By Bernie Brian
They have been together for 41 years, have released 27 albums since 1964 and have played with everybody from the Rolling Stones to the pope. (It may disappoint Rolling Stones followers to know that the pope attracted over 1 million more fans.) Now the Chieftains return to Australia for the 10th time since their first tour in 1975.
Recently I somewhat nervously rang the band's founder and uillean pipe player, Paddy Moloney, at his home in Dublin. My nervousness subsided very quickly into the conversation with an extremely friendly and talkative musician.
In the most gentle of Irish tones, Paddy explained that the Chieftains were probably the first band to popularise traditional Irish to world audiences, although "we do have our own peculiar and unique way of putting it across. We project the music and let it speak for itself — it's so strong and melodic."
Last year the Chieftains released their Grammy Award-
winning album Another Country. This collaboration with some of the best known country artists in the United States — Emmy Lou Harris, Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins — celebrates the links between US country music and Irish traditional music.
The music was bought to US shores in the 19th century by the millions fleeing poverty and famine in Ireland. This cultural link is a theme that Paddy Moloney has been investigating for some 30 years. The album features some memorable music, including a unique version of the Elvis Presley classic "Heartbreak Hotel".
Moloney spoke of the "tremendous joy" generated when the final track on Another Country, which is basically an all-in jam session, was recorded. "We were all in the studio and it was like a big party, with Emmy Lou clog dancing through the whole set."
The secret of the Chieftains' longevity seems to be their ability to mix it with all types of music. They have performed and recorded albums with classical musicians like James Galway as well rock musicians like Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful and Van Morrison. Frank Zappa has urged all rock musicians to sit down and listen to them because of the inspiration their music brings to the listener.
Irish Heartbeat, with Van Morrison, must be one of the most beautiful Irish albums ever recorded — an album, Paddy Moloney informs me, that finally came together in true James Joyce fashion after a walk around Dublin's famous park, St Stephen's Green. Their next album will feature a track with Mark Knopfler and another with Tom Jones.
With the Chieftains' interest in stretching the boundaries of their music, I was interested to find out if they had heard the recently released Australian-Irish collaborative album, Reconciliation, which combines the didgeridoo with bronze age Irish horns to create remarkable sounds. However, the Chieftains are pioneers: Moloney informed me that he had used the didgeridoo about 10 years ago on the album A Chieftains Celebration and on the soundtrack to the Charlton Heston film, Treasure Island.
"The Chieftains are on a high at the moment; with five Grammy nominations we must be doing something right", Moloney told me. " Our concerts in Australia will concentrate on recent material, but every so often we will pull a little rabbit out of the hat by playing some of our music from the last 40 years. It's very much a fun show with plenty of music, song and dancing."
Besides Moloney, the Chieftains consist of the two classically trained fiddle players, Martin Fay and Sean Keane; singer and bodhran player Kevin Conneff; Matt Molloy, who began playing the flute at age three; and Derek Bell, the keyboard and harp player, who in his spare time plays in symphony orchestras.
The tour dates are: Tues June 15, Llewellyn Hall (School of Music), Canberra; Wed June 16, Enmore Theatre, Sydney; Fri June 18, Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane; Sun June 20, Victorian Arts Centre,
Melbourne; Tues June 22, Concert Hall, Perth.