Beoga

Virtuoso trad group are supported by emerging act Cúig in Belfast

Irish traditional and folk music is in pretty robust health at the minute. Youthful bands steeped in the tradition and more experimental, contemporary acts both seem to be popping up like mushrooms.

Whether rooted in the past or looking to the here and now, Irish trad bands of all stripes are in demand throughout the world. Cúig, the support band at this Crescent Arts Centre gig in Belfast, is a case in point.

The five boys from Tyrone and Armagh, aged between 15 and 19, divide their time between school and gigging the length and breadth of Ireland – that’s when they’re not performing in Germany, Holland or the French Alps.

In spite of their youth, the members of Cúig have been together for four years and their sound is, as you might expect, tight. An opening set comprised of ‘Tickle The Monk’ and ‘Best of Friends’ serves as a lively calling card.

There is no light between Miceál Mullen’s banjo and Rónán Stewart’s uilleann pipe lines, as acoustic guitarist Ruairí Stewart, accordionist Eoin Murphy and drummer Cathal Murphy mark wicked time.

The transition from the slower, elegant ‘Mick O’Connor’s’ to a rattling take on American flat-picking guitarist Russ Berenberg’s 'The Pleasant Beggar’ is seamless. Banjo, accordion and pipes sing in perfect unison while a hearty, tub-thumping rhythm drives the band. The only thing missing are cèilidh dancers, for this is surely music to strut your stuff to.

The jaunty set ‘Three Out of Five’ skips along with a poppish beat, an effect heightened by Murphy’s use of a kit in lieu of a bodhrán. Cúig finishes with a couple of ripping sets of reels that coax the fairly sedate audience into a short participatory clap-along.

Although the five boys of Cúig play like demons, tonight they don’t actually look like they’re having fun a lot of the time. Whether that is down to the seemingly indiferent vibes from a reserved audience or Cúig’s relative lack of stagecraft is debatable, but surely with experience will come relaxation in such surroundings.

No sooner are the headline act on stage than Beoga’s Eamon Murray quips: 'You’re very civilized, for a crowd of bring-your-own. That’s how to fill any gig in Belfast. Tell them it’s bring-your-own and they’ll come and listen to a cement mixer.'

Beoga is a band that knows all about stagecraft. Dazzling musicianship aside, there is communication and bonhomie in abundance between the musicians and out towards the audience. In Murray, bodhrán master, the band also has a very handy comedian. Even if you aren’t into their music, you will still have a good time at a Beoga gig.

Beoga’s set resembles their concert album Live at 10, released at the start of 2014 to celebrate the band’s first decade together. A couple of crowd-warming sets, ‘The BC Set’ and the punchy ‘Mischief’ unleash the twin accordions of Damien McKee and Sean Og Graham, and fiddler Niamh Dunne in freewheeling unison. Liam Bradley brings a contemporary edge to the music on electric piano.

Dunne’s lyrical interpretation of The Clancys/Tommy Makem’s ‘Farewell to Carlingford’ is one of several vocal numbers that pepper the set. Rick Danko/The Band’s ‘Home Cookin’, with country-blues piano from Bradley, is an enjoyable crowd sing-along, but it’s Dunne’s solo turn on ‘Wexford Town’ – which she dedicates to its composer Pecker Dunne – that really captivates. Not just a pretty voice, Dunne’s storming set, ‘Dolans 6am’, highlights her flare for the dramatic.

‘Kick in The Box’ and ‘Antics' stir the blood and prompt a few rebel yells – if not much clapping or foot stomping – from the crowd. Bradley’s slow waltz, 'Jump the Broom’, sees Og Graham on acoustic guitar as McKee, Dunne and the pianist weave gorgeous interlocking melodies. ‘The Convict Reels’ ignites the band’s collective flame once more, with dual accordions and violin in heady union.

Dunne leads the way on a short and sweet cabaret-esque version of the 1930s tune ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone'. This jazz standard is followed by a solo exhibition from Murray, whose bodhrán virtuosity has earned him four All-Ireland titles.

With the applause still ringing, Beoga launches into another dancing reel and satisfies the demands for an encore with the charging set ‘Lamped’ from the Grammy-nominated album, The Incident.

Beoga is one of Ireland’s very best trad bands. Much more than just a collection of virtuosos, Beoga reminds us that music, at its best, should be a shared celebration where the audience inspires the band and it, in turn, ignites the passions of the audience.

Visit the Crescent Arts Centre website for information on forthcoming events.

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