Entertainment Editor Dan Webb sits down to chat with “bodhrán wizard” Eamon Murray of Beoga, about Ed Sheeran, RAG week and making trad music cool again.
Probably one of the most exciting and, dare I say, important part of one’s culture is the way in which music is crafted and celebrated by the people of that country. Throughout the many nations of the world one cannot deny that you will never find two pieces of music alike. Every country produces its own distinct sound and, in my opinion, this is something to be celebrated, not locked behind the scenes in favour of the next big pop hit. In terms of the Irish perspective, whilst it is undeniable that many people are proud of their musical heritage, the majority of people tend to shun it much like our national language. However, one band has set out to try and change that reality, by making trad music “cool.” Their name is Beoga and earlier this week I had the chance to catch up with their resident bodhrán wizard, Eamon Murray.
Beoga (which translates to “lively”) is a five piece trad band formed in 2002 during the All Ireland Fleadh traditional music festival in Listowel, Co. Kerry. The original four members founded the band after a few great sessions together, says Eamon. Originally they just focused on small town gigs and sessions. Just a few months after the band was formed, Beoga’s accordionist Damian McKee came up with the idea of playing in a boys vs girls trad session for charity to which Eamon jokingly said “we’re forming a boyband.” Eamon recalls how they had a month to piece together a 45-minute set, which he marked as one of the turning points of the bands in its early years. They still play many of the songs from that set to this very day.
Listening to Beoga’s material one can piece together very quickly that this is not your typical trad band. With the use of subtle non-traditional accompaniment such as guitars and pianos, along with strong choral elements in the singing one has to question, “is this a real trad band?” When posed this question, Eamon tells me that he felt if a traditional Irish music enthusiast was to listen to his music, they would be disappointed. However, Eamon went on to say that all he wants is for people to listen to and enjoy his music while also being able to identify with the unique musical identity associated with Ireland. Eamon drew a comparison with Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros, saying that, “even though you haven’t a clue what they are saying, you can still tell exactly what part of the world it comes from.” These elements are very much on show in Beoga’s newest single, “We Don’t Have To Run.”
When talking about the development of the band over the past decade, Eamon talked about how it was always their priority to remain fresh and never to make something they themselves are not excited about. Eamon says that, “sometimes in the Irish music circuit you can be quite guilty of making albums just because you are gigging” – something which BEOGA actively tries to avoid. Eamon mentions that he feels that not taking risks and just making what people expect you to make stifles all creativity. He jokingly says that so far “we have been paddling our own canoe” as they continue to defy the expectations of trad aficionados.
Possibly one of the biggest turning points in recent years for Beoga was their successful and highly renowned collaboration with British pop icon, Ed Sheeran. In 2016 Sheeran invited Beoga to collaborate with him on his then new album Divide, which has gone on to be a chart smasher. Sheeran was first introduced to Beoga through an older tune of theirs called “Minute 5”, later sampled in the song “Galway Girl.” Eamon talks about how much he appreciated the fact that Sheeran took such an interest in incorporating traditional Irish music in a way that made it popular with more mainstream audiences, feeling it helped them to reach “the man in the van”, the general audience who drive up and down the country listening to the radio.
Back in May, Beoga supported Ed Sheeran on the Irish leg of his Divide tour, which featured three sold out concerts here in the heart of Cork city at Pairc Uí Chaoimh. Beoga are returning to Cork on the 29th of September to play a headlining gig in St Luke’s where they will be demoing tracks from their upcoming album. Eamon laughs saying he is“excited to return to the real capital” and that he has a strong connection with the city and its people. However, when I invite Eamon to come and join us during RAG week he sadly declines saying that “his RAG week days are over” although he was a very good sport about it all recalling his own younger days and the “great craic” they had.
Eamon closes off the interview by giving this advice to any young enthusiastic musicians; “the more you can learn to manage all elements of the music industry on your own the better off you will be.” Eamon highlights the importance of being self-sufficient learning skills like how to make your own website, contact agents and network with other musicians. Eamon believes that it’s important to have these skills down to a tee when you are in the early stages of your career, as you need to be prepared to “hurdle those stumbling blocks” and to never give up on yourself or the music you are writing.
Their music is available on all major platforms including Spotify and Apple Music and they hope to release an album in the coming months.