PEI

How this '80s band reunited to record new music from 3 different provinces

Three members of the 1980s progressive rock band Cows at War from Charlottetown have reunited to play some new music together. Mark Chatham of Dartmouth, N.S., Dave Crockett of Ottawa and Mike Stratton of Charlottetown have been jamming and recording once again — virtually, of course — in these COVID-19 times.

37 years later, Cows at War of P.E.I. is back together and having a blast

'For me it's about the friendship first, but the music is fantastic I think,' says Mike Stratton of Charlottetown, top, in the Cows at War video for their song Summer Deck. (Cows at War/YouTube)

Reunited and it feels so good! 

Three members of the 1980s progressive rock band Cows at War from Charlottetown have reunited to play some new music together. Mark Chatham of Dartmouth, N.S., Dave Crockett of Ottawa and Mike Stratton of Charlottetown have been jamming and recording once again — virtually, of course — in these COVID-19 times. 

"Finding something to do during the lockdown, especially up here in Ontario, was kind of important," Crockett said from his home in Ottawa. "The fact that three of us wanted to work together and write some new music was a very interesting idea and has taken up a chunk of our time — and gladly so." 

Crockett and Stratton both recently retired while Chatham is semi-retired, so they already had free time. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown that saw most people staying in their homes for three months, and they found themselves at very loose ends.

"I had mentioned it a few years ago but Mike was involved with other things and so I just played the patience game — and it paid off," Chatham told Kerry Campbell of Mainstreet P.E.I.

'Just like hanging out'

The band was formed in Charlottetown in 1983 — that's 37 years ago — by six young men all fresh out of high school. 

'Quite blurry, much like our memory of those days,' is how Cows at War drummer Dave Crockett describes this photo from 1983 as the band played a benefit at The Charlottetown Hotel. (Submitted by Cows at War)

Chatham left the band that first year, moving away from P.E.I. with his young family to pursue a career in the coast guard. But he credits Cows at War with being a key part of his musical growth.

"Gigging around, we were working musicians at the time, we were going around Prince Edward Island, so that's always been a very pleasant memory for me," he said. 

"When you play in a band when you're really, really young, it's more like just hanging out with your friends," said Stratton. "That's kind of what this is — it's more the friendship of the three of us that's carried through, which is awesome."

Stratton lauded his bandmates as great musicians, and said it was "really neat" to create something at this point in their lives.

They've each grown as musicians and learned how to record, Chatham said, so have more than 100 years of experience among them.  

"For me it's an absolutely fantastic experience," added Crockett. "It's been so much fun for me, and even though we are practising social distancing to an extreme here, it feels like we're all in the same room. It's just been great." 

'Come up with a wicked riff'

They have now recorded new songs, working from their respective provinces. Chatham plays guitar and bass, Crockett plays drums and Stratton plays keyboard and does vocals.

"Mark is one of the great guitar players, I believe, that P.E.I. had in the '80s, for sure," Stratton said.

"Me and Dave were like, 'Mark, come up with a wicked riff, set it on top of some drum machine, send it to me and Dave, we'll slice and dice it into maybe a song format,' and then send it back to Mark, he'd add more guitar, then we'd put real drums on it," Stratton explained of their interprovincial process.

MP3 files fly back and forth until the men feel the songs are done. 

"It's just amazing what can be done now," with computer technology, Chatham added.

Do they still fit?

Crockett said the band members always had different musical tastes and preferences.

"The fantastic thing is we all bring elements of those different tastes together and it really gels into something that we find very melodic," he said.

"It's got to sound good to us, and it's got to sound good to other people as well." 

The process is so fun for all of us, I don't see it stopping.— Dave Crockett

A couple of the band's members have died, and the three say the first song they wrote was a tribute to those musicians. 

"I know Bill and Gerry would love what we've done," said Stratton.

Thier first tune is called Summer Deck, and the men say they plan to keep collaborating. 

"The process is so fun for all of us, I don't see it stopping," said Crockett. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.

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