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Members include DerekBell (born in 1935 in Belfast, Ireland; died October 17, 2002; joined group, 1974), harp, timpan, dulcimer, harpsichord, synthesizer, organ, piano, keyboard, oboe; Kevin Conneff (born on January 8, 1945, in Dublin, Ireland), bodhran, Chinese gong, percussion, lilting, vocals; MartinFay (born c. 1937 in Dublin, Ireland), fiddle, bones; SeanKeane (born on July 12, 1946, in Dublin, Ireland; joined group, c. 1980), fiddle, tin whistle; PaddyMoloney (born on August 1, 1938, in Donnycarney, Dublin, Ireland), uilleann pipes, bodhran, tin whistle; PeadarMercier (born in 1914 in Cork, Ireland; group member, 1967-75), bodhran, bones; MattMolloy (born on January 12, 1947, in Ballaghaderreen, Roscommon, Ireland; joined group, c. 1979), flute, tin whistle; SeanPotts (born in 1930 in Dublin, Ireland; group member, 1964-78), tin whistle, bones, bodhran; MichaelTubridy(born in 1935 in Kilrush, Clare, Ireland; group member, 1964-c. 1980), flute, concertina, tin whistle. Addresses: Record company--RCA Victor, 1540 Broadway, Times Square, New York, NY 10036, website: http://www.rcaredseal-rcavictor.com/index.jsp.
In the early 1950s, Irish music wasn't even popular in Ireland. When a young Paddy Moloney began learning traditional music, his Dublin neighbors found it quite odd. At the time, according to St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch contributor Jay Walljasper, Irish kids were learning American and British pop music and trying to play guitars and saxophones; it seemed that only old people cared about the national music. Back then a large festival of traditional music would attract only a few hundred participants. Fortunately for Moloney, however, what seemed to be the end of Irish folk music was actually the beginning of a revival, and he was in the middle of it. Decades later, as the leader of the Chieftains, he still is. More precisely, Moloney and the Chieftains are unquestionably its leading artists.
"As ambassadors for traditional Irish music, the Chieftains are without peer," stated Rick Mason in the Pioneer Press. "And although their rabid following is still considered cultish ... it is devoted and widespread. Folk music isn't supposed to be this popular." Performing together since the early 1960s, the Chieftains have built a following that spans the musical spectrum; pop, rock, folk, and classical music critics alike rave about their albums and performances and their collaborators have ranged from traditional Chinese ensembles to classical flutist James Galway and rocker Elvis Costello. They are praised for both their musical skills, which Mason called "technically superb," and their live performances. "Sheer, unabashed virtuosity is the Chieftains' strongest selling point, whether they are piping hot or cool. When they take off together on a madcap reel or jig, the effect is electrifying," wrote Time. Mason echoed this sentiment: "Paddy Moloney and the boys are the quintessential Irish band: poignant, exuberant, playful, occasionally raucous and never taking themselves too seriously."
The Chieftains' virtuosity is enhanced by the individual talents of its members. According to Stephen Holden of the New York Times, Paddy Moloney is "the master of the bellows-blown instrument know as the uilleann pipes." Moloney is also an accomplished composer and the Chieftains' primary producer. Both harpist Derek Bell and fiddler Martin Fay are classically trained, and Sean Keane was an all-Ireland fiddle champion. All of the members of the band share in the musical arrangements. In Rolling Stone, Scott Isler noted that it is the band's credentials, as well as their arrangements, that "distinguish the Chieftains from [other] tradition-bound Irish groups."
Performed Together in Ceoltoiri Chualann
Before 1960, ensemble performances of Irish music were rare. Musicians played solo or in groups of two or three. Sean O Riada, a classically trained composer and performer, envisioned something different and formed Ceoltoiri Chualann, a sort of Irish folk orchestra. He was joined by several future Chieftains; Moloney, Fay, Sean Potts, Michael Tubridy, and Peadar Mercier. O Riada's experiment eventually became the norm and before long ensembles were common.
