With the release of the new album Rove, Nova Scotia's powerhouse Còig has cemented its status as one of today’s most exciting new North American Celtic groups. With a combined total of over 30 group and solo awards and nominations, the four members of the band are already recognized as major stars of the Celtic world. Rove is drawing rave reviews from fans and critics and has been recognized with the 2018 ECMA for Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year, a 2018 JUNO Award nomination, and 2017 Canadian Folk Music Award and Music Nova Scotia Award nominations.
Còig's like no other, thanks to the unique mix of four different talents. They all have traditional roots, but each brings something more. Fiddler Chrissy Crowley has touches of world and contemporary music. Pianist Jason Roach has a jazz degree, Darren McMullen (guitar, banjo, mandolin, etc.) has worked everywhere from Irish to rock groups, and fiddler Rachel Davis is the most Cape Breton trad, but with folk and roots infused flavours as well.
The group’s debut Five, released in June, 2014, earned them the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year, the Music Nova Scotia Award for Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year, and the 2015 East Coast Music Award for Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year. That was followed by 2015’s Carols, already a yearly holiday favourite.
Ask anyone who has seen them, from New England theatre stages to huge European festivals to their own beloved small halls of Cape Breton, and you'll always hear about Còig's energy. Trad fans love them of course, and the crowds are growing all the time. "We really feed a lot on the energy we get from the crowd, everybody is hootin' and hollerin' and clappin' and stompin' and goin' on," says multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen. "We want our shows to be more where we're all just having a party together."
Còig's music is a unique combination of influences that could only come from these four players. It's traditional for sure, but it's performed in a lot of non-traditional ways.
"We all come from sort of a traditional background, but then we have different influences that we're interested in," explains fiddler and singer Rachel Davis. "Jason (Roach, pianist) has a jazz degree, and listens to a lot of different music. Chrissy (Crowley, fiddler) likes to dive into a lot of world music, Darren (mandolin, guitar, banjo, etc.) comes from a kind of Irish theme from playing around Halifax. More of the traditional Cape Breton stuff is really what I love, plus all the folk songs, so it's an interesting mix.”
Rove sees the group move from playing all instrumentals to including several vocals, from both Davis and McMullen. Crowley says they all knew Davis had a lovely voice, but she had to be coaxed into it. "In her mind she could sing a little bit, so the songs got staggered slowly into the show. With every performance somebody would say that it adds to the energy."
McMullen played another wild card, which has turned into one of Rove's most popular numbers, a Celticized version of Peter Gabriel's song Solsbury Hill.
"Everybody seems to really like it," he says. "When we were putting together songs for the record I thought we always have older songs and trad songs and Gaelic songs, but a fresh take on something people might recognize is a cool thing."
Each member brings in their own songwriting and ideas. "With this record, they were all allowed," says Crowley. "I think everybody was in the same head space to move forward. Jason has a couple of tunes that don't fit in the traditional box, same as myself. Darren, ironically, has the most traditional sounding ones, because he's the one who didn't come from a trad background. So we've inherited each other's qualities."
That leads to the other magic ingredient in Còig. It’s a band of fast friends, people that grew up together, played together, and knew each other way before they ever considered being in a band together.
"With that first album launching us into that whole crazy world, none of us saw that coming," says Davis. "We just saw it as a side project, and now here it is a couple of years later and it’s our main focus, so it's amazing. We all want to see it last for sure."
The best in trad music, in a non-traditional way. That's Còig.