Arts

Beoga: Working with Ed Sheeran completely changed the game for us

They were doing all right on their own steam but working with Ed Sheeran has opened up a whole new vista for Beoga, as bodhrán beater extraordinaire Eamon Murray confirms

Beoga play the Empire in Belfast on September 20
Robert McMillen

WELL, whatever way you look at it, it’s been a helter-skelter couple of years for the five individuals that make up trad supergroup Beoga.

Marriages, babies, Top-20 hits; there have been gigs from Carrickfergus Castle with the Ulster Orchestra to playing at Glastonbury in front of 150,000 people, to the celebratory gig for the All-Ireland Limerick hurling team. The list could go on and on.

So having decided to form a band 15 years ago at a Fleadh in Listowel, how do they make sense of all this?

The go-to person for an answer is bodhrán-player Eamon Murray who moved with wife Pauline Scanlan and baby Kitty to Headford in Co Galway nearly 18 months ago but when he says “Hello” into his mobile phone, Eamon is in London with the rest of the band – Liam Bradley, Damian McKee, Sean Óg Graham and Niamh Dunne as they record their long-anticipated new album.

Over the past decade and a half has the Beoga 'mission statement' changed at all?

“Well, I know that we want our ideas to keep developing all the time and that we are always looking at moving on to a different chapter,” is how Eamon puts it.

“The past couple of years have been really, really exciting but now we are working on the next one again so the band and our music is always in a state of constant development. We all want to keep looking forwards rather than backwards.”

Beoga always were a band that stretched boundaries, from Prelude Polkas, the first track on the first album, through jazz-inflected trips down musical roads less travelled via music hall, blues and jamboree as well as fruitful musical collaborations including the lovely partnership with Scottish musicians Caitriona McKay and Chris Stout I had the pleasure to witness in 2016.

So how does that come about, what are the creative processes that come together to create 'Beoga music'? The band is a democratic outfit but it’s far from music by committee.

“Everyone comes up with their own ideas, a melody or a couple of chords or a song and then we would get together to see what fits and what doesn’t,” Eamon explains.

“At the minute, we have hooked up with a lot of songwriters and producers and that adds another dimension so we bring what we have put together what we like collectively and bring it to these hugely talented people and they’ll add their input, so it is a real team effort.”

The fact that people in the music industry have suddenly begun to take an interest in Beoga when their music might not have registered before is partly due to the fact that their profile has been whacked in the direction of the stratosphere by their link to a wee ginger guy who can write a mean tune himself, Mr Ed Sheeran.

Touring with Ed, the band played gigs your ordinary trad band could only begin to imagine and had an international hit – number one in Ireland – with Galway Girl, which they co-wrote.

The relationship continues but, looking back, what has the band learned from the chapter called Beoga: The Sheeran Years?

“Oh, it was great and it continues to be great,” says Eamon. "Ed was so generous of his time and once you do something with someone like that, it opens up the doors that would have been closed to us before.

“The people we are working with now are really incredible, producers who come from the popular world, that we wouldn’t have access to before, so that completely changed the game and the prospects for us and it has completely changed the album we are making.

“We could go back to making tune-sets that we have composed and crafted ourselves and recorded ourselves but now that we have the chance to create something more commercial, something that will widen the net a little, I think we have to go for it,” says Eamon, who describes the album as “Irish pop” a term which will give the purists palpitations, no doubt.

The band are in London to do some recording but while there is no date for its release yet, you can be sure it will be another departure on the Beoga musical journey.

“We’re getting there,” says Eamon. “We have a load of new material and lots of songs so it’s still a work in progress but we have honed it down to 11 or 12 tracks and we are right in the thick of it as we speak.

“Foy Vance will be involved – if not singing on the album, then he’ll be among the songwriting credits – and Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol is also involved in writing stuff.”

If the album’s final sound is anything like the recent single We Don’t have to Run, which the band recorded with the brilliant Ryan McMullan from Portaferry on vocals, then it is going to be something special.

The single highlights the children living in emergency accommodation with proceeds going to the charity Barnardos.

“Ryan had been recording at Sean Óg [Graham’s] studio and he had also worked with Foy Vance so we thought it would be a great fit for us as a band to work with Ryan,” Eamon explains.

The band had already got the musical bones of the piece while Ryan came up with the chorus. The result is “a powerful percussive tune with tight vocal harmonies swirling around a dynamic violin riff.

There is little doubt that the nine venues hosting Beoga on their September/October Irish and British tour will be bunged to the gills for a band who always put on a brilliant live show, with great musicianship, great tunes and a wicked sense of humour.

“We’ll be playing some of the new stuff at the gigs for sure and it will certainly be a development from what people have seen from us before,” says Eamon.

Will they be playing their Ed Sheeran hit, Galway Girl?

“We’ll do the instrumental version anyway,” he laughs.

:: Beoga are playing in the Belfast Empire on September 20; more information and tickets at beogamusic.com/intro

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