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The Chieftains


Ireland's Musical Ambassadors
PLUS Biography (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2005).
PLUS Alternative 'Brief' Biography.

Sting, Mick Jagger, Sinead O'Connor, Tom Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Meryl Streep, Brenda Fricker - the list of participants on Chieftains albums down the years reads more like the roll call for some celebs' gathering than a session of Irish music.

The above mentioned are, however, just a few of the music and film industry names Chieftains founder and uilleann pipesmeister Paddy Moloney could drop were he to really get started listing the friends who have guested with, or requested the services of, Irish music's most distinguished assembly.

Paul McCartney was among the first musicians in the wider arena to recognise the Chieftains' special qualities when, as producer, he incorporated the group's sound into his brother Mike McGear's solo album in 1972. By the time they collaborated with Van Morrison on the hugely successful Irish Heartbeat in 1988, the Chieftains, it seemed, were everywhere - and their musical wanderings were only just getting started.

There was the Another Country album in 1992 with Chet Atkins, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris, a Christmas album the year before with Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, and if you want to get truly international, not to say exotic, how about Mongolians Huun Huur Tu, the Tokyo Philharmonic, or the Chinese folk orchestra which accompanied the Chieftains in 1983 in the first-ever performance by a music group on China's Great Wall?

With hardly a country on four continents left uncharmed by Moloney's blarney and the group's beautifully honed musicianship, small wonder that the Irish government, in 1989, officially named the Chieftains Ireland's Musical Ambassadors.

If Moloney had a wee chuckle to himself at that point, he had good reason because when he started to put the Chieftains together, people thought he was one reed short of a chanter. Moloney's idea was to take the music that was thriving in Dublin pubs in the 1950s out to the concert halls. "I was incredibly proud of what was happening and I wanted everyone to hear it," he recalls.

The original Chieftains line-up formed in 1962, when in view of his work with Ceoltoiri Chualann, the folk orchestra formed by the great Irish music champion Sean O Riada, Moloney was invited to make a record by Claddagh Records in Dublin. After rigorous rehearsals in Moloney's wife's long-suffering grandfather's house in Milltown, their first album appeared the following year.

Such was Moloney's dedication to getting the music just so, they didn't actually play in public until early 1964, at a reception following the RTE Golden Harp Competition in Dublin. The audience response was ecstatic, an experience they would get used to as Moloney's tireless dedication to presenting and promoting the music and a further album, Chieftains 2, released in 1969, established the Chieftains as the leading traditional music group in Ireland by the turn of the decade.

Despite the acclaim they were receiving, they were still semi-professional at this stage and Moloney recalls an appearance at Edinburgh Festival in 1968 when only four of the sextet secured time off work to travel. It wasn't until the mid 1970s and the success of the lingering Women of Ireland theme used in Stanley Kubrick's film Barry Lyndon that the group turned full-time - and they hardly seem to have stopped since, albeit with the odd change in personnel.

Barry Lyndon was also only the start of the group's involvement in film soundtracks. The Year of the French and Ballad of the Irish Horse followed in 1983 and 1985 respectively, followed by Three Wishes for Jamie, Tristan and Isolde, The Grey Fox and Treasure Island, which marked the beginning of Moloney's association with the flamboyant Galician piper Carlos Nunez in 1990.

Of the current sextet, only fiddlers Martin Fay and Sean Keane remain alongside Moloney from their time together in Ceoltoiri Chuallan. Derek Bell, already a professional musician with the BBC's Northern Ireland Orchestra, came on board in 1972 when he played the blind harper Turlough O Carolan in a performance of Carolan's Concerto in a joint venture with the BBC NIO and the Chieftains - and his madcap antics have been entertaining audiences ever since. Bodhran player and singer Kevin Conneff joined in 1976 as a replacement for Peadar Mercier and master flautist Matt Molloy joined in 1979, having already established himself with the Bothy Band.

This settled line-up has given the group continuity and has allowed Moloney free rein to follow his sense of musical adventure. Breton music, which has fascinated him since the early 1960s when he made his first trip abroad there, and the music of the Isle of Man began to seep into the Chieftains' repertoire as early as the Chieftains 10.

The Celtic Wedding, recorded in 1987, saw the influences broadening to include more Celtic countries and more musical styles until with the Spanish odyssey Santiago (1996) and Tears of Stone, released in 1999 and featuring collaborations with singers including Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell and Canadian jazz chanteuse Diana Krall, long-time observers began to wonder when they might hear another Irish Chieftains album.

