Four letters, five musicians and more instruments and tunes than you can tap your feet to…all that defines Northumbria’s most diverse and exciting Celtic band. Formed in 1999, the five members of Cúig (Irish for the number five) come from an array of backgrounds garnering the group a wealth of musical experience. Playing both traditional and newly composed material the band has blended rhythm and melody into an ingenious, wholly original concoction. Their fusion of the Irish tradition with the music indigenous to Northeast England sets Cúig apart from every other acoustic band.
Prospect (CLCD3138), Cúig’s debut album, is a bracing mix of Irish and Northumbrian tunes, laced with sources as far-reaching as South African township and American bluegrass. "Brimming with vitality," says Irish Music Magazine, and Folk Roots calls it "heady and sensuous, one of the freshest, most inventive Celtic surprises this year."
The Northeast of England has long had a healthy folk tradition, having bred such artists as the Watersons, Kathryn Tickell, Jez Lowe, Ged Foley and Lindisfarne. The Irish community in the UK mainly centers around the heavy industrial areas of its main cities, and the steel and coal areas of the Northeast are still highly populated with first, second and third generation Irish communities. The region’s music is a mix of Irish traditional in the form of pipe, fiddle and accordion sets, jigs, reels and hornpipes, along with the working songs of the coal, steel and construction industry, and the rural songs closely linked to the Scottish tradition.
Cúig is the region’s newest sensation. The band was formed by Martin Matthews, a widely-known Northumbrian musician who has been dazzling audiences with his playing of the cittern, mandolin, dobro and tenor banjo for years. His composing and arranging skills have been tapped by such artists as Kathryn Tickell, Karen Tweed and Ian Carr, and Mary and Sharon Shannon. Martin is joined by the vibrant fiddle/accordion playing of husband-and-wife team Deirdre Ruane, a triple All-Ireland accordion champion from Birmingham, and Paul Ruane, whose fluid highly ornamented fiddle playing developed in the strong session scenes of Leeds and his native Mayo. Cúig’s creative and funky rhythms come courtesy of fretless bass player Sean Taylor and percussionist Mike Kelly, with backgrounds in soul, pop and funk as well as trad.
Combining an intuitive understanding of Irish tradition and discerning experimentation of outside influences, Cúig is an exciting and welcome new addition to the Celtic world.
Martin Matthews (banjo, cittern, dobro, guitar, mandolin, lead vocals)
During his long career, Martin Matthews has toured Britain and Europe, dazzling audiences with his playing of the cittern, mandolin, dobro, electric guitar and tenor banjo. A former champion and "legendary banjo player" (Dirty Linen), his intricate arrangements of songs and tunes give Cúig its mesmerizing sound. Originally from North West Durham, his roots are in the large Irish community established there during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. As a member of the Champion String Band and the Rub, he appeared at many festivals in Britain and Europe, performed regularly on TV, and performed as session artist and arranger for many others, including Kathryn Tickell, Tom Leary and Vin Garbutt. As a composer of "traditional" tunes he has pieces recorded by and written for Karen Tweed, Ian Carr, Mary and Sharon Shannon, and has written/arranged theme music for television and radio. Martin also sings and writes lyrics for the band. Depending on who you ask, his voice is part "Pat Kilbride"(Rock & Reel), part "Christy Moore"(Dirty Linen) or part "Jon Hicks" (Irish Music).
Deirdre Ruane (accordion, melodeon, whistles, occasional fiddle)
Deirdre Ruane is from Birmingham, England, and is a former triple All-Ireland Champion at both junior and senior levels on accordion, melodeon and whistle, and if pushed, will play the odd reel or jig on fiddle. From a very musical family, her parents- from Sligo and Roscommon-ensured a very good grounding in "the music", with fleadhs, ceilis and sessions being the order of the day. Professionally, Deirdre has played as far afield as Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Her "sparkling accordion playing" (Dirty Linen) has led to much demand as a session musician for both studio and live work.
Paul Ruane (fiddle, keyboards)
Apart from being the fiddle player in Cúig, Paul Ruane is also Deirdre’s husband, and his playing partnership with Dee has been described as "a joy, tight and vibrant" (Folk Roots). Paul, although raised in Leeds, originally hails from Westport, Co. Mayo, and like Deirdre, his parents made sure he was "put to the Accordion", in his case the piano variety, at a very young age, but he rebelled and at the ripe old age of thirteen and instead took up the fiddle. His fluid, highly ornamented "Leeds/Sligo" style of fiddle playing developed in the strong session scene in Leeds and his native Mayo. Much in demand as a ceili bandleader, he has toured Europe and the Far East.
Sean Taylor (bass, keyboards, percussion)
Sean Taylor provides Cúig with its beating heart, playing fretless bass as well as acoustic guitar, keyboards and programmed percussion. A graduate of Newcastle College Performing Arts, he is equally at home playing punk, soul, pop, jazz or traditional music, and has toured and recorded with artists as diverse as, the Drifters, Legend, the Chugabugs and the Robert Whitehead Scottish Country Dance Band. Sean was hired immediately after busking with the band at Paul and Deirdre’s wedding. His father Keith founded Cramlington Folk Club, Northumberland, one of England’s longest running clubs, where a young Sean listened to and learned to appreciate alternative forms of music. His understanding of the use of the fretless bass with Irish music has been universally admired. "Ingenious mix of African and Celtic" says Steve Dietrich of Hartford, Conn.’s WWUH, and "Slap bass Township style" says Folk Roots.
Mike Kelly (drums, percussion)
Mike Kelly is the newest member of the band and also, the youngest. His tender years belie a wealth of experience- he is 22 and has already played professionally for six years. Originally drumming in "indie" and pop cover bands, he has been much in demand as session drummer and percussionist, and he has tutored "master class" workshops with Fairport Convention’s Dave Mattacks. A sensitive accompanist on kit, bodhran and congas, Mike also plays guitar and has been known to sing (albeit in the bath).
"A truly memorable concert featuring stunning musicianship, delightful arrangements and an intimate atmosphere, engaging the audience from the outset…a heady mixture of reels, jigs, songs and airs, all delivered in their own distinctive way." - Folk Roots (UK)
"Brimming with vitality." - Irish Music
"This drop of the Irish, is a fair ’Prospect’ indeed, fluid arrangements and discerning experimentation, Cúig’s playing is light, fresh and fast." - The Living Tradition
"A lively, inventive and ingenious breath of fresh air, playing traditional music of mostly Irish origin with confidence and skill yet also investing a quirky off the wall character with reggae rhythms …Heady and sensuous, the freshest and most inventive Celtic surprises this year." - Folk Roots (UK)
"Cúig take no prisoners, their instrumental pieces display a huge range of skill and emotion." - Traditional Music Maker
"Interesting and daring stuff…a certain cure for the I’m bored with Celtic music blues." - Dirty Linen