Paddy Moloney: founder of the Chieftains who helped revive Irish music

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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, tunes and ballads forgotten over nearly six decades of concerts and recordings, 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 at Phoenix Park, playing to an audience of 1.35 million, described as the largest in history.

Alternately dark, militant, joyful and exuberant, the group has remained close to its traditional roots, while collaborating with artists such as the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Luciano Pavarotti and Sinead O’Connor. The Irish singer sang on one of their best-known songs, a mournful version of “The Foggy Dew” which featured on the 1995 album. The long black veilwhich has sold over half a million copies in the United States.

“They didn’t just preserve the musical past but reinvented it”, New York Times music critic Stephen Holden wrote in 1981. “Their core set…plays with the exquisite precision of a classical chamber ensemble.” Derek Jewell, music critic for The Sunday Timesinstead compared them to Duke Ellington’s big band, noting that both bands served as cheerful musical ambassadors for their home countries, left room for improvisation, and occasionally refreshed their sound by adding new members.

Although the lineup has changed, the Chieftains have come to include famous musicians such as Martin Fay and Sean Keane on fiddle, Derek Bell on harp, Matt Molloy on flute and Kevin Conneff on vocals and the bodhran, a traditional drum with goatskin. Moloney remained a constant, playing the flute and the uilleann flute – a softer 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 wholesome,” 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 drew inspiration from 18th-century manuscripts to recreate songs that hadn’t been played since. 100 years or more.

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

(Getty)

“It turned out that this music was more relevant and popular than ever. It just needed airing. 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, in the north of the city. Her father was a clerk at the Catholic parish church and her mother was a homemaker. He spent his summers on his grandparents’ farm in the village of Ballyfin, where late-night parties were accompanied by his grandfather’s flute or a neighbour’s fiddle.

Moloney started making music at the age of six, after spotting a tin whistle in a store window while out for a walk with his mother on Christmas Eve. “I said, ‘Mum, come on, it’s only a shilling and ninepence,'” he told the boston globe Last year. “It was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received.”

Within 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 traditional music in the late 1950s and 60s, although he noted that even in Ireland “country-western was the big business “.

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

Moloney playing the uilleann flute on a TV show in 1976

(Redferns)

To support himself, he worked as an accountant, performing part-time. He played in Ceoltoiri Chualann, an Irish traditional band led by Sean O Riada, before starting his own band with the encouragement of Garech Browne, a Guinness brewery heir who co-founded traditional music company Claddagh Records.

The label released the Chieftains’ self-titled debut album in 1964 and was managed for seven years by Moloney, who produced albums while continuing to perform with his band. He and his bandmates were still working day shifts, but he rejected suggestions from record companies to turn the band into a Celtic rock band with drums and guitars. “Some of us were installing telephone poles, others were civil servants and engineers,” he recalls. “We were just biding our time.”

The band became a full-time band in 1975, after appearing on the Oscar-winning soundtrack to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s period drama. Barry Lyndon. They performed a sold-out show at London’s Royal Albert Hall, signed a record deal with Island and were named Britain’s band of the year. melody maker magazine, which praised them “for making old-fashioned music fashionable”.

“If it hadn’t been for the Chieftains, the truth about Irish music might have remained a closely guarded secret to Americans,” Nancy Lyon wrote in an article that year for The New York Times. She added that the band’s “wild jigs and reels, sly bagpipes and loud 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 link 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 dump on 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 native 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, voice of the ages (2012), included a contribution from 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 gift from God to be 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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