In the world of Irish music, there is no bigger name than The Chieftains. For 52 years they have carried the standard for traditional Irish music and expanded what that means by collaborating with everyone from The Rolling Stones to Pavarotti.
In Part 1 of this two part interview held on Dec. 19, we spoke with Paddy Moloney about The Celtic Sessions, a week log musical holiday being held July 7-11 in Saratoga Springs, NY. In part 2, we spend some time chatting with Moloney about The Chieftains' entire body of work, focusing particularly on their frequent collaborations with a wide range of artists.
You guys have been on for 51 years now. That's impressive longevity! What have you guys been up to lately?
Last year was the big 50! We had two trips to Japan and two massive trips to the States. We went all over Europe and China. We're popular everywhere, thank God! Just two weeks ago everyone got their honorary doctorate from one of our big universities in Dublin, the Dublin Institute of Technology. We were so greatly honored.
Today, as we speak, the President of Mexico has visited Ireland, and he was presented three copies of the “San Patricio” album. It was lovely.
Wow. That's a real testament to your influence in Ireland!
I also recently put together a few songs for Nelson Mandela, who recently passed. Nelson Mandela used to be a huge fan of Irish music. He'd dance to it when he came here. I wrote a piece called “The Troublemaker's Jig” because he used to be called The Troublemaker. We played it today on the radio for the first time.
Another thing we've done, just this afternoon actually, was some more work with Chris Hadfield, the astronaut, who is also a great musician. We did a link up with him first while he was up in the International Space Station in February. We were in Houston with the Houston Symphony Orchestra and we did “Moondance” from Van Morrison, because we've got a long association with Van Morrison. That one can be got on Youtube.
Cady Coleman, an astronaut 2-3 years ago, took one some of our flutes and whistles up to space. And she is a great flute player and she sent down a tune, one of the tunes we gave her, Fanny Power, and we show that as part of our concerts and it became part of the “Voice of Ages” Album.
The trip to Asia was interesting too. We took the trip to China that I told you about. We played with all these Chinese musicians. We played some Chinese music and they played some Irish music. It was just great. The Irish dancers going down the Yangtzhee River! That was a sight to see. And same with Japan. We're more popular there than we ever have been and it's just been wonderful. Playing with the different styles of Japanese music and figuring out how it mixes.
How do you go about figuring out how to mix those styles of music?
That's my job, to figure out how the types of music works together. It's all visionary. I formed the band 52 years ago so I put all these projects and stuff together, which they trust me with most of the time. Not all the time! But most of the time! -laugh-
It starts to sound like name dropping, when you have so many people to name. Name dropping is one of the great and horrible things! But it all just happened. From Pavarotti to The Rolling Stones, and Sting and Van Morrison and so many. More recently, we played with a younger group The Von Trapps. They live in Connecticut now. They're the grandchildren of the Von Trapp family. One of the family is still with them, I think. They came to Dublin just two weeks ago and asked me to arrange two songs. We did “Wild Mountain Thyme” and one of their own songs, which I put an Irish flavor on. And they were just over the moon. They're all in their 20's and 30's and it was just a wonderful time. That just happened so the album isn't out yet.
We also spent some time in Cuba for the “Santiago” album. Which won us a Grammy. It was fun to mix up with all of the Cuban musicians. Three of the tracks from “Santiago” were recorded in Cuba. Later I went back to do a workshop, building bridges between musicians. And we met the big man himself, Mr. Castro! He threw a big party for us.
Anytime we go into a project, there's a purpose in it. We have a theme. But when we've recorded with many artists, like The Rolling Stones and Sting and all that, we recorded on their solo albums. I recorded on two of Paul McCartney's solo albums going back to 1972. I just hear the music and it makes sense.
So you just hear the flow?
I just hear the tune and I say “I can make an Irish tune of that, you know”. So much music has an Irish connection. It's all blended together. That's The Chieftains sounds. Some people like it some people don't. I'm sure we get a lot of questions about why we did this or that! I don't always accept offers, you know. It would amaze people the offers we turn down. They were people who were very well known but they just didn't fit in with the band.
You guys have done a lot of mixing of Irish and country music in your albums.
On some of our previous albums, specifically Another Country and the two Down the Old Plank Road album. And it's just like going to another part of Ireland, you know. You have Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas and Ricky Skaggs and it was just wonderful to hear the connections between Irish and American music.
I trace it back and identify the tunes as similar to what's in our repertoire as well and mixing the two. There's this fusion that's taking place, but it's been taking place all our lives, you know. Jeff White was a big part of that Down the Old Plank Road album in getting me in touch with Ricky Skaggs and some of the great country musicians.
For the whole country side of things, talking about Christmas and stuff like that. Trace Adkins, who is a terrific guy and a lovely singer. We were in Nashville and he asked if we'd come and do a song or two, he had a Christmas album coming out, so we did “Three Ships Sailing.”
We're always playing, we're always mixing, we're always conniving about! -laugh-
I hope I know the answer to this as a fan but I'll ask. 52 years in is there any talk of retiring?
I'm putting on now, you know! It's been a long road, a long musical journey. But I'm not stopping. We do try to calm it down a bit. But there's still that demand there for us to participate with other musicians. There's always something fun or someone doing something funny. It's always in my head and in my stomach and always in my heart!
My wife said about 10 years ago that “he's in rehearsals for retirement!” -laugh- We said this year in March when we finished up that we weren't going to do anymore but offers keep popping up, charity events and collaborations. Things that you have to be at and you have to do. I get itchy. I just get itchy if I hang about too long, you know. I still love to get up on that stage and play. I still have a ball!