Hail to the Chieftains

Paddy Moloney has been around the world more than once, but his tin whistles are another story: They've been to outer space. One went up on a space shuttle not long ago, and the other was on the International Space Station along with Ian Anderson's flute. “And,” he says, “Matt Molloy's flute.”

Moloney plays the whistle and Uilleann pipe in the Chieftains, a six-time Grammy Award-winning Celtic band. “The tin whistle,” he says, “is a good way to put across who you are and what you are in three minutes.” This year, the remaining Chieftains will celebrate their 50th anniversary as a band, and they plan to release their latest CD, Voice of Ages, made in collaboration with a slew of relative youngsters—including Bon Iver, the Decemberists, the Punch Brothers and Pistol Annies. Founding harpist Derek Bell died in 2002, fiddler Martin Fay threw in the towel shortly after, and Sean Keane won't travel anymore. But for Moloney, who is about to head out from his Florida home on another tour, his band is very much alive.

When I call, our conversation moves in torrents, with him pausing periodically to ask if he's going too fast.


Paddy Moloney: Well, listen Dave, we're looking forward to coming out to where you are. California is always just a joy to visit. . . . We'll have Cara Butler—they call her the Princess of Dance. She's the sister of Jean Butler of Riverdance. She was with us for seven years. We're going to have a pipe band, too, similar to the pipe band from San Patricio [an album of Mexican songs from 2009]. We couldn't bring the band up from Mexico, but oddly enough, they played with us in France last year.

OC Weekly: You've just answered my first two questions. But you know what I've always wondered? After 50 years in the business and all the stories you must have by now, why haven't you written a book?

You won't believe it—just 10 days ago, there was a girl in Ireland just dying to write it for me. I do have a lot of stories. You're right about the book; I've got to sit down and write the stories. Of course, there's already a book about the Chieftains, but there's not a book of my stories, like about Jack Nicholson and going up to his house and the like. [Giggles.] You can't believe.

We'll save that one for the book. Whose idea was the Voice of Ages collaboration?

T Bone [Burnett] brought a lot of these artists to the party. A lot of them I wasn't familiar with before the sessions. The Carolina Chocolate Drops? Oh, just amazing. I heard the singing, and I said they've got to be Irish. . . . A DVD, by the way, will be coming out with the album, some of it about the making of the album and the great fun we had doing it.

I've heard that The Chieftains—sometimes called The Chieftains 1 after the next several releases were numbered consecutively—was to be a one-off. What made you record No. 2?

[Laughs] We've been around since the '50s. It was '63 when we put that first album out. The first tune on it—I'll be playing it first on this tour. Well, the follow-up came about due to the response to the first album. I remember going to a party in 1966, and Brian Jones was there, and Peter Sellers was there wearing those social welfare glasses he had [giggles], and he had a drink in his hand, and they were playing The Chieftains. And I couldn't believe it. The first record kept selling more and more each year—odd for a traditional record with no distribution. I just sent them out myself. In 1969, I decided it was time to do a second one.

You turn 73 in August. You and my mother are the same age, and she's staying home these days and tending the roses. She's not planning any world tours, you know what I mean? Where do you find the energy?

Well, we did slow down there a couple of years ago. But I've been keeping busy with side projects and so on. This album, the 50th, to me, this is the 50th chapter in a great story. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll probably go down with my boots on. I've always said this was a boots-on job. [Laughs.]


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