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Interview: Beoga

by / May 13, 2020

For nearly 2 decades, Beoga have dominated the Irish folk scene both on the stage and in the writing room. Forming in 2002, at the All-Ireland Fleadh in County Kerry, four of the five members hail from good old Counties Antrim and Londonderry with Limerick’s Niamh Dunne joining the group following the success of their 2004 album ‘A Lovely Madness’. Beoga, by name and nature, are a lively bunch. With 7 albums under their belt and several top 20 hits, their newest mini-album is a decidedly new venture.

In 2017, they skyrocketed themselves out of the folk-zone, co-writing two songs on Ed Sheeran’s album Divide (stylised ÷) and featuring in the ‘Galway Girl’ music video. This opportunity was one that kept on giving, the group performed with Sheeran as the Glastonbury closing act to a crowd of 150,000 and gained over one billion Spotify streams as a featured artist. 

► What are each of your musical backgrounds?

We all have different musical interests and experiences but we all, in some form, learned Irish traditional music as kids. Niamh had a bit of classical training. Liam [Bradley] and Damian [McKee] did a lot of Irish dancing music over the years and I did a degree in Ethnomusicology so had lots of weird influence through that.

► Do you feel confined in any way to certain sounds/lyrical themes/song forms in playing traditional music? 

Not at all. The older we get, I think the freer we feel from it. I mean, there’ll always be a sound of Irish-ness off whatever we do, but we don’t feel tied to anything particularly.

► What do you think it is that makes you all work so well together – musically as well as practically?

We know each other inside out at this stage so we can get into a good rhythm either in the studio or on the road. We know when to stay out of each other’s way so that helps!

► Have you found that the writing stage of your music has changed over time? With instrumental tracks is there one dominant ‘writer’/‘arranger’ in the group or is it purely collaborative? 

It’s pretty collaborative, although Sean Óg [Graham] has a recording studio at the house so he gets lumped with fixing up rough ideas. In terms of putting stuff together, generally there’ll be one idea fired back and forward and they usually take shape when we actually sit down together and play together live.

► How does playing live fare to recording in a studio? 

Live is the best fun. I think that’s the reason we record, so we can go out and play the stuff live. They’re totally different environments but seeing something come together in the studio and then watching people react to it live is a buzz.

► How have you found your audience has changed over the past 15 years?

I’m not really sure, we just want as many people as we can to hear our music. I’m sure the audiences have changed slightly over the years, we were much closer to the folky/acoustic sound when we started and things have changed a bit on that front so I’m sure we’ve lost some people and gained others along the way.

► When it comes to collaborative pieces, with the likes of Ed Sheeran, James Bay and Lissie, how does the writing process change? 

It depends really, everyone is different. Sometimes, a writer will have a song idea pretty much complete in their mind and other times, it’ll be us all starting from scratch. Bringing in anyone outside of the band, brings a different dynamic so we usually just go with the flow and see where it ends up.

Their upcoming mini-album ‘Carousel’ (available 22nd May) has considerably more collaboration than anything the group have done before, “this new record is all about the collaborators so [our writing is] inevitably steered by their contributions,” says Eamonn Murray. With three ’tasters’ already released, the latest single ‘In A Rocket’ was a joint venture with American country musician Lissie. It has been described by the Official Charts as a “3 minute slice of summer” and the accompanying video is something of an uplifting ode to the current world lockdown. 

With the onset of covid-19, Beoga had to ditch the original plans for the music video, but “we [didn’t] get too precious about it, we love the song and we love Lissie, so happy days. We didn’t really have any [ideas] to let go of, it just took a certain shape and direction that got us excited so we went with it.” The direction is a heartwarming patchwork of videos sent in by fans depicting how they are spending their lockdowned days, with cameos from the band’s families, Ed Sheeran and Lissie herself. Director Billy Cummings noted, “I didn’t know what we were going to get back but once the first round of footage came in, I couldn’t help but smile while editing”.

► The new mini-album has a majority features/collaborations tracks – what was the decision making process behind this?

We got a new lease of life making music with other writers so we wanted to put this together into a record. It’s the first time we’ve come at a record this way and really loved the process of bringing in collaborators.

► How did you come to work with producer Jonny Coffer?

We have the same publisher in London, we loved his stuff and he was working on some music with Johnny McDaid at the time, so it all came together that way. Johnny McDaid involved Jonny Coffer and we were off.

► The theme of this upcoming album explores the difficulty you have found in navigating in the music industry even after nearly 2 decades – what advice would you give to young up-and-comers who may be encountering this for the first time? 

Get a lawyer [Murray laughs]! It’s a hard one to give advice on because everyone’s experiences with record labels and the business will be different. I think it’s important to trust your own instincts though and stick to your guns about what is the right process for you.

With talk of 2 or 3 more albums in the works already, Beoga are showing no signs of stopping; their UK headline tour is still scheduled to go ahead in November-December 2020 and, from here, the future looks bright. “We’ll keep going as long as we’re enjoying ourselves. We have a lot of new material that has come from all these writing sessions of late so we’ll probably work on finishing more of that and can’t wait to get back out on the road.” 

‘In a rocket’ is available to stream now.

‘Carousel’ will be available to stream 22nd May.

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