Boa Morte: Evocative sounds from a quality act

Over the decades, Cork has consistently produced not just great acts, but acts that had in their possession a swagger, an edge, and an ability to write and create great music. Here we profile Boa Morte.
Boa Morte: Evocative sounds from a quality act

Boa Morte band members (L-R) Cormac Gahan, Paul Ruxton, Bill Twomey, Maurice Hallissey.

Over the decades, Cork has continually had a plethora of bands, labels, venues, and promoters. There were even times the Cork music scene seemed ready to explode. The ‘Rebel County’ has consistently produced not just great acts, but acts that had in their possession a swagger, an edge, and an ability to write and create music that would lead you to believe there’s some special ingredient in the water of the ‘People’s Republic’.
In part four of our five-part series, our correspondents, Eddie Kiely (FIFA Records) and Eddie Butt (bass player with Emperor of Ice Cream), profile Boa Morte.

Boa Morte are an Irish alternative folk band formed in Cork in 1998. Their line-up is made up of Paul Ruxton (vocals, guitar, bass), Cormac Gahan (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard), Bill Twomey (guitar) and Maurice Hallissey (drums). Amongst their discography are three critically acclaimed albums. 

The band first announced themselves with their debut 1998 self-released EP "Passenger, Measure Your Time" which generated interest from a multitude of labels, but which ultimately led to the band signing with American independent label ‘Mood Food Records’ in 1999.

Boa Morte playing at Other Voices December 2019 at the Church, An Díseart,Dingle Co Kerry. Picture: Tara Thomas
Boa Morte playing at Other Voices December 2019 at the Church, An Díseart,Dingle Co Kerry. Picture: Tara Thomas

The four-piece relocated to Dublin in late 2000 to record their debut album with producer Daniel Presley, known for his work with The Breeders. However, due to complications with their American label the release of the long player endured lengthy delays leading to the band parting ways with the label and eventually signing with Glasgow based, Scottish label Shoeshine Records. 

Boa Morte's debut album ‘Soon It Will Come Time to Face the World Outside’ was finally released to critical acclaim both in Ireland and further afield in July 2002, which included 4-Star reviews in Uncut, Mojo, Q Magazine and The Irish Times. The album received a worldwide release and featured on the much-coveted John Peel show on BBC radio. It also made its way on to the Hot Press magazine "250 Greatest Irish Albums Of All Time" list.

Boa Morte played live extensively, supporting high profile bands such as Teenage Fanclub, Calexico and Howe Gelb to name but a few. 

They also undertook headline tours in both Ireland and the UK, including extensive tours with label-mates ‘The Beauty Shop’ and ‘Major Matt Mason USA’ which saw them play venues across the length and breadth of the UK. Almost ten years on from the release of Boa Morte’s debut album, the band released their sophomore album ‘The Dial Waltz’ on their own ‘Kicking a Can’ label. Beautifully recorded in an analogue studio on 2-inch tape and again with US producer Daniel Presley at the helm. 

This collection of songs is arguably even more sparse and evocative than their debut which attracted so many plaudits upon its release nearly a decade earlier.

 To say that this follow up was overdue could be deemed an understatement, but fans of the band were not disappointed. From the opening track ‘The Rail Song’ to the closing bars of ‘All This We Must Consider’ the album like its predecessor and as the Irish Times aptly put it “wraps around you and tilts your head to the stars.” 

With what now seems to be common course for Boa Morte, they returned from a long hiatus to begin recording their highly acclaimed third album in September 2018. "Before There Was Air” was recorded at ‘Herbert Place Studio’ again in Dublin. The band teamed up with London-based independent label ’Gare Du Nord’ for the September 2019 release and while It might only be the band’s third album in two decades, this was without doubt well worth the wait. 

The album builds on and reflects a more expanded and developed sound, encompassing ambient and hypnotic vocals while all the time maintaining a gorgeous alt-folk feel at its core. Stand out tracks include the beautiful 'Ships Passing' and the fractured folk of 'The Garden'. It might have been nearly ten years in the making but with ‘Before There Was Air’ Boa Morte have produced a majestic, mood-laden alternative folk soundtrack, perfect for a world as strange as ours. This is a record to which the listener must play close attention in order to completely grasp just how gorgeous an album this truly is.

Boa Morte: Before There Was Air album cover.
Boa Morte: Before There Was Air album cover.

We recently caught up with Boa Morte drummer Maurice Hallissey to see what is next for the Cork four piece.

Q&A Q. Who would consider your major musical influences?

A. Those artists who combine a strong melodic and harmonic sensibility with an openness to experimentation and unhurried, adventurous arrangements. If they’ve got a dark, odd or edgy streak to them, better again. So: Richard Dawson, Smog/Bill Callahan, Robert Wyatt, Judee Sill, The Gentleman Losers, Low.

Q. How do you feel about the music industry today?

As ever, the behemoths are screwing artists, especially lesser-known ones. But the music industry also comprises those countless labels, promotors, engineers, and musicians in every town in every country who do what they do for the love of it, and not a lot more. The labels in North Carolina, Glasgow and London that signed us didn’t do so because they thought we’d make them millionaires: they did so because they were music nuts who let their excellent taste get the better of their business judgement. That’s quite heartening.

Q. What musical projects if any are you all currently working on now outside of Boa Morte?

A. None. And don’t be giving them notions… Q. What do you feel is your best song?

A. I’m picking two! Sleep is a slightly off-kilter folk song with a grime beat which segues into a string-arrangement of another song’s melody. Sea Creatures is an uplifting shantyish synth-track which slumps into a tense but lush gloom.

Q What is next for Boa Morte?

A. Knocking Lady Gaga off the number one spot. Either that or once again conceiving, preparing and recording as good a record as possible.

Q . What has been your favourite highlight so far with Boa Morte?

A. We do get a buzz when a journalist, musician or DJ we admire recognises that we’ve got something: Joe Muggs (The Wire, The Guardian, FACT) listing us first on one of his superb Soft Music for Hard Times lockdown playlists; John Peel and Dave Couse playing us; some telepathic UK reviewer recently writing that Before There Was Air sounded like Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks had been recorded instead by Robert Wyatt and James Yorkston.

Q. What advice would you give to young bands starting out today A. Do not, for God’s sake, seek advice from Boa Morte! If they persisted, we’d tell them to concentrate on the quality of the music. That’s what counts. Everything else is secondary.

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