Beoga takes Irish traditional music and turns it on its head, flips it sideways, yanks it inside out, tosses it up in the air, twists it like a pretzel, pounds on it with a meat tenderizer, and crams it into a wood chipper just for good measure.
Don’t worry. What comes out in the end might not be anything like a straightforward rendering of “Drowsy Maggie”—they’d probably pump poor Maggie full of Red Bull and tell her to wake the hell up. What it will be, instead, is a breathtaking (no, I mean it—you’ll literally be out of breath) and massively entertaining re-imagining of Irish traditional music.
All of which you can find out for yourself Saturday when the County Antrim-based band pulls into Reading for a 7:30 p.m. concert (and an afternoon workshop) at Albright College’s MPK Chapel.
All of the band’s musicians have deep traditional roots. You can’t re-imagine the genre if you are not already intimately familiar with it in the first place.
One member of the five-piece band is Eamon Murray, the frenetic, four-time All-Ireland bodhrán champion and possessor of a head full of curls and wild ideas. We caught up with him by phone as the band made its way by van from Baltimore to Ohio. Here’s what he had to say.
Q. The one thing I want to talk about is how different your performances are from your recordings. On your recordings, there are a lot of interesting little sound effects, and you’re accompanied by trumpet, saxophone, and electric guitar—and on at least one occasion by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. You’re not bringing the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra along with you, are you? You don’t have a kettle drum in your bodhrán bag?
A. I would love to be able to afford to bring all those people! You have to mix it up live. You’re never going to make it sound like it does in the studio. It’s a challenge—we really enjoy doing it. The guys all take extra lines. You compensate and make it sound the best you can. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Q. I’m always interested in how bands got together. What’s your story?
A. We got together seven years ago; myself and Seán Óg (Graham, button accordion and guitar) were playing together. But we all knew each other and had played together. The four boys, we all grew up in roughly the same area. Myself and Sean, since we were kids, were inspired by a lot of bands, like Dervish. It was just kind of around that time, when we were 16 and 17, that we decided it was time to get a band together. A few years after that, Niamh (Dunne, on fiddle) joined us.
Q. The band’s musical tastes are, in a word, eclectic. For example, I think “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was your idea. This is a song that was a big hit … in 1930. And of course, there are so many apparent influences, not just traditional Irish music, but rock and jazz and klezmer. Where does all this come from?
A. We collectively have vast influences, some a bit classical and some on the jazzy end of things. I play drum kit, so I’m influenced by pop and more mainstream music. I can’t get over Bruce Springsteen—he’s awesome. We were listening to Michael Jackson yesterday. There’s a lot of pop mainstream stuff in the van. Nobody gets too taxed listening to it.
We (also) all come from musical families. We were all surrounded by a lot of stuff when we were young. Niamh comes from a family with deep roots in traditional music, as so many young Irish musicians do. Niamh’s father is a fantastic piper, so she’d have more knowledge of old pipers’ tunes. The rest of us have very musical siblings and have music in the family somewhere. We started going to the music festivals when we were 7 or 8 years old.
Everybody comes to the table with different ideas for songs or sets. So many bands get boxed into whatever genre they’re supposed to be in. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened to us yet. It’s interesting to just be able to mix things up and take license.
Q. Your music is so different—which is a good thing—that you’ve been described in many different ways. My personal favorite comes from an Irish music magazine: “Deranged Darlings.” What’s your favorite?
A. (Laughs.) I like that one! “Deranged darlings,” at least people understand what you’re trying to do. People don’t knock it because it’s not a purist approach.
Q. You’re one of the best bodhrán players in the world. (Are you blushing now?) How did you come to it?
A. I’m not blushing! Keep it coming! I started on the bodhrán when I was 7 or 8. That was after trying lots of other instruments in which I had no interest. From there it just kind of took legs. I progressed quickly as a child. I didn’t care about practicing—I just kind of hammered on. It was all taking shape by the time I was 11 or 12.
The band will host an Irish music workshop from 5 to 6 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.
Ken Gehret & Irish Mist will play in the lobby from 6:15-7:15 p.m.
Tickets at Albright College Box Office 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: (610) 921-7547 or at the door. $25, $35, 50% student discount with valid ID, 10% group discount for 10+ tickets
Visit www.starseries.org for full event details.