Trad: Beoga continue to make their mark with new collaboration

Robert McMillen assesses 'new wave trad' band Beoga's musical journey to date, including and their new single Make A Mark which is a collaboration with Portaferry singer-songwriter Ryan McMullan

Beoga are back with a new single and tour
Beoga are back with a new single and tour Beoga are back with a new single and tour

I LOVE watching videos where you can see people change through their lives. The red-faced babies turn into fair-skinned children who turn into geeky adolescents and then onto adulthood. The facial features change but it is undeniably the same person.

I've been doing the same with trad band Beoga, but in real time, having been blown away by them when they first appeared on the scene 15 years ago, mesmerised by their great musicianship, the quality of their compositions, the fact that they were serious about the music yet their shows were always humorous, joyous affairs.

The band – Damian McKee on accordion, Seán Óg Graham on just about everything, pianist Liam Bradley, Eamon Murray on bodhrán and Niamh Dunne, from County Limerick on fiddle – were always at ease throwing time signatures, rhythms, instrumentation and whole genres up in the air and catching them like musical jugglers.

Today, Beoga shows are still humourous and joyous, the musicianship is better than ever, but the band has evolved and are now in the vanguard of what is being called 'new wave trad'. The youths of 15 years ago are now in their prime and being recognised all over the world.

After five albums, a shortlist for a Grammy nomination and numerous international tours, Beoga reached a wider international audience as a result of a chance encounter with Ed Sheeran, Foy Vance and Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid. This led to the band co-writing Ed's massive hit Galway Girl and guesting on Nancy Mulligan from his album Divide.

It's 503 miles by car and ferry from Portglenone to Glastonbury but the musical journey that Beoga has taken is much longer, performing as Ed Sheeran's only special guest on his headlining Glastonbury 2017 performance before supporting him on his record-breaking Irish stadium tour last year.

This collaboration with one of contemporary pop music's biggest icons led to Beoga exploring a more mainstream direction for their own records and working with a stellar line up of artists including the aforementioned Johnny McDaid, Foy Vance and Ed Sheehan, as well as James Bay and Portaferry's own Ryan McMullan.

Last year, the band's bodhrán player Eamon Murray told me of the band's modus operandi: "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."

This very day, November 29, Beoga are set to release an unforgettable song in the form of their new single, Make A Mark, featuring the aforementioned Ryan McMullan. The single is the first to be taken from their upcoming but as yet untitled mini-album which is due for release in February. Or later!

Make A Mark is a gorgeous meshing of two distinct talents – Ryan McMullan's unmistakeable vocals and Beoga's outstanding musicianship – with a killer chorus hook and a sparkling instrumental break. Needless to say, Beoga were thrilled to work with Ryan with whom they have had a long friendship.

"Making music together is a privilege with someone as talented and positive as him," says Eamon.

"We've been gigging this song for a while and people always ask about it after the show. It's a good sign when that happens and I think people can hear how much we enjoy playing it," he says.

Ryan was equally delighted to work with Portglenone's (and Limerick's) finest.

"I think making a mark is something we all want, whether it's in life, work or love," he says.

"We want to stand out from the crowd and make an impact on someone or something."

The new record sees them find a truly original sound at the intersection between traditional Irish music and contemporary pop and has been produced by Grammy nominated producer and writer Jonny Coffer (Beyonce, Fall Out Boy, Rag'n'Bone Man, Kodaline).

Through singles like Matthew's Daughter featuring US country artist Devin Dawson and Let You Go featuring Nashville favourite Anderson East, released this year, the band have started to introduce audiences to this new sound and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Matthew's Daughter received a rave review from industry bible Rolling Stone and Let You Go was in the top 50 across Triple A radio in the USA in summer 2019. Make A Mark is emblematic of this new direction and has consistently received a huge reaction at Beoga's packed live shows.

The quintet have just finished performing Make A Mark and more supporting Foy Vance on his tour across the UK and Ireland this month. They are also headlining their own shows in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Limerick and Cork in December, including a gig at The Ulster Hall on December 19.

Ryan has a busy touring schedule too, most recently as an honorary member of Snow Patrol while Johnny McDaid was recovering from surgery. He has been touring Europe throughout November and returns to Belfast for a series of intimate dates in early December. He then heads Stateside for a solo tour in early 2020.