Via TradConnect: After 14 years of making music together Northern Irish trad band Beoga hit the headlines when they got involved with Ed Sheeran on his new album ÷ (Divide).
Co-hosting the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show last month, Sheeran described the album as "schizophrenic" with "lots of different sounds" and confirmed to host Scott Mills that an Irish traditional/folk band would appear on the album.
"They're called Beoga," said Sheeran. "They're from Northern Ireland; they are really, really talented. They came to my house to stay and we made some songs. Two of them have made the record. It's jammy, it's folky."
The band is fuelled with the twin dueling accordions of Damian McKee and multi-instrumentalist Seán Óg Graham, pianist Liam Bradley, four times All-Ireland bodhrán champion Eamon Murray and vocalist and fiddler Niamh Dunne.
Beoga (gaelic for ‘lively’) live up to their name with a bedrock of sound that lies firmly within the Irish tradition. However, they say that they "are not afraid to incorporate other genres’ nuances into their music, from bluesy riffs to Astor Piazzola-style jazz, to a raunchy New Orleans jamboree vibe."
Like Sheeran, Beoga have followed their instincts when it comes to traditional music, and their contemporary approach caught the ear of Co. Down singer Foy Vance who played a few of their tunes to Sheeran.
One of those tunes called Minute 5 from their "How to Tune a Fish" album was incorporated into one of the tracks on ÷ (Divide).
Bodhrán player Eamon Murray said: "we explored lots of material for the album and two songs that we were part of made the final cut. The first is a new composition called Galway Girl and it features an old tune of ours called Minute 5. The second song is called Nancy Mulligan which Ed wrote about his grandmother and grandfather and how they came together many years ago from different religious backgrounds. There are three or four other songs that we were also part of that may resurface some other time - we don’t really know what the plans are and we won’t speculate."
"The fact that Ed reached out and got us involved is a big stretch for him, as he normally does everything in-house. It’s his heritage that draws him to Ireland on both his mother’s and father’s side of the family. He has strong Irish roots and loves the old Chieftains and Planxty records, and has a great knowledge and understanding of the music".
Eamon said that Ed wrote a couple of songs in that style and wanted to get the right vibe on it and that is why Beoga got the call and got involved.
"He is not scared to push the boundaries," said Murray. "What you end up with is a very modern approach that is part rap. Our melody is a link to the bridge and chorus so it is structured very much like a pop record and you can hear a nod to it more than him going straight out and doing a cover or something. It’s very much in his style."
"A lot of ideas came out of the session when we were there, and we just hung out and played music. He really is one of a kind, and there is a sincerity to what he does that so many people can relate to. His ability to write a pop song is unbelievable and we saw it in action. He has such an ability to get that pop hook and turn it into something meaningful, creating music that gets into people’s heads, inviting them to sing along."
"Some of what we did was mapped out and other material came from long jam sessions, where an idea emerged that was developed. Ed is very hands-on with the overall process and really gets stuck in, calling the shots and making things happen which is great to see. When you come from the world of Irish trad music, you can have very odd notions about how music is played or recorded and this was a bit of an eye-opener because the whole process was really quick."
For Beoga this is a big moment. Performing and co-writing a song with one of the world’s biggest stars will open their music to a vast new audience, and deservedly so. They plan to get back into the studio this year to start work on a new album and are no doubt taking to lots of different people this time round.
"We need to keep developing our music", says Murray. "In addition to ‘pure drop’ traditional music we can also look at ourselves as a rhythm section laying down a bed of sound on new projects, and if this helps bring more people to Irish music, all the better."