Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



One of the most influential and long-lived of Irish folk bands. Original personnel: Paddy Moloney, Uilleann pipes, tin whistle; Michael Tubridy, flute, concertina, tin whistle; Seán Potts (b 5 October 1930, Dublin; d there 11 February 2014), tin whistle; Martin Fay, fiddle (b 19 September 1936; d 14 November 2012); David Fallon, bodhrán. Bill Meek's book Paddy Moloney And The Chieftains '87 tells their story to that point; Mick Moloney's notes The Best Of The Chieftains on Columbia Legacy '92 give a shorter account. They grew out of an earlier group called Ceolteoiri Chaulann, a vehicle for the visionary Irish composer Seán O'Riada in the '50s-60s, then beginning with their debut The Chieftains (1) '64 on Claddagh they spearheaded a revival of interest in Irish traditional music, also becoming a byword for instrumental virtuosity, though subject to numerous personnel changes. By The Chieftains 4 '73, they consisted of Fay, Moloney, Potts, Tubridy and Pendar Mercier (bodhrán, bones) 'with Derek Bell' (harp, oboe, tiompán) and had the actor and comedian Peter Sellers writing sleeve notes for them. Bell (b 21 October 1935, Belfast; d 15 October 2002, Phoenix AZ) was a composer and an authority on every sort of double-reed instrument, ancient and modern; he became a leading light with his extrovert stage antics, patter and musical virtuosity; he also released solo projects, including Derek Bell Plays With Himself on Claddagh.

The Chieftains' soundtrack and TV music projects included Zoetrope Studios' The Grey Fox '83 (their contribution described as 'traditional Irish music composed and performed by the Chieftains'), Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon '76, the RTE TV docu-drama The Year Of The French '82 (based on Thomas Flanagan's book of the same name published in '79), and The Ballad Of The Irish Horse '85, a National Geographic TV special. Their 'Reel Music' The Film Scores '91 on RCA anthologized many of these projects; Film Cuts '96 gathered anthologized film music from Rob Roy, Circle Of Friends, Treasure Island, Barry Lyndon, Tristan And Isolde, The Grey Fox, Far And Away and Ireland Moving. They were one of the first Western acts to tour in China (and Hong Kong) in the early '80s, where they recorded In China on Claddagh.

They played for the largest audience ever assembled in one place, for the throng gathered to see Pope John Paul II on his visit to Eire at Phoenix Park '79. That year Matt Molloy (ex-Bothy Band and Planxty) joined. Apart from recording in folk and offshoot projects, they recorded with performers as diverse as James Galway (the jointly billed In Ireland '87 on RCA, an album of music from Brittany), Art Garfunkel, Gary Moore and Van Morrison. Their collaboration with Morrison provided a fillip for both careers; they toured together as well as releasing Irish Heartbeat '88 on Mercury, hailed as an especially important addition to Morrison's canon of work, a mixture of traditional and original material. A Chieftains Celebration '89 on RCA included guests Nanci Griffith on 'The Wexford Carol', Morrison on 'Boffyflow And Spike' and didjeridu player Steve Cooney on 'Strayaway Child'. The video An Irish Evening '91 on BMG included Griffith and Roger Daltry. Another Country '92 on RCA included Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Colin James, Willie Nelson, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ricky Skaggs and Don Williams. Other recordings include The Chieftains 2 '69, The Chieftains 3 '71, The Chieftains 5 '75, Bonaparte's Retreat '76, Live '77, The Chieftains 7 '78, Boil The Breakfast Early '80, The Chieftains 10 '81 (all on Claddagh, some licensed to Island in UK); Celtic Wedding '87, The Celtic Harp (subtitled 'A Tribute To Edward Bunting') '93 and The Long Black Veil '94, all on RCA/BMG. Looking for Celtic cousins everywhere, on Santiago '96 they went to Cuba, Mexico and Galicia in northern Spain. There have been too many side projects and solo albums to list here, but Moloney worked on Dublin Songs -- The Official Millennium Album '88 on K-Tel, and Kevin Conneff and Sean Keane guested on sessions for Ali Farka Touré '89. Their prodigious output is unusual for its breadth, yet as O'Riada's torch bearers their music has a national identity, utterly distinctive yet fitting into work with Gary Moore and Mike Oldfield, with American country acts exploring Irish-American cultural or spiritual connections, and much more.