Candacraig are comprised of Sharon Cannings (vocals, keys, mandolin) and Martin Nicholls (guitar, cello). Originally actors, they have been composing dark, alternative music since 1992.
Making the leap to full-time musicians in 2015, they depped for various established tribute acts, from ABBA to 90s Dance anthems.
When lockdown shut down their only source of income, they returned to the body of work they had been writing for the last 25 years, added new material, and reworked old songs to create their first album, “Thunder of Whispers”.
Guitar & Cello
For the first eight years of his life, Martin shared a bedroom with his brother, who was (and still is) ten years older than him. This was how Martin was introduced to the weird and wonderful sounds of progressive rock, a genre he was to rediscover ten years later when he went to college and investigated the musical format that spawned his new favourite band.
His first musical venture was a miniature drum kit when he was about five. He assumes he couldn’t have had much natural ability with the drums as he only has one very brief memory of it and guesses it must have eventually disappeared… mysteriously. Next up was the recorder at junior school, playing with children two years older than him. He can still remember how to play “Go and tell Aunt Nancy”. We then move on to comprehensive school, where he was “persuaded” to play the cello. This was to prove significant as it a) created callouses on his fingertips which made learning guitar (when he eventually got ‘round to it) much easier, and b) developed his vibrato style. It was also significant in that, after seven years of playing duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, and similarly dull supporting bass lines, he was determined that he would only play lead instruments in the future. Nevertheless, he became first cello within two years of starting and played in the school orchestra, the string orchestra and the string quartet.
But despite these musical adventures, Martin’s first calling was the stage, and in 1988 he found himself at Bretton Hall College of Higher Education, the RADA of the North, where he was to rub shoulders with the likes of Reeson Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton. In the halls of residence that he stayed in, Martin was surrounded by people who played the guitar. Knowing he was musical, he was persuaded to take the instrument up for himself.
It was around this time that Martin rediscovered Pink Floyd. Sometime around ‘87/’88, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was shown on terrestrial TV. Whilst most of the kids in his year found it impenetrable and bleak, Martin was blown away by the imagery, the music and, most of all, that phenomenal guitar solo at the end of Comfortably Numb. Within a year, Martin had gorged himself on nearly all the Floyd back catalogue, The Dark Side Of The Moon became his favourite album, and his new ambition was to make a sound similar to Floyd guitarist, David Gilmour. So determined was he to achieve this that within six months of starting, he was playing lead guitar in his first band. Not surprisingly, it didn’t come to much, but shortly after, he began writing songs with two friends, determined to be the next Pink Floyd/Rush/Yes/Marillion/Led Zeppelin. Their first name was Tango Bucket Sex but eventually settled for Laszlo Sykes, inspired by the name of a character from a Val Kilmer film and the sitcom “Sykes”. They did nothing but write material, they never covered anything and never gigged. Eventually, geography made it too impractical for the band to continue once they finished college.
During the next ten years, Martin attempted to be an actor. He won plaudits, acclaim, and awards but very little money. However, he did earn a tidy bit of money from an advert that a coat-hanger could have done. Shortly after leaving college, Martin met fellow actor Sharon Cannings and almost immediately, they started to write sweet music together.
After falling out of love with the theatre, Martin decided his future lay behind the camera and trained to be a film director at The Grimsby Institute. In his two years there, Martin won awards for best achiever, best media project and student of the year. After leaving Grimsby, Martin formed a production company with Sharon. They made several scripted and documentary projects for a while, creating well-paid work for several people. Unfortunately, the combination of Martin’s technophobia and the constant development and change in film production, Martin began to withdraw from filmmaking.
In his final year at Grimsby, Martin joined a local covers band aptly named Duvet. It was the first gigging band that Martin joined, and his first public appearance as a guitarist was at The Carpenter’s Arms in Spalding, where he apparently spent the whole time hiding behind a PA speaker. But despite this less-than-auspicious start, Martin began to build a reputation for himself. He also learned much from the band’s rhythm guitarist, George Clifton, which helped him to become a much more rounded player. Over the next five years, he became lead guitarist for “Skroo Loose” and “Some Band”, and in 2012 he came full circle when he formed a Pink Floyd tribute act, “Time Is Money”, at last playing the music that inspired him in the first place. It was also around this time that Sharon and Martin played their first duo gig, mainly acoustic, featuring a lot of their original music and went out under the name of Candacraig.
In 2016, a complete about-turn. Martin joined Abba tribute act Planet ABBA, something he would have laughed at a year earlier. But through this, he learned a new respect for the music of ABBA. It developed a new element to his playing style, and most importantly, it offered enough work for him to turn professional. During this time, he also formed two duo acts with Sharon; Dancefloor Inferno, a tribute to disco, soul and funk, and Rock Vixen, a tribute to the ladies of 80s rock.
2020 brought lockdown, and all sources of income had dried up. Martin and Sharon decided to use this time to record all the songs they’d written over the years and to pen some new ones. What initially began as a vanity project turned out to be far more significant. They both realised that the music they had created deserved to be recorded and mixed by someone who had a much better idea of what they were doing. Hence Candacraig applied for help from Help Musicians and was rewarded with a grant to cover the costs of rerecording, remixing, reproduction and marketing of “Thunder Of Whispers“.
The Origins of Candacraig
Where did the name “Candacraig” come from?