THE COTTARS have become Cape Breton Island's latest musical success story in a remarkably short period of time, and their story is spreading quickly across North America, Europe, Asia, and beyond. The four young Celts - brother/sister pairs Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray and Jimmy and Roseanne MacKenzie - have all been playing traditional music since early childhood. Ranging in age from 15 to 17, each is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and stepdancer.
Since forming in late 2000, the two brother-and-sister duos have received standing ovations at virtually every show they've performed - from an early 2001 concert for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, to Boston Symphony Hall with renowned tenor John McDermott in 2002, to their nationally televised performance at Canada's 2003 East Coast Music Awards, where they received the award for Best New Artist, to Tryphony Music Hall in Tokyo, where they shared the stage with Celtic legends Altan.
Folk and Celtic music audiences have known for years that Cape Breton Island is a hotbed of traditional music. So certainly The Cottars have grown up as musicians with a great affinity for Celtic music tradi-tions, but they also have a flare for innovation and experimentation. In the same set, you may hear a centuries-old Irish air, an equally ancient Scottish fiddle tune, a contemporary American folk song, and self-composed piece by one of the band members.
The Cottars' debut CD, “Made in Cape Breton,” was recorded in February 2002, and released to critical acclaim just two months later. Recorded on Irish Tenor John McDermott's label, Bunnygee Music, it is dis-tributed by Warner Music Canada. 2002 was a pivotal year for the young group - landing a St. Patrick's Day concerts for Senator Edward Kennedy and his family in Massachusetts, a US Borders Books and Mu-sic Tour, and appearances at prestigious Celti and folk festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival and Canada's famed Stan Rogers Folk Festival. The band also signed on as national spokespersons for the Children's Miracle Network in Canada.
Prominent live appearances over the last two years include: Symphony Hall in Boston, The Milwaukee Irish Festival, Fastival International de Louisiane, the Calgary and Edmonton Folk Festivals, The Kennedy Center, the Tonder Festival in Denmark, and legendary folk venues such as Toronto's Hugh's Room, Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, and the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA. This notoriously hard-working four-some have also played Canadian cities from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, and traveled the U.S. from Maine to Boston to Savannah, Chattanooga, Memphis, Lexington, Cincinnati, Bloomington, IN, Mil-waukee, St. Louis, Denver, Ogden, UT, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and dozens of stops in between.
The Cottars have also been building a career in Japan “Made In Cape Breton” was released in Japan by JVC Victor in late 2003, and The Cottars traveled to Tokyo for an amazing whirlwind promotional jaunt. The Cottars returned to Japan in December 2004 for a six-city concert tour, culminating in their Tokyo Christmas concert appearance with Altan.
The Cottars’ second trip to Japan was to promote their second album “On Fire!” “On Fire!” has also been released in Canada on their own Sea-Cape Music label (also distributed by Warner), and is scheduled to reach the U.S. and other markets in early 2004. The Cottars faced a tough task with their sophomore release, as “Made In Cape Breton” was universally praised, and featured an unforgettable version of the Tom Waits song “The Briar And The Rose.
But “On Fire!” does provide an equally satisfying “next chapter” in the story of this remarkable young
band. Their growth as artists is very much in evidence as they build on the range of styles and themes
found on “Made In Cape Breton.” Ciaran makes his debut as a composer; Fiona pulls makes her re-cording
debut as a harpist; Roseanne MacKenzie unleashes more virtuoso fiddling and adds her voice
to the harmonies on several tracks; and Jimmy MacKenzie’s guitar takes center stage more often.
Another highlight of 2004 was the CBC TV special “The Chieftains In Canada.” The Cottars’ musical
heroes, The Chieftains, handpicked them to guest-star on the project. Over the course of four days,
The Cottars rehearsed with and learned from Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff. These
magical sessions culminated in a remarkable performance, which saw The Chieftains collaborate with
The Cottars on “Balinderry” and the “Bodhran/Fiddle Medley.” The special premiered on CBC in Sep-tember
2004, with future U.S. broadcasts to be announced.
Of course, The Cottars have to work homework and full-time school commitments into their schedules,
which makes their accomplishments even more remarkable. Somehow they find a way to preserve their
status as honor students and master their instruments while not on the road or in the studio.
The Cottars are just getting started! 2005 and 2006 will include dozens more tour dates throughout
North America and Europe, more TV projects, their symphony orchestra debut, and a highly anticipated
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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