Pioneering Irish musicians The Chieftains celebrate 57 years of music and memories with their Irish Goodbye tour in St. John’s this October
There are certain buzz words we writers use to boost profile or inflate importance, particularly when it comes to the world of entertainment. Icon, legend, maverick, trailblazer, pioneer. They can all be used to varying degrees of success in emphasizing just how much of an impact someone or something has had on culture or history.
There’s not enough superlatives to measure just how important The Chieftains have been to the lasting legacy and lineage of Irish and traditional music. The very foundations of Newfoundland’s music culture can be traced back to Dublin’s resident historians of the tunes that popularize every other watering hole across the island. And at 57 years, they’re still going strong.
Paddy Moloney has been there since day one. He has seen the rise, the eb and flow of the songs and sound of his home country. He has toured the world for nearing on six decades, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bob Dylan and Bill Clinton, collaborating with names you may recognize; Madonna, Art Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, Sting and Van Morrison.
They have won six Grammys and have been named as culturally significant and ambassadors to Irish culture by their home country. They have done all this in a career that has spanned, and surpassed, their contemporaries in just about every major genre or medium.
“We beat The Rolling Stones by six months,” Moloney joked of the group’s longevity in an interview with The Newfoundland Herald. “We were organized six months before they were. Keith Richards acknowledged that too in a documentary.”
Those early days were no picnic, Moloney shares. Manning the pipe, tin whistle, button accordion or bodhran wasn’t exactly in vogue in the 1960s.
“It wasn’t easy for us, let me tell you. I mean we were up against it. To be seen walking down the street in Dublin in 1961 or ‘62 with a fiddle or the pipes under your arm, you’d get a slagging from your friends, but now they’re looking for tickets to the concert.”
The now trio of Moloney, Kevin Conneff and Matt Molloy – who have performed together since the 1970s – return to Newfoundland and Labrador for two performances in St. John’s on October 26 and 27 at the Arts and Culture Centre. It’s a place Moloney is quick to compliment through various visits throughout the history of the band.
“I always remember my first visit there,” Moloney recalls. “I think it was way back in the ‘70s, standing up on the peninsula and looking out where the first cable went and saying, hello Ireland! I was invited back for dinner at one of the people’s house. That hospitality was so Irish it could have been another peninsula or it could have been another part of Ireland. It was just terrific and the hospitality was fantastic. And of course the accents, you felt totally at home, as if you were in Kilkenny.
“The great thing about it there is the appreciation,” he adds. “It’s like being in another town in the south of Ireland, Kerry or Cork. The appreciation for the music is just immense. I love Newfoundland artists, it’s just a brilliant place. I’d love to just retire there and forget about the rest of the world.”
‘The Irish Goodbye’
The tour titled ‘The Irish Goodbye’ has taken on a grander significance here on The Rock, with the addition of NL’s resident troubadour Alan Doyle.
“The Chieftains have long been heroes to me and many of the traditional musicians around Atlantic Canada,” Doyle shared with The Herald. “They hosted Great Big Sea on one of our first big U.S. tours in the late ‘90s that opened many doors for us. I’ll be forever grateful to them and honoured to be asked to sing with them again.”
At 81, Moloney jokes that the travel aspect of touring takes its toll. Planes, trains and hotel pains get the best of the most battle-tested road warriors. But as for a passion for performing, that remains unshaken.
“I’m getting on in years,” Moloney laughs. “It’s the hassle of travel, what you gotta go through at airports and hotels. But once I hit the boards, to be honest, I just come alive. I hope I do anyways. But it’s been working great for me over the last three or four years. The passion is great.”
Disputing the authenticity of the ‘Irish Goodbye’ tour moniker as being truly final, Moloney takes times to reflect on nearly 60 years of Chieftains memories. Returning to The Rock, to dedicated fans who have grown up and have been immersed in the sounds popularized by he and his ilk, is payment enough for the legendary artist.
“It’s that kind of stuff, the sort of dreams for me that have come true,” Moloney says proudly. “I just love it all. I still love it to this day.”
Tickets to The Chieftains and Alan Doyle at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s available at the box office, by phone and online at artsandculturecentre.com