Beoga: ‘We always wanted to push the boat out’
Bodhrán player Eamon Murray talks Ed Sheeran, that Justin Timberlake cover and collaborating with Ryan McMullen
Beoga: Damian McKee, Seán Óg Graham, Niamh Dunne, Liam Bradley and Eamon Murray. “We can’t complain at all. To have had the year we’ve had has been pretty good.”
Beoga have been plying their finely blended musical craft for the past 15 years, but the last couple of years have seen their profile take a huge leap, after Ed Sheeran sampled their tune for his hit song Galway Girl, and invited them to perform with him on stage at his recent Irish concerts. Since then it’s been non-stop for the “five Nordy lads and one Limerick lass”, as they like to call themselves. Bodhrán player Eamon Murray took a short breather to answer a few questions.
Have you noticed it’s got extra busy for you in the past couple of years?
Well, for a long time we were like busy fools; we’d have been abroad doing a lot of stuff, like the folk clubs in Germany or touring around the States chasing our tails, but I suppose in the last year or year and a half it feels like it’s been more productive, really. And it’s all positive busyness. We can’t complain at all. To have had the year we’ve had has been pretty good.
Has your musical approach changed over the past couple of years?
This approach we’re taking at the minute, it’s a lot more collaborative and maybe trying to make it a bit more current and more accessible for people who aren’t necessarily into folk or trad.
What was it like collaborating with singer-songwriter Ryan McMullen on your new single, ‘We Don’t Have to Run’?
Great. Ryan is amazing and on his own trajectory. He’s got the world at his feet right now and he’s getting a lot of interest from the industry, and rightly so, because he’s one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. The relationship around us is great – we get on like a house on fire, and he’s really easy to work with. And easy to write with. He’s not precious in any way – he’s just a really active, positive musician, and I think when you’re surrounded by those people, it comes out pretty easily. We’ve been writing with him, and also with Foy Vance and Johnny McDaid [from Snow Patrol].
Did you always have a collaborative approach to recording?
What we always did was to try stuff out. Whether it worked or not was a different thing. We always wanted to push the boat out. Twelve years ago we had an orchestra on our album, we went to Prague and played with the Prague Philharmonic. At the time, for a trad band, that was adventurous enough. Although we grew up with folk and trad music, it’s not like we’re hardcore traddies or anything like that. We all like wider genres. We have interests in other stuff, and that feeds into what you’re doing.
What do you listen to when you’re not listening to trad?
Would you believe I don’t listen to trad music at all. I listen to a lot of stuff. I’ve always been drawn to the rhythm section. I was actually in a record shop when you rang, trying to pick up a bit of dub for the summer. I love that kind of vibe in the summer. I’m big into Vulfpeck, from the States – they’re an amazing funk rhythm section. I’ve always been drawn to records that Steve Gadd would have been playing on, or Dennis Chambers. And Parliament/Funkadelic – I love all that.
The Ed Sheeran connection has given you a big boost, but is there ever a worry it might become a curse?
Aye, there’s always that. He receives as much criticism as praise, but he’s a powerhouse, and he keeps working and his work ethos is something to behold. And I suppose we’d like to pick up on that, to keep driving on. We want to just keep on putting stuff out, and not living under the shadow or dining out on it too much. It just was what it was, and it is what it is. We wrote that piece of music that was sampled about 10 years ago. Now it’s everywhere, it’s global and it’s huge. It’s been a great boost for sure, but we’re constantly looking forward and concentrating on the next thing.
You and Ryan McMullen also did a cover of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Say Something’. Why did you choose that song?
It was someone on the Ray D’Arcy Show who said, do a cover. We bashed around a few and we thought, you know, that one’s good craic. And it’s one where I think Timberlake got a bit of flak for it because it was far away from the pop thing he does, but it just shows you that he loves country and he can make those things work if the dance is delicate enough.
Will there be more collaboration and cross-pollination on the new album?
It will be a much more collaborative album for sure, much more kind of pop than the previous instrumental stuff we’ve done. This is a whole new dimension and it’s exciting and I think it’s a different chapter for us.
There’s always the purist in the band who doesn’t like the new direction. Have you one of those?
Seriously, we don’t – everybody’s pretty open. We’re pretty much on the same page, which is good, and I think it’s worth noting that in our group, 15 years together, we have all the same original members. I think it’s a testament to the way we do get on and see eye to eye, and and we know each other well at this stage. I think we were very open-minded coming to the table 15 years ago, and the fact that it was an unorthodox line-up of instruments for a trad band.
You’re supporting Damien Dempsey at Iveagh Gardens – will you get up on stage with him?
We played with him in the Roundhouse on Paddy’s Day, and we jumped up on stage with him, so aye, that could be an element for sure. I know him a long long time, and we’re hoping to do some writing with him as well for this new stuff. He’s a good pal and an amazing songwriter as well.
Do you think Irish music is having a moment?
Aye, it feels like that for sure. English folk got a good lift in the last 10 years with the Mumford & Sons thing and Laura Marling, and Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit. But it feels like there’s kind of a shift now, that Irish musicians are going to get their day in the sun, so long may it reign.