In 1963, Moloney, Tubridy, Potts, Fay, and David Fallon formed the Chieftains. Their name came from poet John Montague's work "Death of a Chieftain." Their first album--recorded on Dublin's Claddagh label in 1964--was an experiment. After it was completed the members of the band continued with their regular jobs, occasionally performing on evenings and weekends.
The ensemble hoped to do something new with Irish music. Although their pieces were classically arranged, the Chieftains played them only on traditional instruments: Tubridy on flute and concertina, Potts on tin whistle, Fay on fiddle, Fallon on bodhran (a goat-skin drum), and Moloney on tin whistle and uilleann pipes. "It was their goal to restore a music downgraded in the cities of Ireland, and to do so with only such instruments as would have been traditionally available," noted James Tarbox of the Pioneer Press. Another unusual aspect of the Chieftains' music was its blending of traditions. "The music of the Chieftains is an amalgam of two distinct Irish traditions: the single-voiced, unaccompanied pipe tunes of the folk people, and the richer, harmonized rustle of the Irish harp. It is the careful blending of the two that give the Chieftains their special sound," explained Time.
The success of the Chieftains' first album led Moloney to a job with Claddagh Records, where he produced dozens of albums. The Chieftains did not record a second album for five years. They did, however, continue to play together--with Ceoltoiri Chualann and as the Chieftains--and their audience grew. In 1970 Ceoltoiri Chualann disbanded, leaving Moloney and company more time to devote to the Chieftains. They had recorded their second album, The Chieftains 2, the previous year. This time Mercier joined them on bodhran and bones, and Keane joined as well. But even with a second album and the dissolution of their other ensemble, the Chieftains still held onto their day jobs.
The ensemble continued to record intermittently throughout the early 1970s and their roster grew. With The Chieftains 3, harpist Derek Bell became a permanent member. According to the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Bell became a "leading light in the band, with extrovert stage antics, patter as well as virtuosity." By this time traditional Irish music was becoming increasingly popular throughout the world and by mid-decade, the Chieftains were in high demand.
Became Full-Time Chieftains
The year 1975 proved to be a big year in the Chieftains' career. In January, they signed a managing contract with Jo Lustig, finally gave up their other jobs, added Ronnie McShane on bones, and generally began devoting more time to musical pursuits. The next album, The Chieftains 5, was their first released in the United States; its debut was followed by the ensemble's first United States tour. The Chieftains were no less popular on their own side of the Atlantic. Time reported that Britain's Melody Maker named them top group of the year--"for making unfashionable music fashionable"--and they sold out London's 8,000-seat Albert Hall twice. As if this weren't enough, the Chieftains capped the year by winning an Academy Award for their soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.
During the late 1970s, the Chieftains' following grew and their lineup changed. They continued to record for film and television and in 1979 performed in front of the largest audience ever assembled--1.2 million people plus 800 million watching on television--when Pope John Paul II visited Dublin. The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early, released in 1980 and nominated for a Grammy Award, marked substantial changes in the ensemble. For the first time a Chieftains album included vocals, provided by Kevin Conneff, who had earlier replaced Mercier on bodhran. By this time Tubridy and Potts had left the group and were replaced by Matt Molloy on flute and tin whistle.
By 1980, the Chieftains were firmly established as the best and best-known performers of traditional Irish music. "In importance and fame, the Chieftains are the Rolling Stones of their field,'' Rolling Stone's Isler wrote that year. Despite these lofty heights, however, the Chieftains began to expand their range, taking side trips into related fields. This direction was apparent in their 1981 release, The Chieftains 10: Cotton-Eyed Joe; Schaeffer described the title track in Irish Folk Music as "Texas meets the Chieftains."
Took Irish Music Around the World
As if Texas weren't far enough from Irish tradition, the Chieftains' next jaunt took them to China. In 1983 they became one of the first Western groups to perform in China and the first to play with a traditional Chinese folk orchestra. Rather than going to China to simply play Irish music, the Chieftains wanted to blend the Irish and Chinese musical traditions. At first Moloney was anxious about their ability to do this. "Before we left Ireland, I sent over some music for [the Chinese] to have a go at," he told Pioneer Press contributor Tarbox. "But I didn't know what would be going on until we got there. The Chinese have more than 200 traditional instruments, and any combination might be waiting for us." Much to his delight, Moloney discovered that the Chinese used the same musical system he used and that their instruments blended beautifully. During the tour, the Chieftains used their Irish instruments to create traditional Chinese sounds. Schaeffer noted that the Irish and Chinese instruments are similar in harmonies and that the "Chinese flavor gives a baroque mood to these selections."
