Northern lights: Co Antrim based tradsters Beoga on new album
Beoga bodhrán player Eamon Murray chats to Robert McMillen about the lively Co Antrim-based trad outfit's new 'mature' album Before We Change Our Mind and the methods behind their music
IT IS the truth that I have never been to a bad Beoga gig. The quintet has been making music that would get a Burton’s dummy dancing since 2002 so there’s a superglue-strength musical bond between Damian McKee, Liam Bradley, Seán Óg Graham, Niamh Dunne and Eamon Murray.
They are all fine musicians, have some of the best composers of Irish music in the midst, and play music with just the right amount of devilment to keep everyone happy.
The band’s spokesman is bodhrán-player Eamon Murray. He tells me he is from Magherafelt, the website says he’s from Randalstown but he has been claimed by Portglenone.
Wherever the “future of bodhrán playing” as Earl Hichener described him is from, there was lots of music all around him.
“There was definitely, that's all we knew anyway,” says Eamon.
“It was a hub of music. My parents didn't play, but they nurtured our playing and trailed us around to Fleadhanna or wherever we wanted to go to.”
The idea of becoming a full-time musician grew slowly in Eamon’s mind. He certainly loved playing music and he began to realise that it could become a career. So he duly went off to QUB to study ethnomusicology.
That must have been very enlightening. Did he learn a lot?
“Very little!” says candidly.
"I just didn't want to be an academic but you get to hear an awful lot of different kinds of music though and instruments. Other than that it was a case of thinking 'God I'd better do something after this!'.
"It didn't interest me in any way, shape or form, or feed into what I was hoping to achieve anyway.”
Or as they say at Queen’s: "Society doesn't need a 21-year-old that's a musicologist."
However, Eamon was always listening to a diverse range of music and that helps, he believes, in his attitude to Irish music.
"There's only so far listening to trad will take you. You have to open your head to all the other different genres and pieces. A lot of world music is more applicable to Irish music than you'd think," he says.
Eamon had grown up with Seán Óg Graham and Damien and Liam knew each other, but it was at the Fleadh in Listowel that the boys started playing together, having a few nights craic playing music and enjoying the social side of it.
They met up at home they just kept going from there with Limerick's Niamh Dunne joining after two-and-a-half years for the second album as the boys looked at the prospect of having vocals and all the fiddle lines covered.
It was an obvious asset to have.
Now the band have released their fifth album – and make no mistake, the Beoga we know and love are still belting out tunes that will drag you up onto a dance floor – but Before We Change Our Minds has been described as more 'mature' than their previous albums.
Would Eamon agree?
"I don't really know, it's hard to know when you're involved in it," he says.
"There's less tongue-in-cheek stuff in it. It came about very organically that we had four or five rehearsal sessions and before we knew it we were in the studio recording it.
“The approach is very different this time. Our producer is Michael Keady and he was just concerned with getting us to do live takes and to get the best possible take out of us.
"So we played everything live and there was very few overdubs or anything like that. It worked that way and gave it a different feel.
"The temptation with other records is to go and overdub, overdub, overdub to the point where it nearly becomes a science project. We wanted to stay away from that and I think we have the right feel, hopefully."
No need to worry Eamon. The set opens with The Homestead Hero dedicated to an early influence, producer Mudd Wallace.
"Absolutely. We were sad to lose Mudd last year. He was a big part of our coming together. He saw something in us back at the start and knocked the edges off of us.
"He was a wealth of information and experience. He was there to open the door for us in a lot of things and places. We wouldn't have been on the road so quickly if it hadn't have been for Mudd," says Eamon.
Mudd would have been delighted with the inventiveness and the light and shade of Before We Change our Mind and with the individual musicianship which graces the album.
The sea is quite heavily involved with The Bonny Ship, The Diamond and try listening to Tommy Makem's Farewell to Carlingford without finding yourself singing it for days afterwards.
Niamh also does a brilliant version of Wexford Town, composed by her distant relation, Pecker Dunne.
Two of the instrumental highlights are Valhalla, which they produced with Scottish couple Chris Stout and Caitríona McKay, and Aurora, Sean Óg's tribute to the Aurora Borealis.
I'd think most people would agree we are very lucky to have Beoga, our very own Northern lights!
:: Before We Change Our Mind is out now. For more on Beoga, visit Beogamusic.com.