Còig – August 14th, 2014 – St. James Hall, Vancouver, British Columbia

Finding the Rogue Folk Club would have been simple if I’d been in less of a hurry and seen the big “this is not the venue” note clearly written alongside the address I copied from their web page. But after a short jaunt around Granville Island, I was off again and headed to St. James Hall!

Còig (Scottish Gaelic for ‘five’) is made up of established solo artists who came together to play a festival, and just kept going. They still do music separately as well, so it was great to see them together for their first show west of Prince Edward Island.

The artists are Chrissy Crowley, Colin Grant and Rachel Davis on fiddle, Jason Roach on piano, and Darren McMullen on absolutely everything else. Their first CD came out in June, and is called Five. They do a great job on it of combining the old with the new. The synthesis of the two works extremely well.

My first impression on heading into the Rogue Folk Club in St. James Hall was of a town hall fête, complete with raffle tickets. They had much better prizes than you get at most fêtes, though, including two tickets to the Carlos Núñez show in September.

The hall, an old church, is half-filled with pews in the back and with tables and chairs in the front. The candles along the walls and on the tables give it a lovely glow, so it’s a great atmosphere. The wooden interior allows for good sound quality. Though it echoes at times, the sound is nice and organic.

I was a bit surprised at having Cape Breton fiddle music without a dance floor, but the wooden floor was definitely excellent for stomping. And here’s to the rebel dancers jigging on the sidelines and out the back of the hall!

The band had high energy and a great rapport. Even in the middle of songs they were laughing and joking with each other, and took a few jabs between songs too.

You just can’t get good bows for $30 anymore,” was Rachel’s line as she led into the next songs. Her version of “Nach Muladach Muladach Duine Leis Fhèin” was stunning, and she had the audience join in on the Gaelic chorus. She also wrote the lovely “Under Ceilidh Pressure”, which was one of my favourites of their original compositions.

The musicians worked really well together and clearly changed things up – picking at least one new song while they were between sets. It was awesome to see them playing so that the others could pick up what was going on and it gave the whole thing an air of improvisation. While I loved the freedom that gave to the set, the songs that they did from their album were really tight and executed very smoothly.

The saga of Chrissy Crowley’s hair (“All you can see is hair!”) began with loose bangs and went on into the second half, when she forced it to bend to her will and pinned it up. I’ve got a lot of hair myself, so I totally sympathise. She fought past the hair to play a hell of a show, and her energy and technique were amazing.

The “Boys of Ballisodare” I know the best is a fairly perky (at least twice the speed) version by Malcolm Dalglish & Grey Larsen, so Còig’s aching and mournful version was amazing to hear – so slow and sad, but gorgeous.

Darren McMullen switches instruments from one song and even one verse to another. He had a guitar, banjo, mandolin, whistles, and flutes. Quite the talent there, and the variation lent a lot to the set.

Colin Grant’s fiddling was excellent and he brought a ton of energy on stage (which is saying something with this group!). He uses a unique grip high on the bow that leaves several fingers quite loose, and it makes for what looks like a smooth and very responsive control.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how much Jason Roach’s keyboard would add to the group when the show started. He shook all my doubts in the first song – the thundering chords blended brilliantly to drive the music along especially on songs like “Choufflé Soufflé”.

“This is a blast from the past, featuring all your favourite hits of the 18th century.” The crowd clearly loved all of it, clapping and stomping along. The band would take turns on some of the songs to come to the front of the stage to jig. They got a standing ovation twice, and came back out for a triumphant encore.

If you ever get the chance to hear Còig live – GO! And bring your dancing shoes. My feet still move every time I hear one of their songs (and up to half an hour afterwards). Until then, check out their CD – it’s a joy.

Còig will be playing next at the LouisRocks show in Cape Breton. Rogue Folk Club’s calendar has got a lot of shows coming up – Eliza Gilkyson & Nina Gerber on September 5th, Birds of Chicago on September 7th, and Carlos Núñez on September 19th. For more on Còig visit their Facebook page and Soundcloud page.

(Previously published at Bucketlist Music Reviews)

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