Chieftains' call-up to an army of indie admirers


To celebrate their 50th year, The Chieftains decided to work with some credible new artists, So has Paddy Moloney taken
to wearing skinny jeans?

TO CELEBRATE 50 years of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney didn’t want the usual guest appearances by “Sting, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones”; he wanted to get down and dirty with today’s most cutting-edge bands. The Chieftains would go “indie”.

“To my huge surprise, all of these really cool bands had not only heard of The Chieftains but they said they were all huge fans of our work,” says the 74-year-old. “For us, we just do our own Irish trad thing, but to find out that you are in fact an inspiration on some of these newer big-name acts is quite something. We were getting in touch with acts such as Bon Iver and The Low Anthem to ask them to play on this album and they all were thrilled to be playing with us.

“Maybe The Chieftains are bigger than we actually think we are. Mumford and Sons were mad keen to get on to this album but there were scheduling problems there and they couldn’t make it.”

It’s not just the acclaimed independent bands who beat a track to The Chieftains’ studio door to play with them on the just-released Voice Of Ages. A bunch of alt-Americana acts, including The Civil Wars and Pistol Annies, were also happy to join the party, as were Paolo Nutini, Lisa Hannigan and Imelda May.

“Before, we had used really accomplished soloists or big superstar names like Van or The Stones,” says Moloney, “but we didn’t want to be looking backwards for our 50th anniversary, and we certainly didn’t want to push out a Greatest Hits collection. Having all these younger acts not just revitalised our sound but we learnt from them, as I hope they learnt from us.”

It’s not as if Paddy Moloney has taken to wearing skinny jeans and tweeting about Bon Iver – both sides meet each other halfway on the album and the results can be spectacular. Listening to Bon Iver do Down In The Willow Garden, The Low Anthem do School Days Overand The Decemberists do When The Ship Comes In, you understand why The Chieftains are currently cropping up on the sort of music blogs that traditionally would have ignored (or had disdain for) their music.

“Now I know that’s more because Bon Iver and The Low Anthem are on the album,” says Moloney, “but if it steers people towards us that’s a great thing. To be picking up a new audience in your 50th anniversary year is quite something.”

But whatever about how The Chieftains are regarded at home, the rock’n’rollers have always admired the band – right back to when they first started performing in the 1960s.

“All of those rockers who threw things out of windows always loved us,” he says. “Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant – they all got us and really appreciated what we did. Someone mentioned to Keith Richards the other week that both The Stones and The Chieftains are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year and Keith said, ‘Yeh, but remember, they’re six months older than us so we’re the younger band.’”

Perhaps the band’s biggest champion was the radio DJ John Peel. “John always played us on his radio programme. It would be The Beatles then The Chieftains then The Stones.” says Moloney. “He was great to us, got us some really vital gigs in the early days and he used to introduce us when we played festivals. We used to get mentioned in Melody Makerand those sort of publications – even though we played sitting down and wore suits.”

Ever since the actor Henry Winkler (aka The Fonz) approached Paddy Moloney in a Los Angeles bar with tears in his eyes saying how The Chieftains were his favourite band, members often have been surprised to discover who their fans are. There’s even a contribution from an astronaut live from the International Space Station on Voice Of Ages.

“One of the astronauts, Cady Coleman, is a big fan, and she borrowed a flute from Matt Molloy to take up into space with her,” he says. “I gave her a bunch of trad tunes to play and we have her on the album – live from space.”

You get the sense from talking to Moloney that he sees the real achievement of Voice Of Ages as a repositioning of the band as pure musicians. The “Irish trad” label has been pushed to the background.

“All my career I’ve been trying to get away from that shamrocky, diddley-aiddley view of real Irish trad music,” he says. “I remember playing my first St Patrick’s Day gig in the US and I just couldn’t believe how they went about the day over there – so over-the-top. I think this album shows what Irish trad music is really capable of.”

Voice Of Ages is out now. The Chieftains play the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin on May 29th.