Moloney was unrepentant about his eclecticism - although what the Chieftains' wives might have had to say when they discovered their husbands had been recording with Frank Zappa, one of whose songs famously described the medical risks involved in dating Catholic girls, hasn't been documented.

Besides, with the Water from the Well album, released just a year after Tears of Stone in March 2000, the Chieftains were able to confirm that they still had their own music's best interests at heart, with each member choosing music from his home town as a tribute to his traditional roots and guests this time including such Irish music stalwarts and treasures as Altan, Dubliners banjo player Barney McKenna, sean-nos singer Ciaran O Gealbhain, and the legendary Kilfenora Ceili Band.

With Grammys, including one for Best Pop Collaboration for their version of Have I Told You Lately That I Love You recorded with Van Morrison on The Long Black Veil, and gold discs galore, the Chieftains' lofty position in Irish music has long been assured. That doesn't mean they feel they can rest on their laurels, however. Their love of music and performing remains undimmed and with Moloney's indefatigable energy pushing them ever onwards, they work hard to ensure value for money in their concerts with only slight alterations to their original concept.

"We put in a little bit of showbiz, because we're entertainers now and we have to put on a show," says Paddy Moloney. "But there's always lots of good solid traditional music because that's what we've always been about."


The original traditional Irish folk band, as far as anyone who came of age in the 1970s or 1980s is concerned, is the Chieftains. Their sound, built largely on Paddy Moloney's pipes, is otherworldly, almost entirely instrumental, and seems as though it comes out of another age of man's history. That they became an international phenomenon in the '70s and '80s is testament to their virtuoso musicianship.

The Chieftains were first formed in Dublin during 1963, as a semi-professional outfit, from the ranks of the top folk musicians in Ireland. Until that time, and for some years after, the world's (and even Ireland's) perception of Irish folk songs was rooted in either the good-natured boisterousness and topicality of acts such as the Irish Rovers or Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers, or the sentimentality of Mary O'Hara. That began to change in Ireland with the advent of Ceoltoiri Cualann, a group formed from the ranks of the best traditional Irish musicians by a composer named Sean � Riada, who hailed from County Cork. Ceoltoiri Cualann, which specialized in instrumental music, stripped away the pop music inflections from Irish music -- the dances were played with a natural lilt and abandon that came from deep within the music's origins, and the airs, stripped of their worst modern inflections, came across with even greater poignancy than anyone had recognized them for in decades, and perhaps centuries. Tempos were changed in midsong, from reel to polka to jig to slow air and back again.

Paddy Moloney came out of Ceoltoiri Cualann to found the Chieftains in 1963, seeking to carry this work several steps further. The earliest recorded incarnation of the group consisted of Moloney (pipes), Sean Potts (tin whistle), Martin Fay (fiddle), David Fallon (bodhran), Mick Tubridy (flute, concertina), and � Riada. They were a success virtually from the beginning, their music weaving a spell around audiences in Ireland and later in England, where they quickly became popular as both a performing and recording act -- the only thing holding them back was the decision by the members to remain a semi-professional, part-time ensemble until the early '70s. Their first four albums, spread over a period from 1965 through 1973, were originally available only from the Claddagh label in Ireland, but were later picked up by Island Records for release in England and America in 1976, after the group had achieved international renown.

The 1970s saw the group break big in America. A new, younger generation of Irish-American listeners, who enjoyed folk music and whose cultural and musical tastes weren't limited to songs about "the troubles" (i.e., England), had already begun discovering the Chieftains' music in the early to mid-'70s. By that time, the group had elected to go professional, and to expand its lineup. � Riada and Fallon left after the first album, and Peadar Mercier (bodhran) and Sean Keane (fiddle) joined with the second. Following the recording of Chieftains 4, they'd added Ronnie McShane (percussion) and Derek Bell (harp, oboe, timpan), a classically trained musician. Bell's harp lent the group's sound a final degree of elegance and piquancy.

The group's big breakthrough in America, however, occurred when they provided the music for Stanley Kubrick's 1975 movie, Barry Lyndon. The film itself wasn't a hit, but the Chieftains were, especially one track called "Women of Ireland," which began getting played heavily on FM progressive rock stations, and even managed to get onto the play lists of some Top 40 stations. Suddenly, the Chieftains were hot in America, and a U.S. tour and a series of performances on television -- especially the network morning news/feature shows -- brought them into demand.

