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Posted February 14, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

The Chieftains: 50 years and still going strong

The Chieftains
The Chieftains

For 50 years now, The Chieftains have been the standard-bearer of Irish folk music and have played venues throughout the world. They’ve been popular in the states since the early ’70s, but the band isn’t stuck in the past. It recruited indie rockers such as Bon Iver and the Decemberists to play on its new album, Voice of Ages. Band leader Paddy Moloney recently phoned in to talk about the band’s five-week U.S. tour which just started today.

Talk about the tour you have lined up.
Last year to celebrate our 50th anniversary, we had our busiest year ever. We even went to Japan where we have a fan club.  The tour we’re going on this year will feature some shows with symphony orchestras. We have a hell of a tour lined up, all over the country. At the very end we play this piece and we invite the audience to dance. Our own dancers go to the audience and get everyone to come on stage. That’s been a fun thing. We’ve done it in Carnegie Hall and gotten away with it. We’ve had something like 170 people on stage.

Fifty years is a long time to be in one band. What’s been the key to keeping the group going for such a long time?
Keeping it together hasn’t been easy. I’m like the mommy. I did start all this racket. It’s been a hell of a musical journey that I would not trade in for anything. It’s still going strong. My wife was asked about ten years ago, “Is he ever going to give it up? Is he going to retire?” She said, “I think he’s in rehearsal for retirement.” I got such joy out of making this album with the different styles of music and what’s going on musically. I was disappointed by the stuff I was hearing for the last 20 years. I was introduced to these indie bands and to hear such great ballads coming out of them reminded me of the great ballad revival of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and it opened up for me and I was able to pitch the songs that suited them. The Bon Iver song, for example, is “Down in the Willow Garden,” and the melody of that is an old Irish ballad called “The Men of the West.” In the version I’ve done you can hear that melody playing throughout the song.

We even entered into space. We did a track with Cadie Coleman, who was an astronaut up on the international space station . . . She sent down a video of herself playing the tin whistle and we used that in a tune.

Did all these bands know about The Chieftains?
They knew about us and there were many more, too. Had I waited a little longer, I could have gotten more. But I had to get the album out. I recorded a young singer back home called Lisa Hannigan who has a beautiful voice. I played it for [producer] T Bone Burnett [as an example] when I met him in L.A. and he introduced me to some well-known groups like the Decemberists and the Pistol Annies and the Secret Sisters. I was able to come up with the songs I wanted myself. I ended up mixing and mastering it and pulling it all together. We even entered into space. We did a track with Cadie Coleman, who was an astronaut up on the international space station. She’s a flute player and brought a spare flute into space. She sent down a video of herself playing the tin whistle and we used that in a tune.

What was the key to your breakthrough in the United States?
I know the first trip was 1972 and we played at the Irish Arts Theatre in New York where John Lennon and Yoko Ono came to the show. My daughter is an actress and she’s currently playing there in a play. She just got massive half page coverage in the New York Times. It started to happen from there on. We played Carnegie Hall for the first time in 1976 and we’ve played there about 20 times now. We had to work hard, and it was an uphill battle most of the way but an interesting one. I love the challenge. It keeps me going. We work nine months of the year.

Do you take credit for making Irish music popular on an international level?
Fellow musicians have told us that. A lot of the young people we have at the show sing with us. We have guest musicians for the past 12 years who came to The Chieftains and never went back. Nobody asked them to come but then nobody asked them to leave. The concert is a cross-section; the opening piece is an old haunting ancient Irish ayre. It’s very haunting. That’s the opening piece and we do a bit of “The Long Black Veil.” I haven’t totally finalized the set. It’ll be The Chieftains and it’ll be our music. It’s a bigger and better show.

Why does your music continue to appeal to young people?
It’s amazing. Tokyo is the only place where we have a fan club. They’re all young people. Younger people — and I see it in my old grandson, who has taken to the pipes — want to be part of what’s going on. It’s tremendous, the continuation of generations. They do want to get back to their roots and see where they come from.

Tour Dates

2/14

2/15

2/17

2/18

2/19

2/21

2/22

2/23

2/24

2/26

2/27

3/1

3/2

3/3

3/5

3/6

3/8

3/9

3/10

3/12

3/14

3/15

3/16

3/17

Austin, TX @ Riverbend Center

Houston, TX @ Jesse H Jones Hall w/The Houston Symphony

Los Angeles, CA @ Walt Disney Concert Hall

Las Vegas, NV @ The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Omaha, NE @ Kiewit Concert Hall/Holland Center

Nashville, TN @ Schermerhorn Symphony Center w/The Nashville Symphony

Nashville, TN @ Schermerhorn Symphony Center w/The Nashville Symphony

Nashville, TN @ Schermerhorn Symphony Center w/The Nashville Symphony

Cleveland, OH @ State Theatre

Ithaca, NY @ State Theatre of Ithaca

Utica, NY @ Stanley Theatre

Chicago, IL @ Orchestra Hall

Rockford, IL @ Coronado Theatre

Bloomington, IL @ Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts

Morristown, NJ @ Mayo PAC

Princeton, NJ @ McCarter Theatre Center

Cincinnati, OH @ Music Hall w/The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Cincinnati, OH @ Music Hall w/The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Cincinnati, OH @ Music Hall w/The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra

Stamford, CT @ Palace Theatre

Washington, DC @ Kennedy Center w/The National Symphony Orchestra Pops

Washington, DC @ Kennedy Center w/The National Symphony Orchestra Pops

Washington, DC @ Kennedy Center w/The National Symphony Orchestra Pops

Norfolk, VA @ Harrison Opera House


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.