“We’re not giving up” is being heard all over America in the political sphere in 2017, but it’s also a big theme in Irish music, as I suggested in last week’s column. Add Paddy Moloney to the list. Just when you thought he couldn’t have any energy left, he proves you wrong again. This month, Moloney and the Chieftains are setting out on their 55th anniversary tour—because who would give it up when you’re having as much fun as Moloney does?
The Chieftains really need no introduction, so I’ll give you the briefest of summaries: 55 years, 52 albums, six Grammys and, as Moloney said, “an Oscar to boot.” With a list like that, it’s no wonder the Chieftains are still going strong. In fact, Moloney confided, they’ve already been booked for 2018 as well. “We should be getting sense now and giving up,” he joked, “but it’s very difficult to stop when the buzz is out there.”
“Buzz” is an understatement. The Chieftains have fans all over the world—places very far from their Irish home base. China and Japan keep calling them back. Moloney was thrilled to tell me about a Japanese fan group called “The Lady Chieftains,” made up of five young Japanese women who have mastered fiddle, harp, flute, pipes and bodhran. Moloney has even invited the Lady Chieftains to perform with the original gentleman ones.
Regardless and in spite of the 55 years, the Chieftains are as young and current as ever. Moloney notices more and more young people in his audiences these days. Young scholars seek him out too—interviewing him for their master’s and doctoral dissertations in music. The head Chieftain regularly visits universities in Ireland, giving talks to students. He particularly likes to wow them with slides of the Chieftains with rock stars like the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Sting. Perhaps it’s all the time he spends with the younger generation, but Moloney and his band have managed to stay current and modern in terms of popular music. They’ve done collaborations with the Decembrists and Bon Iver, and Ed Sheeran (perhaps the hippest songwriter today) calls himself a Chieftains fan. What’s more, one of the newest honorary Chieftains in the show is Tara Breen, a young musician who finishes the performance off dramatically with a vibrant saxophone rendition of some Irish trad. For Moloney, age is no crutch—it’s a leg up for his legacy.
But the theme of this year is also looking back. The Chieftains 55th anniversary tour begins with a montage of images remembering highlights in the band’s career. The show looks back to the “Wild Dog Rose” album, for instance, a collaboration of poetry and music with poet John Montague, who passed away in December. “We owe our name to him,” Paddy said, the band having taken their title from Montague’s book, “Death of A Chieftain” (1964). Seamus Heaney and W.B. Yeats, two more of Ireland’s iconic poets, also feature in the Chieftains’ story: when Moloney’s not touring the world, he’s doing poetry readings in Ireland, like his recent gig at the Seamus Heaney Center in Belfast.
Moloney also mentioned, as part of the anniversary show’s review, one particularly harrowing and historical image. It features Paddy and Paul McCartney, taken by Linda McCartney, on the very day John Lennon was shot. I didn’t need this detail to prove it, but the photo demonstrates all the more how the Chieftains have become a pillar of 20th-century history. The Chieftains have even reached historical documentary status. Fans can look forward to PBS’s documentary on Moloney, to be released stateside sometime this year. The documentary will feature in the anniversary tour, although Paddy admits his wife really stole the screen.
Speaking of family star quality, Paddy won’t be the only Moloney generating a buzz in New York this year. His daughter, Aedín Moloney, who is the founder, producer and artistic director of the Fallen Angels Theatre Company, is working on a new show, having just finished a run of James Joyce’s “The Dead.” Appointed a Patron of the Arts in New York by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Aedín is racking up the accolades, just like her dad. Father and daughter will collaborate for her next project, a full audio recording of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy, also known as “Penelope” in Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The actress has enlisted her father to contribute some music for the show.
Moloney continues to find inspiration in his family. In fact, he told me he still works at composing, even at this stage of his career. His most recent original work is a piece called “Fionn,” written for his grandson, which he plans to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra this year. In true Chieftains fashion, the piece not only features traditional Irish music, but influences from African drums as well.
You can expect the same old ruckus and jubilence at this year’s Chieftains’ concerts, which will feature Moloney, Matt Molloy, Kevin Conneff, the Pilatzke brothers, as well as local dance troupes and choirs at each stop along the way. On March 3, 4 and 5, they will play Princeton, N.J., Flushing in Queens, New York City, and Newark, N.J., respectively. If you’re a lifelong Chieftains fan, this is one reminiscent recital you don’t want to miss.