Five Questions for Seamus Begley

Perhaps the first thing you should know about Kerry accordion player Seamus Begley, featured performer in the Irish Christmas in America show coming to Penn’s Annenberg Center, is that he was never a truck driver in Chicago. It’s all a load of bull, he says. He’s not sure where the false factoid got its start, but it is often repeated and reprinted, and it’s always wrong.

Yes, he was in Chicago in 1976, but he played music with the likes of Liz Carroll and never once got behind the wheel of a semi.

Many other things about Begley are true. He’s one of the most acclaimed box players on the planet, he’s a well-known story teller, he grew up in West Kerry. He’s been a frequent musical collaborator with the likes of Aussie guitarist Stephen Cooney and West Cork guitarist Jim Murray.

His latest collaboration is with the lads of the great Irish traditional group Teada, currently touring the United States with the Christmas show. (Karan Casey and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh previously were featured performers in memorable shows at the Philadelphia Irish Center.)

This year, Irish Christmas in America touches down at Annenberg Friday, December 11, at 8 p.m. (Click here for tickets.) With Begley at center stage, you’re bound to get your Christmas season off to a merry start. We caught up with Begley a few days ago, for a few minutes of rushed conversation over a terrible connection (like someone crunching corn flakes next to your ear) before the show was about to open in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Here’s what he had to say.

Q. Is this your first tour with Teada?

A. It’s my first tour with this gang, yeah. I never played a serious gig like this before.

Q. You’ve done a lot of collaborating. Is it something you like to do, or is it the nature of the beast that a single instrumentalist must seek out collaborators?

A. I like doing different things, playing with different talent. It’s different from playing the good old Kerry slide, you know. I like learning new songs and new ways to do things.

Q. Did you need to add to your repertoire much for this show? Christmas tunes?

A. Most of the things I already knew. We’ll be playing reels, jigs, slides, all of them, all these tunes we know. A lot of them are Christmas titles.

Q. Why did you take up accordion? With your father a player, it seems like you perhaps had no choice, or that it was somehow preordained.

A. Everyone in the house had to learn accordion and play for the ceilis. We loved it anyway, there was nothing else to do. It was probably pissing down rain outside.

Q. You’re from Dingle, West Kerry. How does being from there influence the way you play? More polkas and slides? How else?

A. I learned to play for dancers. Most of my music would be for dancing. It’s a bit odd for me to be playing for people who are sitting down. It’s easier for me to play for dancers. It’s simple music played by simple people.

Editor’s happy little note: We have two pairs of tickets to give away. Want to try to win them? Do one of two things by midnight on Friday: Sign up to receive Irish Philly Mickmail or forward Mickmail to a friend. Good luck!

Author: Jeff Meade

Jeff is one of the founding editors of More details.

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