Back on Aug. 1, 2003, the Unity College Center for Performing Arts hosted a show by four talented and very young people: Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray and Jimmy and Roseanne MacKenzie, better known as The Cottars. This talented Celtic band from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, wowed the crowd in Unity with their considerable musical abilities and toe-tapping brand of roots music.

On Thursday, Feb. 23, the group will return to central Maine as part of a tour supporting their latest CD “Feast.” Featuring the newest members Claire Pettit and Bruce Timmons who have joined the MacGillivray siblings. In a recent telephone interview that found Fiona calling from Nova Scotia, the conversation tried to make up for nearly a decade of absence from Maine.

Q: I understand there have been some changes in the band’s line-up since you were here last.

MacGillivray: Yes, there has been. We were touring with the same foursome for a long time which was fine, but now we’re working with some new people. We have some really wonderful members with us now, we recorded a CD with them and everything is great.

Q: One of the new members is Claire Pettit?

MacGillivray: Yes, she’s a fiddler from New York state, and she first started coming to Cape Breton a number of years ago because she was very fascinated with the Cape Breton style of playing. She was classically-trained — and played with us when the MacKenzie’s weren’t able to perform with us. The transition was so seamless that we just continued with her; and Bruce Timmons is a fantastic guitar player from around here in Nova Scotia. So yeah, it’s a pleasure traveling with them, too. It’s not just that the music is fun, but they are very easy-going people, too.

Q: Did the influx of new members change the music much?

MacGillivray: Yes, and we say new people, but it’s been about five years.

Q: Oh, I thought it was a recent change.

MacGillivray: It’s been quite a while now, yes, but it did certainly change the musical possibilities because both of them are excellent musicians on other instruments as well, and we utilize all of those other instruments on the album we recorded “Feast.” Claire is a very accomplished, classically-trained violist and Bruce plays Dobro, bass and a number of other things … and we use them on stage, too.

Q: You and your brother are also multi-instrumentalists in your own right, correct?

MacGillivray: Well, we grew up in a house in which there was a lot of music and I think it was a pretty organic environment for this trying of new instruments. Ciaran is the real multi-instrumentalist, he plays guitar and piano both extremely well and also plays wooden flute and the tin whistle and the accordion and the bouzouki extremely well. He doesn’t just dabble, he plays beautifully, and he also sings and dances and everything. And now he’s an actor, too. He’s a Shakespearian actor — as if he couldn’t get more impressive!

Q: When did this come about?

MacGillivray: In the last year. Yeah, he’s been treading the boards, as well.

Q: That’s cool … all things art.

MacGillivray: Well, I think there’s something quite theatrical about a well-structured musical performance. I mean, when the Cottars perform, there are other things at play than just the music. It’s the things that people are saying and the dance and everything — and I think that acting comes quite naturally to him. It’s not a far leap, it’s not like he decided to go into dentistry or anything.

Q: Is the band working on something new?

MacGillivray: Actually, I’ve been working on something. I’ve been doing a great deal of songwriting lately and I moved up to a little retreat up here in Halifax — I’m in Halifax now — and we’re still working a great deal with The Cottars and (they) recorded two of my original songs on “Feast;” but that’s becoming a bigger and bigger focus for me now. Trying to incorporate my own songwriting into my professional life. But I started touring with The Cottars when I was 11, I guess, and before that my brother and I did a lot of solo gigging so I was probably around 7 when I started performing regularly. I’m 22 now, so I feel like quite a veteran. This is what I intend to do for the rest of my life. This is what it’s going to be forever.

Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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