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‘We’ve never really been the purists' bag’ - Beoga talk trad, misconceptions and Ed Sheeran


Beoga have been touring together for 17 years with no line-up changes

Beoga have been touring together for 17 years with no line-up changes

Beoga have been touring together for 17 years with no line-up changes

"People in traditional music circles maybe think we shouldn't be playing anything that isn't trad," says Beoga's pianist Liam Bradley, "and people outside trad think we should only be playing trad. We just like playing music, whatever it is."

Whatever it is, Beoga's music was short-listed for a Grammy in 2010 in the Best Contemporary World Music Album category for their album, The Incident.

What is the biggest misconception people have about the Beoga?

"That we're a trad band!" laughs master of the bodhran, Eamon Murray.

"I think when you play instruments that are associated with traditional music, people expect something much more true to the tradition. Truth is though, we've never really been the purists' bag. We've always written our own melodies and pushed the boat out a bit. It's hard to try and pin it into a genre really."

A few years ago The Wall Street Journal got somewhat overexcited, to say the least, and dubbed Beoga, "the most exciting new traditional band to emerge from Ireland this century".

The band came into being, says founder member Eamon, because he and multi-instrumentalist Sean Og Graham had been talking about who they could ask.

"He knew Liam and drunkenly asked if he'd like to join a band, and Damian McKee [who plays the accordion] got wind of this, he drunkenly asked if he could be in the same band and we drunkenly agreed. We all got together at the Fleadh in Listowel in 2002 and had a great night of music."

It felt like there was something in it, Eamon says. "We got together for a couple of practices and there were really interesting ideas that came out of those, so it went from there.

"Eamon was the driving force for getting us together," says Liam. "I'd been playing music with Damian and Sean Og for a few years, mainly for Irish dancing competitions, but it took Eamon to knuckle down and get us all together after a summer of meeting up at festivals and fleadhs."

Niamh Dunne from Limerick then came on board on vocals and fiddles.

As for influences, Eamon says that he loves "anything that has a good rhythm section, all sorts really".

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Dunne's father "is an amazing uilleann piper. So we'd have had that influence - along with some classical and other things. Liam and Damian both played a lot for Irish dancers over the years, so had a wealth of material and backing ideas from there."

"We all grew up playing trad," says Liam, but "anything we've ever heard from any genre could make its way into our music in the most subtle way, from Pecker Dunne to Justin Timberlake!"

"I think we're tolerant people," continues Eamon. "The fact we've been touring around together for 17 years with no line-up changes and we haven't murdered each other is pretty miraculous. I like to think that we're all pretty decent humans.

"I think as a group we have our feet on the ground," says Liam. "We've been on the road for years, and faced the grim times with good humour and no unnecessary dramas. We're as content playing music with mates around home, as we are in front of a crowd."

Their new album Carousel is nothing short of intriguing, featuring as it does cameos from Foy Vance, Lissie and Ryan McMullan, among others. The title track, says Liam, is "a quirky modern trad piece with a Coldplay singalong in the middle for good measure"; while In A Rocket, with Lissie on vocals is, says Eamon, about "growing, escapism and losing yourself; the idea of getting away from it all in your own metaphorical rocket, whatever that may be.

"Lissie brings a special Midwestern vibe to this song that really brought it all to life for us. We wanted this song to take you away to somewhere positive and day-dreamy for a few minutes."

It succeeds. Matthew's Daughter, written by Johnny McDaid and Beoga's biggest fan, Ed Sheeran, "is a love song about gratitude, acknowledging your loved ones and where they come from; it's something most people can relate to at one point in their lives," says Eamon.

"It is about Ed's wife, Cherry," says Liam, spilling the beans. "This one pulls the heart strings."

In 2016, Beoga were put on the map globally when Ed Sheeran had them play on Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan. (In the summer of the following year, Sheeran had Beoga perform Nancy Mulligan with him at Glastonbury.)

"He's a wizard and a workaholic," says Eamon of Sheeran. "A really normal dude that just loves making music and it was a joy to be involved in it all."

"It was fascinating," says Liam. "You realise this album is going to have the pressure of satisfying a huge global audience, but yet everything was so relaxed and there was nothing but good vibes. I remember being blown away at the speed Ed comes up with ideas; finishing a song in just a matter of hours."

I ask them to look back on Beoga at the beginning and try to put it all in context to where they are now.

"Sean Og and myself were teenagers and really wanted to be in a band and on the tour. We thought it would be all glamour. Little did we know!" says Eamon.

"We knew each other as musicians in the trad circles and thought we could combine to make a half-decent band. There was the appeal of going on the road, plus it seemed like the money, craic and the lifestyle would be amazing. Jury's still out on that!" laughs Liam.

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