Séamus Begley Joins Téada
Séamus Begley, from the artwork of a recent CD he recorded with Oisín Mac Diarmada.
The unexpected (though not all that surprising) news in the traditional music scene in Ireland this week is that the larger-than-life West Kerry accordion player and singer, Séamus Begley has joined the group Téada. He has been playing with them over the last few years on their annual Irish Christmas in America tour, and then, as Begley describes it, ‘out of the blue, Oisín asked me to join the band. I was honoured. The last thing I expected at fifty* was to be asked to join a boy band. It’s my retirement plan.’
Before the touring with Téada began, Begley was still trying to find a way to combine the music and farming (the maxim of ‘don’t sell the cow whatever you do’ ringing in his ear), even though he was doing far less farming than he had been doing back in the days when he and Steve Cooney starting touring together in the ’80s and ’90s. But gradually he has given up the farming altogether because ‘the craic we were having on those [Irish Christmas in America] tours was just so good. I just love entertaining people, telling lies and winding people up. I laugh when the young fellas call it work. If they were out with me milking cows or de-horning sheep they wouldn’t. The lads [Téada] are the soundest men on earth, and Oisín does all the organising so I just have to show up. We have so much fun, and the audiences in America are so enthusiastic.’
Begley grew up in an era when there was a little less enthusiasm (‘why don’t you ask me to sing a song’ type of thing) and a more defined purpose for it. From his childhood and first years playing in public, he still has an inescapable sense of the music as accompaniment to dancing. ‘You’d be with the old lads playing sets for the dancers at home or at American wakes, and once a particular set [of dances] was finished you put away your instrument. “You’re only making noise,” they’d have said if you tried to play on.’ He continues: ‘It was our job to get people up dancing… I find it very difficult to play without that: the dancer responding to the slightest change you put into the tune. It’s like conducting an orchestra. Music is boring if people aren’t dancing,’ he throws in, provokingly. ‘And playing music in daylight also goes against my instinct.’
He becomes the sixth member of Téada, the others being Oisín Mac Diarmada on fiddle, Paul Finn on button accordion, Damien Stenson on flutes, Seán Mc Elwain on bouzouki/guitar and Tristan Rosenstock on bodhrán. Begley is self-deprecating about it all, full of praise for the talents of the rest of the band. ‘They’re the only band in the country with one and half box players,’ he offers. He claims not to be able to plays reels at all, being only able for ‘simple polkas’, so he is delighted to be surrounded by fellas that can carry him through the reels at full speed.
Apart from the wide range of songs in Irish and English he brings to the band (though he insists that he prefers to be told what to sing than to have to make the choices himself), he is also a very enthusiastic story-teller and will no doubt add to the banter on stage that is so much a part of what audiences look for from traditional music live.
As seems to be the norm these days, being in the band won’t prevent him from continuing his involvement in other ‘projects’, including Folk the Recession (with Eleanor Shanley, Mick Hanly, Frankie Lane and Paul Kelly); Tim Edey (with whom he is touring next month); and Oisín Mac Diarmada in a duet (with whom he has recently released an album, Le Chéile, which they will be playing from in their gig at the Seamus Ennis Centre in Naul tomorrow night, 30 March).
Téada themselves will be playing with their new band member the following night, Saturday, 31 March, at the Ballydehob Irish traditional music festival, before beginning preparations for another US tour scheduled for the end of April.
*Note: This may not be a true reflection of Begley’s actual age. In fact, it isn’t.
Published on 29 March 2012