Coig Kamara Morozuk Photography

‘Tis getting to be that time of the year where music makes the spirit dance for joy! Yeah, I’m talking about Christmas which, by the time this column sees the light of day, will be less than a month away. I thought it would be fun to get a jump on the season with a group new to me but with all the perfect elements to make the holiday even brighter. I’m referring to Coig, a band from Nova Scotia that combines masterful instrumental skills as well as heavenly vocals for a warm, comforting sound that captures the ears and well as the heart of whomever hears them. I learned they were heading for Bath’s Chocolate Church for a gig Friday, Dec. 9 and requested an interview with a member of the group. … Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Darren McMullen offered to chat with me and was kind enough to send over a link to the band’s two Christmas releases: “Carols” and “Carols Too.” I dove into them, and then called him at his Nova Scotia home.

Q: I have been listening to your two Christmas albums, and I’ve got to admit that they are very enjoyable. I’m a huge fan of Christmas music and have been since early childhood.
McMullen: That’s good! We’re kind of the same here — Rachel (Davis on fiddle, viola and vocals) and I. We have tons of Christmas music.

Q: I really love the joyfulness of it.
McMullen: Yeah, it’s usually happy stuff. It brings back memories and all that.

Q: Yeah, it certainly does, that’s for sure. Now back when we were setting up this interview, you had an interesting tale about the Chocolate Church. Could you relate it again?
McMullen: (Chuckle) Well, we had tried to book a show there but timing had never lined up successfully. Then in 2014 we played our usual New England venues in mid-September. The Chocolate Church reached out to us in early October hoping to do a show in December. Needing a string of dates to make it worthwhile, I approached everyone that had booked us previously but they all were either booked up already or said it was far too close to our last show to do another. “You guys were just here a few weeks ago. We can’t do another show with you in two months!”

Q: I can see where that would be a drawback.
McMullen: Well, the very last presenter on the list was about to say no, but then asked, “December — is it a Christmas show? We could likely do that, since it’s a themed show and not just a regular concert.” I immediately lied, “Yes, of course! It’s a whole different show.”

Q: What happened then?
McMullen: We strung a few venues together on the “Christmas” angle, and then learned a pile of holiday music. It went over great, so we recorded a Christmas record the following spring. We’ve been touring New England in December, aside from COVID, ever since.

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Q: And “Carols” came out in 2015 with “Carols Too” following in 2019. Thanks, again, for sending that link, it made prepping for this chat a true pleasure. Now has there been a line-up change recently? The photo on your website has four of you and your bio page lists three members: you, Rachel and Chrissy Crowley (fiddle).
McMullen: Yeah, there has been. Three years ago our piano player left the band. He just wanted to stay home. You see we were traveling a lot internationally, like over to Europe and stuff, and he just didn’t want to do the traveling anymore. So we have a guitar player/foot percussionist, Thierry Clouette, who was with us on our Christmas tour last year; and for this Christmas tour we also have Margie Beaton, she’s the fiddler/step dancer/piano player, and is standing in for Chrissy Crowley. Another COVID issue is a lot of people went back to school and got day jobs and things like that. Chrissy’s working on getting a degree, and it’s kind of exam time around the Christmas tour this year, so Margie’s playing with us instead.

Q: The pandemic really did impact our lives on all different levels, didn’t it.
McMullen: Yeah, COVID was really hard on musicians, obviously with all the cancellations and such, but also hard on bands. There are a number of bands that we know of that are kind of in our situation where people have had to supplement their income in certain ways, so it’s harder for them to tour. Local shows are still fine, there’s no issue with that, but a two-week tour for someone who’s doing exams in university, it’s impossible, you know?

Q: I do. Just out of curiosity, are you working on something new, recording wise?
McMullen: We were. Aside from the Christmas tours we’re sort of on a bit of a pause while Chrissy’s doing the university stuff. Rachel and I are in the process right now of doing a duo record, and I know eventually we’ll be touring around with that, but that’s not all sorted out yet. But as far as the band doing new stuff, we haven’t really dug into anything. It’s so time consuming and expensive, if you can’t tour it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do a record.

Q: Now the duo project, would that be under the band name?
McMullen: No, it would just be under our personal names. Actually, we got married earlier this year!

Q: Oh, wow, congratulations! Now, back to the show coming up in Bath, with two albums of seasonal music, you must have enough material for a good theme-based show, right?
McMullen: Yeah, and there are jigs and reels within what we do anyway, but there are a few sets that have Christmas carols and melodies mixed in with regular tunes that are named for Christmas. The theme is still there but you still get a little taste of that traditional Celtic/Cape Breton fiddle-style stuff.

Q: There really is something infectious about the Cape Breton sound, for sure. Now, how far afield do you get when you tour here in the U.S.?
McMullen: Well, we’ve done single events over in California and Oregon. We’ve sort of been all over in little pieces, but most of the travel we do is the states is the Christmas tour, and it’s all New England. I think Boston is probably the farthest south we’ll go and then upstate New York and over to Vermont. Yeah, I’d say the bulk of it is New England. Oh, and this tour will also take us to the Bangor Arts Exchange. We’ve also played at the Gracie Theatre at Husson College a couple of times.

Q: Is there anything, Darren that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
McMullen: Just that we’re super excited to be coming back there. We were down last year. We managed to sneak in right before Omicron hit, so we did do a few dates last year. This year we’re just happy to come back down and have a little Christmas cheer with everybody, and there’s so many that we see over and over again now, it really is like being home for Christmas. Now, at this point for us, playing through New England at Christmastime is just as much a tradition as a tree is, because it’s been so many years of doing it. We’re just really looking forward to it! Oh, there is one more thing I’d like to add: both shows will have a monetary donation box that we’ve been using for these Christmas shows. For the Bangor show, donations will benefit the “Bangor Area Homeless Shelter” and the Bath show donations will benefit the “Bath Area Food Bank.” I just wanted the readers to know about that.

 

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years 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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