on the East Coast we get a lot of snow that turns to ice, every driveway is icy and the sidewalks are icy, everything is full of snow and ice.

“But we are very happy, we landed yesterday in the UK and there is green grass everywhere, flowers blooming and we are on our way to Australia where we will be wearing our shorts and sandals!

“So it’s a good result and by the time we get home, winter is all done in Nova Scotia.”

Darren says the band enjoys the chance to catch up – in between their own dates – with the Scottish, Irish and English folk musicians whose music influenced Cape Breton’s – and Còig’s.

“The festivals are amazing, we played Orkney last year and we have got some more coming up in July.

“Those are just amazing for us because we listen to a lot of Scottish and Irish and English folk music at home and obviously that is where we get a lot of what we do.

“We listen to it all year and then when we are over and we do get a chance, we are like little kids meeting our heroes, sometimes.

“All of a sudden you are at a festival and you’re having a beer with someone who influenced you right from the time you first started listening.”

The other band members – Chrissy Crowley (fiddle) and Rachel Davis (fiddle and viola) – all have other projects when not busy with Còig.

Darren said: “On piano this trip with us is Adam Young and he has a full-time job working with Parks Canada, Parks and Museums in Cape Breton.

“And the rest of us work on music, play with other people and on recording projects. It’s good to musically refresh your batteries somewhere else. It ends up when you come back to Còig you have a few new tunes or you approach things differently. Having those other things gives you a little well to draw from which is really good.”

Còig play Eden Court on Friday, February 21.

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