The Chieftains' next production took them out of the Irish tradition again, but this time they remained within their musical family, exploring the music of their Celtic relatives in Brittany, a historical peninsular region of northwest France. The pieces performed on this album--Celtic Wedding--were taken from a collection assembled by Polig Monjarret and published in his Toniou Breizh-lzell(Traditional Tunes From Lower Brittany). Consumers' Research described the album as "fascinating ... spirited, [and] charming, though occasionally tinged with sadness." Later, in 1996's Santiago, the Chieftains reached out to a Spanish music with Irish roots, Galacia, to create yet another unique Irish album.
Collaborated with Pop Performers
As the Chieftains experimented with different musical traditions, they began working with an eclectic group of performers. Their fans and collaborators had long included many musical luminaries; Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Jackson Brown, the Rolling Stones, and Don Henley. In 1987, the group recorded and toured with Irish classical flutist James Galway, who set aside his usual fare of classical music and joined the Chieftains in their characteristic jigs, reels, and airs.
A year later they joined another famous Irish performer, pop singer Van Morrison, to record Irish Heartbeat. The album, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording, included both traditional Irish songs and original Morrison compositions. As David Browne wrote in Rolling Stone, Irish Heartbeat was a very natural, and even expected, merger of two of Ireland's most widely loved musical entities. "Yet even those expectations don't prepare one for the splendor and intense beauty of Irish Heartbeat, a collection of ballads that finds both acts at the top of their form."
The Chieftains collaborated with pop musicians again in 1991, this time on a Christmas album entitled The Bells of Dublin. Joining the group in this effort were Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Marianne Faithfull, Nanci Griffith, Rickie Lee Jones, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Northumbrian pipes player Kathryn Ticknell. And in 1995, the Chieftains released a work that harnessed the talents of Mick Jagger, Sting, Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor, among others. The Chieftains would continue to use famous musicians on their releases.
Continued to Win Awards
After two Grammy nominations in the 1980s--for The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early in 1980, and for Irish Heartbeat in 1988--the Chieftains finally received award recognition in the 1990s. They brought home six Grammys for various categories such as Best Contemporary Folk Album and Best Traditional Folk Album before the decade was up.
The Chieftains released more than 30 albums between the late 1960s and the early 2000s. With their release of Wide World Over in 2002, they celebrated 40 years of great Irish music. With studio work, world-famous live performances, and a continued career in soundtracks, the Chieftains popularity was hardy waning. "The Chieftains remain the world's premier Irish folk act," wrote Rolling Stone, "appealing to Celtic and folk fans as well as 'new age' and film audiences."
In 1997, the Chieftains' Paddy Maloney started a new world music label under the banner of BMG. Unisphere Records--as the new imprint was named--is owned 50 percent by BMG and 50 percent by Maloney and the co-managers of the Chieftains. The Chieftains's label, RCA Victor, is under the BMG head.
The rest of the band also continue to move out on their own successful projects. Individual members have put out a number of releases, as well as participated on releases with other musicians and bands and toured. Each member continues to receive individual acclaim and awards as extremely talented musicians. And as a result of the mix of talent of the Chieftains, the membership continually changes. Through it all, the Chieftains are, as said by Andy Smith in Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, "probably the best-known traditional Irish band on the planet," and one of the most respected.
by Megan Rubiner
The Chieftains's Career
Group formed in Dublin, Ireland, 1963; recorded first album, The Chieftains 1, on Claddagh, 1964; signed management contract with Jo Lustig, 1975; formed Unisphere Records with BMG, 1997; released Fire in the Kitchen, 1998; Chieftains . . . Claddagh Years and Tears of Stone, 1999;
The Chieftains's Awards
Academy Award for soundtrack to Barry Lyndon, 1976; Genie Award (Canada) for soundtrack to The Gray Fox, 1983; Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Folk Album for Another Country, 1992; Best Traditional Folk Album for An Irish Evening Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, 1992, and The Celtic Harp, 1993; Best Collaboration with Vocals (with Van Morrison) for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?, 1995; Best World Music Album for Santiago, 1996; Best Traditional Folk Album for Long Journey Home, 1998; Irish Music Magazine, Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000.
