"Sometimes with rhythmic guitar or mandolin accompaniment of a song, it can restrict the freedom of a song. With the concertina backing there's a literal push and pull behind us, that gelled really quickly." Brían McGloinn
And there is a unique kind of magic brewing between three young gentlemen of music, who are taking to the roads with their songs and stories and who, if you listen carefully, will draw you into their parlour to share their bewitching conversation.
It is often observed that a family who plays music together is united in a special and singular bond, and this tour sees brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn – Ye Vagabonds – teaming up with Cormac Begley, of the renowned Kerry family to explore their common heritage, break new ground and lay the foundations of a partnership that will without doubt last long beyond the highways and byways of this initial adventure curated by Music Network.
What is immediately apparent from chatting to Brían and Cormac is the integrity, confidence, and respectful fearlessness that inhabits every artistic transaction that they make, whether in front of an audience of thousands, or in the privacy of their own rooms, practising alone in pursuit of even more depth and understanding of their music.
These are three young musicians who are gifted with not only technical and mechanical mastery, but a curiosity, a considered and mature method of offering themselves to the music, in exchange for the authority to play it.
It is interesting that all three came late-ish to playing music as a serious career option. In Brían and Diarmuid's case, it was being invited by their sister to prepare a few songs to perform at her wedding, that led to the realisation that their voices blended remarkably well together. They sought out recordings of 'brother' duos, the Everleys, Walkers, Proclaimers, and immersed themselves in American old-timey recordings from the 1950s and further back. Exploring songs that had interesting harmonies, a sense of spaciousness, and if it also told a good story, even better.
Their evolving identity led them to a community of musicians and artists based round the Café Formenti in Carlow, an intergenerational gathering of musicians from all disciplines, and this surely consolidated their knowledge of the wider musical arena whilst at the same time reinforcing their own particular vocal style. They sing with an intuitive sense of phrasing and rhythm, breathing together, navigating the cadence and dynamic of a tune with unspoken accord. Brían mentions the general rule of thumb "once you've spent 10,000 hours doing something, it becomes internal, and we've easily spent that together singing, so we don't sit at a piano and work out harmonies, its natural and intuitive".
Natural and intuitive are both words which apply equally well to the concertina playing and extraordinary musicianship of Cormac Begley. Though from one of Ireland's most celebrated musical families, he appreciated his background but didn't much want to directly engage with playing music. "To an extent I didn't value what was going on around me when I was growing up. I was into lots of other types of music, but looking back I was probably processing lots of music unbeknownst to myself. I started on accordion, but what I really wanted from Santy was a flute, or more accurately the flute case".
It was university in Galway (where he took a PhD in psychology), that opened a gateway to a new sense of pride in his heritage, and the opportunity to play with his college peers, which in turn led to him organising a superb series of summer concerts, Tunes in the Church, and set him on the way to being both a concertina player and concert promoter of considerable talent.
He is also fascinated by the physics of the instrument – "I seek out older instruments, I love the attention that goes into the making of them – the woodwork, the shape, the leatherwork". He describes with a mixture of mortification and mischief how when he was a youngster he used to open his father Brendan's accordion with a penknife in order to sabotage a few reeds so that he wouldn't have to go to gigs with him, to "be bored, drinking Fanta and eating Taytos all night".
Blending concertina with a vocal duo might not be the most obvious of pairings, but all three musicians speak of their excitement at taking this combination out for a spin on the roads. Whilst they've known each other for some time, playing together is something they have not had much opportunity to do until now. They spent a week in Dingle in the summer, hanging out, playing, swimming, eating together, getting to know each other and trust each other personally and artistically, and developing a sizeable body of work which Brían reckons will see them being able to vary their programme considerably from venue to venue. "Sometimes with rhythmic guitar or mandolin accompaniment of a song, it can restrict the freedom of a song. With the concertina backing there's a literal push and pull behind us, that gelled really quickly". Cormac speaks of his left-of-centre method of punctuating and accentuating events in the tunes by capitalising on so-called faults in the instrument, like a torn bellows or a clackety key. The resulting percussive drive is a delight, evocative and visceral.
Volcanic eruptions can be our friend. When in 2010 Eyjafjallajökull erupted in Iceland, the resulting restrictions on air travel found Cormac Begley and Liam O'Maonlaí having to share a bed for two weeks in Havana, Cuba, unable to get home. This led to a lasting musical and professional friendship, and ultimately to Cormac working extensively with Liam and choreographer and director Michael Keegan Dolan on some of the most remarkable dance pieces of recent years. The willingness to find commonalities with other art forms and other genres of music is very much written into the artistic manifesto of Cormac and Ye Vagabonds, and their multiple collaborations to date have yielded innovation and a broadening of the palette of experience from which they draw. Thus, without any devaluing of their own currency, they are explorers of a sort, and this autumn road trip is sure to broaden both their, and our horizons.
- Ellen Cranitch
Brothers Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn grew up playing music together around their hometown of Carlow. After moving to Dublin in 2012, they quickly became a staple of the live music and session scene in Ireland, playing their own original songs as well as folk songs from Ireland, Scotland, England and America.
In 2014 they came to the attention of Arbutus Yarns’ music filmmaker Myles O’Reilly, whose videos gained international attention for the brothers for the first time. After a chance meeting at Electric Picnic in September 2015, the brothers performed onstage with Glen Hansard, who invited them to open for him on his European tour the following October. Their debut EP Rose & Briar was released on October 7th 2015.
Since then, they have been busy touring Ireland, the UK and Europe, opening for acts such as Villagers, Roy Harper and Lisa Hannigan (whose band they played in for her Irish tour, June 2016). They have played sold out headline shows in Ireland, France, Switzerland and the UK.
They have made numerous television and live radio appearances in Ireland, and were also part of ‘Imagining Home’, a live broadcast concert in the National Concert Hall of Ireland, 2016, curated by Glen Hansard, Philip King and Gary Sheehan.
In October 2017 they launched their debut, self-titled album to great acclaim. Ye Vagabonds comprises harmony-rich folk music, influenced by Irish traditional music, Appalachian singing, and the 1960's folk revival. It includes ten mellow tracks weaved with thoughtful lyrics, thickly layered with strings and droning harmonium.
Their second album The Hare’s Lament was released on 22nd March 2019 to huge critical acclaim. In 2019 they won the BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, and they swept the boards at the RTÉ Radio One Folk Awards where they won Best Traditional Track, Best Group, and Best Album.
Ye Vagabonds and Cormac Begley are on tour with Music Network to Dún Laoghaire, Sligo, Cork, Baile Mhúirne, Dublin, Ennis, Stradbally, Clifden, Letterkenny from 17-26 September 2020.