The Legendary Cheiftains Return to Toronto To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Cover March 11, 2011

By Sandy Graham

When it was announced that The Cheiftains would be making a one night appearance in Toronto (and their only stop in Canada on a whirlwind tour of North America) Cashbox Canada made every effort to get a one on one with the legendary celtic music maestro himself, and Patrick Moloney did not disappoint us.

When I first called the hotel to speak to ‘Paddy’ as he is known amongst his friends and fans, I was delighted to hear a down to earth, friendly voice that obviously still loves every minute of still making music.

‘I grew up in what was called kitchen parties, or house parties. A typical Irish family would gather in the the kitchen in our cottage and bring out all the instruments on a Saturday night to dance and play.  The first instrument I ever played was a plastic tin whistle my Mum bought  when I was around 6 years old. It cost a shilling and a pence. By the age of eight, I was learning to play the uilleann pipes from the great pipe master, Leo Rowsome.  I My Uncle was a huge musical influence on me as were the neighbours and family who all would play at the house. The standard songs were just part of growing up, and it became something we felt we had to show the world what traditional Irish music was all about. It was all just great fun, but it had a huge influence on me.”  Patrick has always had a love of traditional music which he received from his parents who had a strong sense musical traditions from their native County Laois. His grandfather was a flute player and his uncle belonged to the Ballyfin Pipe Band.  

Patrick Moloney is the leader of The Chieftains, and is the only one of the original remaining musicians. For his work with The Chieftains and spreading Irish music throughout the world, Paddy Moloney was awarded an honorary doctorate degree of music from Trinity College, Dublin in 1988, the city of his  birth. With so many different awards throughout the years, this was one that had a sentimental and poignant meaning to the man. ‘It was like coming full circle, I have been awarded many honours over the years, but when you come back to your birthplace, and receive something like this, it makes you realize how important the music of The Chieftains has been over the decades. We will be celebrating our 50th anniversary next year, and it is a humbling thing to know we have influenced so many other artists of Irish descent to follow their dream. We always try to help new artists find their way in this business.” 

Paddy MoloneyPaddy MoloneyOne little known fact in North America is that Paddy Moloney actually worked for a record label Claddagh Records. In seven years, he managed to establish Claddagh's catalog and a market for it. During his time at Claddagh, he either produced, co-produced or supervised 45 albums for the Claddagh label in folk, traditional, classical, poetry and spoken word recordings. The artists he helped bring to the public include Paddy Taylor, Máire Ní Donnachadha, Seán Mac Donncha, Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford, Sarah and Rita Keane, and Tommy Potts. The writers he worked with included the likes of Seámus Heaney, John Montague, Thomas Kinsella, and several others. When Moloney left Claddagh in 1975, the label had a wide and diverse catalogue. “It was a great time for music. I went to the label when it had very few artists and by the end there was a large roster of artists, and it was well established. A huge influence in my life was the folk music that was popular at the time. Sandy Denney, Leo Roster, the ballad makers of that era had an enormous effect on me.”

The other musical history of this act was in the 1970’s The Cheiftains were signed to Island Records, the brainchild of Chris Blackwell, a label founded in Jamaica, partially financed by RKO

And housed in the U.K. The Chieftains were label mates to such rock acts as Bob Marley, Robert Palmer, Fairport Convention, and Tom Waits to name a few. The Cheiftains were certainly housed with legendary greats on this unique label, with the name Island taken from the hit song by Harry Belafonte ‘Island In the Sun’. (Later on the catalogue was sold Polygram and then eventually to Universal Music Group).

This one of a kind act has crossed over with so many rock stars, performing with Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, which  many Irish acts would never have had to courage to do when they were already on top of their game.  This recent tour has seen the act book over 20 dates in less than a six week span “The U.S. tour has been an enormous undertaking, combining special guests, pipe bands, dancers, this has been the tradition of The Chieftains as well.  We never have an opening act, we always invite artists on stage with us, so it turns into a traditional cèilidh. That is the tradition of The Chieftains.”

The group has won six Grammy Awards and have been nominated eighteen times. They have also won an Emmy and a Genie and in 2002 they were given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the UK's BBC Radio 2. Dr Gearoid O hAllmhurain [2] said the success of The Chieftains has helped to place Irish traditional music on a par with other musical genres in the world of popular entertainment. By collaborating with pop and rock musicians, they have taken Irish music to a much wider audience. They have become, in effect, musical ambassadors for Ireland. This de facto role was officially recognized by the Irish Government in 1989 when it awarded the group the honorary title of Ireland's Musical Ambassadors. It's a role they have performed with great enthusiasm. They played for The Pope and an audience of more than one million people in 1979 in Phoenix Park in Dublin in a concert to mark the Papal visit to Ireland. On January 27th, 2011, Paddy Moloney was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement in music from The National Arts Club in New York.

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, The Chieftains will be appearing in Toronto for one Canadian date only on March 17th at the prestigious Roy Thomson Hall.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh (law aila pawdrig suna deeve) – Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!