- Selected discography
- The Chieftains 1 , Shanachie, 1964.
- The Chieftains 2 , Shanachie, 1969.
- The Chieftains 3 , Shanachie, 1971.
- The Chieftains 4 , Shanachie, 1973.
- The Chieftains 5 , Shanachie, 1975.
- The Chieftains 6: Bonaparte's Retreat , Shanachie, 1976.
- The Chieftains 7 , Columbia, 1977.
- The Chieftains Live , Shanachie, 1977.
- The Chieftains 8 , CBS, 1978.
- The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early , Columbia, 1980.
- The Chieftains 10: Cotton-Eyed Joe , Shanachie, 1981.
- The Chieftains in China , Shanachie, 1985.
- Celtic Wedding: Music of Brittany Played by Irish Musicians , RCA, 1987.
- (With James Galway) James Galway and the Chieftains in Ireland , RCA Red Seal, 1987.
- (With Van Morrison) Irish Heartbeat , Mercury, 1988.
- A Chieftains Celebration , RCA, 1989.
- The Chieftains: "Reel Music" , RCA, 1991.
- (With Rickie Lee Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Elvis Costello, Nanci Griffith, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jackson Browne, Kathryn Ticknell, the Renaissance Singers, and Burgess Meredith) The Bells of Dublin , RCA, 1991.
- The Best of the Chieftains , Legacy, 1992.
- (With Roger Daltry and Nanci Griffith) The Chieftains: An Irish Evening--Live at the Grand Opera House, Belfast , RCA, 1992.
- Another Country , RCA Victor, 1992.
- An Irish Evening: Live at the Grand Opera House , RCA Victor, 1992.
- The Celtic Harp , RCA Victor, 1993.
- (With Mick Jagger, Sting, Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor) The Long Black Veil , RCA Victor, 1995.
- Film Cuts , RCA Victor, 1996.
- Santiago , RCA Victor, 1996.
- Fire in the Kitchen , RCA Victor, 1998.
- The Chieftains... Claddagh Years , RCA Victor, 1999.
- Tears of Stone , RCA Victor, 1999.
- Water from the Well , RCA Victor, 2000.
- The Chieftains... Claddagh Years Vol. 2 , RCA Victor, 2000.
- The World Wide Over: A 40 Year Celebration , RCA Victor, 2002.
- Film and television soundtracks
- Barry Lyndon: Music From the Soundtrack , Warner Bros., 1976.
- Year of the French , Shanachie, 1982.
- Ballad of the Irish Horse , Shanachie, 1985.
- The Grey Fox , DRG, 1983.
- (Contributor) Far and Away (includes "North America"), MCA, 1992.
- Baggelaar, Kristin, and Donald Milton, Folk Music: More Than a Song, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976.
- Clarke, Donald, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.
- Sandberg, Larry and Dick Weissman, The Folk Music Sourcebook, Knopf, 1976.
- Schaeffer, Deborah L., Irish Folk Music: A Selected Discography, Greenwood, 1989.
- Billboard, April 7, 1990; April 3, 1993; October 19, 1997.
- Consumers' Research, February 1988.
- Frets, January 1988; October 1988.
- Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, March 10, 1997.
- New York Times, March 19, 1988.
- Pulse!, December 1991.
- Rolling Stone, June 12, 1980; August 11, 1988; December 12, 1991.
- St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch, March 12, 1981; February 21, 1985; February 28, 1985; July 19, 1987; March 3, 1988; December 21, 1989.
- Time, January 12, 1976.
- Grammy.com, http://www.grammy.com (February 4, 2002).
- "The Chieftains," VH1.com, http://artists.vh1.com/vh1/artists/ (February 4, 2002).
- "The Chieftains Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/ (February 4, 2002).
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