Irish-music veterans the Chieftains happy to showcase rising talents
Paddy Moloney has the gift of the gab. As soon as the Straight’s phone interview begins with the founder and leader of the Chieftains, Ireland’s official government-appointed music ambassadors, the words stream like the rush of notes he plays on uillean bagpipes.
“Your name makes me think of John Montague, the [Irish] poet who gave us our name the Chieftains,” he says, reached at his Dublin home. “I finally got John—who’s living in Paris now like all the great Irish writers, like [Samuel] Beckett, seem to end up—to go into the studio three years ago to read his poetry and I put music to it, pipes and tin whistle. It’s the closest I’ve come to doing a solo album, in fact. There’s a track with Jimmy Galway as well.”
When Moloney, flute maestro Matt Molloy, and bodhrán drummer and singer Kevin Conneff come to Vancouver, they will—in keeping with Chieftains custom—be joined by several other musicians. Those who will appear on-stage include harpist Triona Marshall, fiddlers Jon Pilatzke and Deanie Richardson, guitarist Jeff White, and singer Alyth McCormack. Young B.C. fiddler Jocelyn Pettit will play in the finale. The tour is in support of the Chieftains’ 50th-anniversary album, Voice of Ages, which showcases several rising talents on the indie roots and rock scene.
“I didn’t want to do the usual ‘Best of’, so I called on the retired members of the Chieftains who played in the ’60s and ’70s, Sean Potts [tin whistle] and Michael Tubridy [flute]. We did what’s the anchor track of the album, ‘Chieftains Reunion’—with the reel ‘Toss the Feathers’ as a link tune, which we do on-stage and where everybody takes a solo. Then deciding ‘Where do I go after that?’”
Voice of Ages has the Chieftains collaborating with a whole host of acts, some from the U.K. and Ireland (Paolo Nutini, Imelda May) and some North American (Bon Iver, the Civil Wars, Punch Brothers, the Decemberists, and the Low Anthem). Moloney credits noted producer T Bone Burnett with turning him on to the Americans that were enlisted for the record, many of whom weren’t born when the Chieftains formed.
“I went to Los Angeles and bumped into my good friend T Bone Burnett, and said, ‘You might be able to get me a few more artists I don’t know about,’ and he did. I listen to the melodies and good musicianship on albums. and then pitch songs to the artists that have an Irish connection. For instance, Bon Iver sang ‘Down in the Willow Garden’. The melody is a hundreds-of-years-old Irish rebel song called ‘The Men of the West’. The Pistol Annies do a song the Carter Family used to do [“Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies”] that’s from an old Irish-Scottish love song. The Decemberists sing Bob Dylan’s ‘When the Ship Comes In’, composed for Tommy Makem, who was with the Clancy Brothers, so it was natural for me to do my thing on it, in an Irish-music way.”
One of the big highlights of the anniversary year for the Chieftains was going back to play in London’s famed Albert Hall. “We sold it out in 1975 and we sold out once more,” Moloney says. “Oh, the nostalgia, the feeling… A great occasion, too: [American astronaut] Cady Coleman came onstage and gave us back the whistle and flute that we’d lent her and that she’d played on the International Space Station for six months—they’d done 93 million miles in outer space. The place was erupting.”
The Chieftains play Richmond’s River Rock Casino Resort next Thursday (October 11).