Paddy Moloney, who died at the age of 83, was one of the founders and frontman of the Chieftains, a group that made traditional Irish music famous around the world. A composer, traditional music arranger and innovative tin whistle and uilleann pipe musician, Moloney has been a major influence on Irish music for over six decades. His ambition for the band and his love of music have led to a long series of stage and record collaborations with a wide variety of performers, some from the pop and rock world and others who have made traditional music from various cultures.
The Chieftains were born out of informal groups of highly accomplished musicians in Dublin. In 1959, Moloney was recruited by composer Seán Ó Riada to arrange the music for the play The Golden Folk at the Abbey Theater, Dublin. This led Riada to form Ceoltóirí Chualann, playing Irish music in a chamber orchestral style with Ó Riada on harpsichord and Moloney, Sean Potts (whistle) and Michael Tubridy (flute). The arrangements, with musicians playing in various combinations, using the harmony rather than the unison playing of Irish dance bands, had a great influence on the musical style of the Chieftains.
Moloney formed the group in 1962 with Potts, Tubridy, Martin Fay (violin) and David Fallon (bodhrán) specifically to make an album for Garech Browne’s new label Claddagh, with Moloney arranging all the music. The album was simply called The Chieftains, followed by The Chieftains 2 (1969), then The Chieftains 3 and so on, until number 10 in 1980. There was a rotation of the band members, but the Moloney’s central and dominant figure ensured that the Chieftains’ winning style continued.
The band only performed in public in 1964 and did not turn professional until the mid-1970s, so their initial reputation was based almost entirely on recordings. The debut album achieved near-cult status when it was featured by John Peel on his Top Gear shows on BBC Radio 1, and when they performed live, sometimes at pop festivals, their suits and ties wore it. makes unlikely targets for hippie adulation. But they and their music have captivated audiences of all types and ages.
Browne enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and Moloney often performed at his parties, where he impressed friends such as Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger. During the post-production of Chieftains 2 at Abbey Road Studios, Moloney gained another Chieftains fan in Paul McCartney, who then invited Moloney to perform on a few tracks on the album. Over the years, Moloney has been sought after as a session musician or invited by artists such as Jagger, Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, Luciano Pavarotti and even The Muppets.
The growing demand for the Chieftains to play live gigs put pressure on day jobs, although Moloney had more flexibility than the rest of the band as he was working for Claddagh Records at the time, and even their first visit to the United States was for a unique concert weekend in New York.
The decision to go professional came after a widely acclaimed concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London on St. Patrick’s Day 1975. Afterwards, they were able to tour even more widely, building a fan base around the world. . That same year, Moloney arranged songs for the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon. Other cinematic work included The Gray Fox (1982) and Treasure Island (1990), and Moloney also arranged the music for live performances by the group of a ballet version of The Playboy of the Western World, having performed on the 1962 film version.
Unlike the noisier jigs and reels, Moloney introduced compositions by 17th century harpist Turlough O’Carolan. With the addition of harpist Derek Bell of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and his performance of pieces such as Morgan Magan from O’Carolan, the chamber-ensemble quality of the music was emphasized. This paved the way for Moloney’s own compositions, including The Battle of Aughrim and her arrangement of Ó Riada’s Women of Ireland, as used in Barry Lyndon, on The Chieftains 4.
In 1984, the Chieftains became the first western group to perform in China. There was no charge but, as Moloney predicted, there was a lot of publicity and their performances alongside Chinese musicians were recorded for a memorable live album, Chieftains in China (1985).
Along with Breton musicians, the Chieftains recorded Celtic Wedding in 1987, allowing Moloney to explore links to Irish music. The same year saw the first of two albums with Belfast flutist James Galway, and they toured with Galician piper Carlos Nuñez. The Chieftains didn’t need famous names to accompany them to the United States, in love with Ireland, but that didn’t stop Moloney and the group from working with Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Ricky Skaggs on the album Another Country (1992).
Perhaps the group’s most ambitious collaboration is that of the 1994 album The Long Black Veil, with Jagger in the title track, with Mark Knopfler, Sinéad O’Connor, Sting, Van Morrison, Ry Cooder, Faithfull, Tom Jones and the Rolling Stones singing mostly traditional songs, all accompanied by the conductors.
The fame of their collaborators undoubtedly brought the Chieftains to a much wider audience, but some have questioned whether the repertoire of traditional Irish music is dying out.
However, the quality, strength and exuberance of their music in the hands of talented and committed musicians impressed audiences, leading to many more enthusiastic fans, both for the band and for Irish music.
This was exemplified by their 2000 album Water from the Well, where they returned to some of their musical roots. Ten years later, there was another collaboration with Cooder alongside Mexican musicians on the San Patricio album. A final CD, Voice of Ages (2012), featured astronaut Cady Coleman playing the flute on the International Space Station, accompanied by the Chieftains back on earth.
In 1979, the Chieftains performed for Pope John Paul II and a million people in Phoenix Park, Dublin, and, with major international tours, it was no surprise that they became the honorary musical ambassadors. from Ireland in 1989, later performing for the Queen and President Mary. McAleese in 2011.
The group received six Grammys during their long career as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2002. Moloney has always remained ambitious for the Chieftains, bringing enthusiasm, energy and business acumen. to all their projects. And he remained a superb uilleann piper.
Moloney was born in Donnycarney, north Dublin, to John, an army sergeant and Catherine (née Conroy), both musicians, as were countless family members, especially those living near his greats. – maternal parents in Co Laois.
Almost before he started at St Mary’s School, his mother recognized his musical talents and bought him a tin whistle. Paddy quickly persuaded his parents to buy him a set of bagpipes, costing him a week’s salary, and he enrolled in the music school run by master piper Leo Rowsome.
He made his public debut at the age of eight with other musicians in Phoenix Park, and quickly won awards in competitions. Still in short pants, he played alongside great musicians like Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy and quickly became a regular at the Pipers’ Club in Dublin.
After leaving school at age 16 to work in the Baxendales manufacturers’ supplier offices, Moloney became Managing Director of Claddagh Records in 1968, where he was responsible for the release and promotion of dozens of music records and oral creations.
In 2019, the Chieftains began their Irish farewell tour covering Europe, Canada and the United States, which was cut short in March of last year by the coronavirus pandemic.
In 1963, Moloney married Rita O’Reilly. She survives him, along with their sons, Aonghus and Pádraig, and their daughter, Aedín.
Paddy (Patrick) Moloney, musician, born August 1, 1938; passed away on October 11, 2021