Celebrate Celtic music with Cape Breton's Còig at the Sid

April 8, 2024

The Sid Williams Theatre Society is excited to present Còig on Saturday, April 20, the season finale of the theatre society’s 2023-2024 Blue Circle Series. 

Featuring a captivating blend of influences as they meld Celtic tradition with the modern era, Còig lights up the stage celebrating East Coast music’s timeless allure. 

“We kind of mix it up a little bit…. Rachel [Davis] plays fiddle, and so there’s a lot of Cape Breton fiddle in the show. Myself, I play a bunch of other Celtic instruments, like the mandolin, bouzouki and whistles, but more in the Irish style,” says Darren McMullen, founding member. “Then Zak [Cormier] is from PEI, and he plays guitar and also does the French-style foot percussion, which is a great addition to the other two styles.” 

The result is an eclectic and energetic combination of music and melodies. And don’t forget the singing! 

“Other bands that are doing this kind of music don’t focus very much on vocals, if at all. Rachel, well, I’ll toot her horn, in 2020 she won the Canadian Folk Music Award for vocalist of the year.” 

So how did this band with different Celtic backgrounds come together? Serendipitously, according to McMullen. 

“It kind of happened by happy accident really, in 2010. We were five solo acts – we each had our own record and did our own shows. But we were all invited to perform with the Celtic Colours tour. We kind of backed each other up and played as a group as well as individually. And we just had so much fun doing it that any time we had a chance to, we’d play together. But it wasn’t like we sat down and said, ‘Okay, we’re gonna make a band and who do we get?’” 

However, after getting “hounded about it” enough while on the tour, they decided they would form a band and quickly chose the name Còig. 

“It’s a Scottish-Gaelic word, one of the only ones that actually looks the same way as it sounds…. It’s the word for the number five,” says McMullen. “Of course, shortly after that, there was only four of us. But by then we already had a CD with the name written on it, so we were like, ‘Well, may as well just keep it.’” 

Officially, they are still a four-piece band, but these days they more often perform as a trio. 

“It’s one of the pandemic things that happened. Chrissy [Crowley], the second fiddler ended up getting into some courses during Covid, which turned into furthering a degree…so she’s not really able to tour right now.”  

As with so many performers, the pandemic had a significant impact on Còig, with live shows, tours and festivals abruptly halted. The fact that they were in Australia when it happened made it that much more challenging. 

They had been at a festival and had a particularly memorable time performing for an enthusiastic crowd made up of a few hundred college students. “It was within a couple of days of that, that we got the news that everything was closing down. On the Wednesday, everyone was saying no problem, there’s no cases, it’s going to be fine. And then by the Friday it was, get on a plane and get out of here and try to make it home before they shut the border. It was kind of a whirlwind. 

“Once people started to try to rebook, things were still just as mixed up because different theatres weren’t booking yet, others had things to fill in. In fact, this concert [in Courtenay] was supposed to happen in 2020, so we’re still catching up, to a degree.” 

Along the way, the Còig members continued to find solace and resilience in their enduring bond as a band. 

“Rachel and I are married, so we’re obviously very close to each other, and we just love Zak as well. Getting to make music with Zak and perform in front of people now, because of the pandemic, it makes it special... it even hits us a little more when you look across the stage and you’re seeing people that are also your best friends.” 

Post pandemic, Còig has emerged with renewed determination and a deeper appreciation for the power of music. And they remain steady in their mission to spread joy and celebrate the timeless melodies of Celtic tradition in nontraditional ways.  

“We hope people have a good time and forget about whatever the things are they have to worry about all day and have a little party with us with some tunes and some songs.” 

From navigating the evolving landscape of live performance and embarking on new musical endeavours, including a long-awaited duo project by Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen, Còig continues to inspire audiences with their vibrant performances and unwavering passion for Celtic music. 

For all the fun of an East Coast kitchen party, well, almost, make sure to hit this concert!