By that time, Island Records had contracted to release both the group's latest album, Chieftains 5, and their four previous records in England and America. With their newfound audience, Chieftains records started coming out every year instead of every two or three years -- Bonaparte's Retreat in 1976, Chieftains Live in 1977, and Chieftains 7, 8, and 9 in 1978, 1979, and 1980, respectively, although for their U.S. releases, from 1977 through 1980, they abandoned Island Records in favor of Columbia Records. Ever since the dawn of the CD era, their music has been available on compact disc from Shanachie Records, while their more recent work has shown up on the BMG label, on both compact disc and home video. The latter have included a Christmas concert and a mixed-ensemble performance interweaving the group with orchestras, American folk and country musicians, and rock musicians, and an album (Irish Heartbeat, 1988) recorded with Irish-born R&B shouter Van Morrison. Additionally, the group has been engaged steadily for film work.

Since the late '70s, the group's recordings have settled into an effective but not fully inspired level of creativity. The band has kept its sound fresh with the periodic addition of new members and a search for sounds beyond the boundaries of Ireland -- as distant as Spain -- as sources for its music.

In 2003, long time harp player Derek Bell passed away while on tour in Phoenix, AZ. The group, who continue to play and record, released a tribute in 2005 called Live in Dublin.

The Chieftains Brief Bio:

With a career that spans four decades and 40 albums, The Chieftains are not only Ireland�s premier musical ambassadors but also the most enduring and influential creative force in establishing the international appeal of Celtic music.
Paddy Moloney, the group�s founder and front man, first brought together a group of local musicians in Dublin in 1962, fashioning an authentic instrumental sound that stood in sharp contrast to the slick commercial output of most Irish music at the time. The group�s first four albums, recorded between 1963 and 1974, established their worldwide reputation as being exceptional musicians. In 1975 The Chieftains recorded the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick�s Barry Lyndon, featuring the hit single �Women Of Ireland,� for which they won an Academy Award.
In 1988 they joined forces with fellow countryman Van Morrison on Irish Heartbeat, which began a historic series of collaborations including recordings with James Galway, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Sting, Tom Jones, Sin�ad � Connor, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, Ry Cooder and many others. They also continued their acclaimed soundtracks on such films as Treasure Island, Tristan And Isolde, The Grey Fox and Far and Away.
In 1992 The Chieftains recorded the double Grammy-winning Another Country, with performances by such country and bluegrass stars as Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins and Don Williams. They returned to Nashville in 2002 for Down The Old Plank Road, their 40th album, featuring such special guests as Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Earl Scruggs, Alison Krauss, Martina McBride and others. Six-time Grammy winners and 18-time Grammy nominees, The Chieftains maintain an international touring schedule that has brought them before millions of fans.
The current lineup of The Chieftans includes: Paddy Moloney, Uileann Pipes & Tin Whistle; Kevin Conneff, Bodhran & Vocals; Sean Keane, Fiddle and Matt Molloy, Flute.

The Chieftains is an Irish musical group founded in 1962, known for performing and popularizing Irish traditional music. The band has recorded many albums of instrumental Irish folk music, as well as multiple collaborations with popular musicians of many genres, including Country music, Galician traditional music, Cape Breton and Newfoundland music, and rock and roll. They have performed with Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Tom Jones, Sin�ad O'Connor, James Galway, and numerous Country-western artists. In 1975, the group won an Academy Award for Women of Ireland from Stanley Kubrick's movie Barry Lyndon.
They have won six Grammy Awards and have been nominated eighteen times. In 2002 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the UK's BBC Radio 2.
While the band's members changed numerous times in the band's early history, the membership solidified in 1976 when Kevin Conneff replaced Peadar Mercier. From then until 2002, members included:
_ Paddy Moloney (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, button accordion, bodhr�n)
_ Matt Molloy (flute, tin whistle)
_ Kevin Conneff (bodhr�n, vocals)
_ Se�n Keane (fiddle, tin whistle)
_ Martin Fay (fiddle, bones)
_ Derek Bell (Irish harp, keyboard instruments, oboe)
In 2002, Fay retired from active membership and Bell passed away.
Other former members include:
_ David Fallon (bodhr�n)
_ Ronnie McShane (pecussion)
_ Peadar Mercier (bodhr�n, bones)
_ Sean � Riada (fiddle)
_ Se�n Potts (tin whistle, bones, bodhr�n)
_ Michael Tubridy (flute, concertina, and tin whistle)

You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.




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