Paddy Moloney: Founder of Chieftains who helped revive Irish music


Paddy Moloney, who helped revive traditional Irish music as the founder and guiding force of the Chieftains, a largely instrumental ensemble that resurrected jigs, reels, arias and ballads forgotten in nearly six decades of concerts and recordings, has died at the age of 83.

Moloney formed the Chieftains in 1962, using a name inspired by Irish poet John Montague. The group has recorded more than three dozen albums, won six Grammy Awards, and performed inside the United States Capitol and atop the Great Wall of China. When Pope John Paul II visited Dublin in 1979, the Chieftains opened for him in Phoenix Park, playing for an audience of 1.35 million people, described as the largest in history.

Alternately dark, militant, cheerful and exuberant, the group has stayed close to their traditional roots, even collaborating with artists such as the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Luciano Pavarotti and Sinead O’Connor. The Irish singer performed on one of their most famous songs, a sad version of “The Foggy Dew” which appeared on the 1995 album. The long black veil, which has sold over half a million copies in the United States.

“They did not just preserve the musical past but reinvent it”, New York Times music critic Stephen Holden wrote in 1981. “Their core ensemble … plays with the exquisite precision of a classic chamber ensemble.” Derek Jewell, music critic for Sunday Times, instead compared them to the big band of Duke Ellington, noting that the two groups served as happy musical ambassadors for their home countries, left room for improvisation and sometimes refreshed their sound by adding new members.

Although the composition has changed, the Chieftains have come to include famous musicians such as Martin Fay and Sean Keane on violin, Derek Bell on harp, Matt Molloy on flute and Kevin Conneff on vocals and bodhran, a traditional drum with a head in goatskin. Moloney has remained a constant, playing the tin whistle and uilleann pipes – a milder cousin of the Great Highland bagpipes – in addition to writing and arranging the band’s music.

“Without someone like Paddy Moloney, where would traditional music be? Traditional music was in danger of disappearing, and now it has never been so healthy, ”said Liam O’Connor, director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. He noted that Moloney was an innovative arranger, incorporating harmonies into a musical tradition much better known for its melodies, and said that Moloney sometimes relied on 18th century manuscripts to recreate songs that had not been played. for 100 years or more.

Moloney started making music at the age of six, after spotting a whistle in a shop window


“It turned out that this music was as relevant and popular as ever. It just needed a broadcast. Paraphrasing Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, he added: “All songs are living ghosts, waiting for a living voice. “

Paddy Moloney was born in Dublin on August 1, 1938 and grew up in Donnycarney, north of the city. Her father was a clerk at the Catholic parish church and her mother was a housewife. He spent his summers on his grandparents’ farm in the village of Ballyfin, where the evening evenings were punctuated by his grandfather’s flute or a neighbor’s violin.

Moloney started making music at the age of six, after spotting a whistle in a shop window as he walked with his mother on Christmas Eve. “I said, ‘Mum, come on, it’s only one shilling and nine pence,'” he told the Boston Globe Last year. “It was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever had.”

In less than two years he was studying with uilleann bagpipe master Leo Rowsome, immersing himself in a declining musical tradition. Moloney later credited Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers with sparking a revival of mainstream music in the late 1950s and 1960s, although he noted that even in Ireland, “the country western was the big thing. “.

“I’ve always thought, ‘Damn, this music deserves the same. “I want to play at Carnegie Hall and at Albert Hall,” he said. The New York Times in 2012. “I had great faith in him and in what I was doing with music at the time. “

Moloney playing the uilleann pipes on a TV show in 1976


To support himself, he worked as a part-time accountant. He performed in Ceoltoiri Chualann, a traditional Irish group led by Sean O Riada, before launching his own group with encouragement from Garech Browne, a heir to the Guinness brewery who co-founded the traditional music company Claddagh Records.

The label released the Chieftains’ self-titled debut album in 1964 and was run for seven years by Moloney, who produced albums while continuing to perform with his band. He and his band mates were still working, but he rejected the record company’s suggestions that he would turn the band into a Celtic rock band with drums and guitar. “Some of us were setting up telephone poles, others were civil servants and engineers,” he recalls. “We were just biding our time.”

The group became a full-time group in 1975, after appearing on the soundtrack of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s period film. Barry lyndon. They gave a sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall in London, signed a recording contract with Island and were named Group of the Year by the British group. Melody maker magazine, which praised them “for bringing old-fashioned music into fashion.”

“If it hadn’t been for the Chieftains, the truth about Irish music might have remained a well-kept American secret,” Nancy Lyon wrote in an article that year for The New York Times. She added that ‘wild jigs and reels, playful hornpipes and raucous slides’ helped dispel the myth that Irish music was little more than songs like ‘MacNamara’s Band’ and ‘Danny Boy’.

Moloney and his band were appointed official Musical Ambassadors of the Republic of Ireland in 1989, at a time when they sought to connect traditional Irish songs with other musical traditions. “Playing in China or Japan, they don’t understand a word of the garbage I’m going to throw at them,” he once said. The Washington Post, “But when we start playing people realize that you don’t have to be Irish to appreciate or understand Irish music and that’s the main thing.”

Survivors include his wife, Rita O’Reilly; and three children, Aonghus, Padraig and Aedin.

In addition to their more traditional albums, the Chieftains have teamed up with Belfast-born Van Morrison to record Irish heartbeat (1988) and worked with country singers such as Ricky Skaggs on Another country (1992), which featured a violin cover of “Cotton-Eyed Joe”. Their latest studio album, Voices of the ages (2012), included a contribution by flautist and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who took Molloy’s flute and Moloney’s whistle aboard the International Space Station to record part of “The Chieftains in Orbit”.

“It’s the music that belongs to you, it’s who you are and what you are,” Moloney said. The Washington Post in 2002, describing the musical tradition that shaped his career. “You have received this divine gift of being able to play for people and make them happy. And that has been our mission in life.

Paddy Moloney, musician, born August 1, 1938, died October 11, 2021

© The Washington Post


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